When Angela Gossow, the legendary singer of Arch Enemy, announced that she was stepping down as the singer of the band, she shook the metal community to its core. Although Arch Enemy had established themselves as an important player in Swedish Melodic Death Metal from their very beginnings, it is undeniable that Angela had been fundamental in transforming them into the massive band they have become, so her departure (even though she would continue working behind the scenes) could even be seen as a threat to this status.
In order to avoid speculation, the band immediately announced that Angela‘s replacement would be Alissa White-Gluz, of The Agonist. Although famous in her own right, Alissa‘s mission was anything but challenging; she had to demonstrate that she was up to task and able to not only replicate the work of her predecessor, but to actually prove herself as her own unique performer. Thankfully for her, if reviews and comments are anything to go by, she has proven her worth more than enough.
If I want to look sexy I’m going to do it, and you’re still going to listen to my music because it’s fucking good music!
Metal Blast: When you were first offered the position as Angela’s replacement, how much of a challenge did you feel you were going to face filling her shoes?
Alissa: Angela is very iconic and broke down a lot of barriers not just for women in music, but in music in general. It’s not a simple task to step in after her, but I feel confident in the album we wrote, and I know I have her support in this, since we’re all a team working towards a common goal. I’m just going to do my absolute best, and hope everyone enjoys it as much as we do.
MB: Angela is still involved with Arch Enemy, working in management. How much influence did she have on you being picked for the band, and what sort of influence does she still have in you and in your performance for Arch Enemy?
Alissa: It was actually Angela’s idea for me to be her successor, so to speak, so she definitely had a big role in that choice. For now she doesn’t really have any influence in terms of the performance of the music, but she works very hard as the manager, so I speak to her every day about the business side of things.
MB: Did she give you any advice that you felt was important in terms of your performance in Arch Enemy?
Alissa: Yeah, I guess so; everyone in the band has kind of offered advice, because they all know what it’s about. She hasn’t really given anything specific, but she’s always been good at giving me advice. For years and years she’s been sort of a mentor to me, so if she offers it, I always listen. I mean, who better to learn from, right?
MB: It’s interesting because metalheads are quite an interesting breed, so to speak. Once fans develop some sort of sense of possession in regards to your band, they get very protective of the sound or what they want the band to be. For instance, when you think of Blaze Bayley replacing Dickinson in Iron Maiden, or Anette Olzon replacing Tarja in Nightwish, there was a backlash where people said “That’s not what we want.” Was there some fear of facing the Arch Enemy’s fans who associate the band mostly with Angela?
Alissa: Yeah, but we’ve been pretty fortunate in this case. I’ve seen a couple of singer switches happen right before my eyes, one being Roy Khan to Tommy Karevik in Kamelot, and the other was Anette Olzon to Floor Jansen in Nightwish. Those happened with me present, and I saw how well the fans took to these singers because they were presented in the proper way. That’s why we wanted to be careful with how we presented these news, and make sure that people knew that this IS what the band wants. This is what Angela wants, this is what Michael wants, this is what everybody in the band wants. We wanted to have new music right away, so fans wouldn’t have to wait and wonder what it was going to sound like; we showed them War Eternal right away, so that they could put their fears to rest.
I obviously understand what it’s like. Even when Angela told me she was stepping down, I was like “Hey, wait, but I wanted you to keep singing!” [laughs] But people change, priorities shift, and this is what Angela wanted, so in the end it all worked out well for us, and we’re very happy with the music. We just hope that the fans will also understand that we’re still the same band, we’re still making the same music, and that it’s just a new era for us. So far, they have been very receptive to the music.
MB: Considering the style that Angela gave to Arch Enemy, do you feel your singing style differs greatly from hers? Is there something unique to your style that you want to bring to Arch Enemy?
Alissa White-Glutz: Angela and I are two different singers, so obviously there are going to be differences. I’m pretty happy and feel feel musically satisfied with what I’ve done on War Eternal. Maybe I’ll bring in some new elements later, but I’m really happy to play the old songs live in Angela’s style, then play the new songs in a little bit more of my style.
MB: In The Agonist, for instance, you had a lot of clean singing mixed with the growling vocals, while in Arch Enemy, of course, they prioritized the growling. Do you think that it’s possible to have the sort of clean/growling style in Arch Enemy, or do you think it’s best to continue with just the growling in the band?
Alissa: Although right now I feel like Arch Enemy sound good with mostly just growls, I still do a very musical growl, since I include melody in it. In any case, I don’t feel like Arch Enemy really requires clean singing, because the guitarists are basically singing. I’m sure that if in the future we write a song that we thought sounds better with clean singing, we’ll just go ahead and put it in; we’re not going to be closed minded when it comes to music, that’s just boring.
For those who were fans of mine over the past 10 years, and really like my clean singing, I do have a band I’m working on with some other Canadian metal musicians, who are actually all girls. It’s actually not a metal band, but more like punk rock, and I’m doing mostly clean singing there.
MB: What’s the name of the band?
Alissa: I can’t really say yet, because it’s still very much in the beginning stages, but we’re going to have some music to show soon. So I’ll still going to be doing clean singing, just maybe not in Arch Enemy!
MB: Speaking of an “all girls band”; Angela always had a problem with Arch Enemy being referred to as a “female-fronted metal band”, saying that Arch Enemy were, first and foremost, a metal band, and that the fact that she was a woman was irrelevant. At the same time you will always be called a “femal-fronted” band, for obvious reasons, and it will always be “a thing”; in Revolver magazine, for example, you were listed repeatedly as one of the “Hottest Girls In Metal”, etc. How do you feel it is for women in heavy metal? Do you think the focus on the fact that the musician is a woman, or putting the focus on the woman being good looking is a problem still?
Alissa: I think it’s a problem and a solution, you know what I mean? I think it’s a problem because people should just be listening to the band, and appreciate the music and the musicians for their talent and abilities. It’s also a solution, in a way, because it’s like “Well look, girls can do it too, girls can do whatever the guys can do!” And we can “look hot” doing it, we don’t have to be like men, we don’t have to look like men, smell like men, or act like men to do it.
In a way, I think that it’s empowering for women to put their foot down and be like “I’m going to dress however I want, I’m going to look however I want. If I want to look sexy I’m going to do it, and you’re still going to listen to my music because it’s fucking good music!” On the other hand, it sort of gets tiring sometimes, and I just want to sort of be like “Okay, I’m just going to put on a big snow-suit, don’t look at me anymore, just listen to my fucking music, get over it, I’m a girl;” It’s a double-edged sword, but I think in the past 10-20 years, women have evolved a lot in the music industry, to the point now that I don’t think it’s such a novel thing to have a girl in your band.
In my new band that I just mentioned, for example, it’s all girls because they’re my friends, and they’re also the best musicians that I know so, of course, I’m going to have a band with them. I think it’s a little silly to be like “hey look, there’s a girl in this band!” So what?! Show me the music, and then I’ll tell you if I like the band.
MB: As a female musician in the industry, do you feel like sometimes labels fall into exploiting the fact that one of the performers is a woman in order to get more views on the music videos and so on?
Alissa: I think it’s only exploitation if they’re doing something that the band doesn’t want to do. If any female, or male, does something in order to get “likes” on their video, or to get fans, they’re being exploited and they’re actually selling out to a certain extent. In my experiences with the “Hottest Chicks” magazines, or whatever, I always just gave them a photo that a friend of mine took of me, or something like that. I never really did anything that I didn’t want to do. As long as people realize what it is, and take it with a grain of salt, then it’s not really a problem.
Personally, I would never use sexuality or looks as a selling point. I do think image is important in a band, because when I go see a show, I want to see a SHOW, I don’t want to just listen to the music. I could just put on the cd at home, if I was going to do that. I want to see a grandiose, epic performance with great sounds, great lighting. I want to see my musicians up there like gods! I think image is important, but I don’t think it’s a selling point. I think it’s just something that comes along with being in a band.
MB: With this in mind, is it still cool for you to receive the mention in the top 10 hottest chicks in metal?
Alissa: Was I mentioned this year?
MB: I honestly don’t know, I read about it like 20 minutes ago on Wikipedia! [laughs] Alissa: I don’t even know! [laughs] I’m not really bothered or flattered by it at this point. Actually, sometimes they don’t even contact me when they put me in there, they just do it. I’ve never even agreed or disagreed to it. The way I see it, it’s publicity, it’s still an article in a magazine, which is always good exposure for a band. If people can only see it at face value, and say “Well, it’s just because she’s a girl,” then that’s their problem. If they were actual music enthusiasts, they would go and listen to the music.
MB:You were a fan of Arch Enemy before, and you know their back-catalogue. In comparison, how do you feel War Eternal differs from the previous material of Arch Enemy?
Alissa: I feel War Eternal is a nod to the past, with some more traditional type songs in there, while also opening doors to the future. There are some songs in there like “Time Is Black” or “Avalanche” that are quite different for what Arch Enemy usually do. There are some elements that have never been in Arch Enemy’s albums before, like a real string orchestra, which is really cool because we’re all pushing ourselves musically. I think that’s the best way to go, because it wouldn’t make sense to just keep re-writing the same album over and over again, it’s much better to evolve.
MB: What was your input on War Eternal?
Alissa: I started working with the band right at the beginning stage of the writing process for the album, so I was involved the whole way through. I wrote the lyrics and vocal arrangements for 5 of the songs, and we all collaborated together to discuss artwork, video concepts, and photo concepts. I feel like this album is a part of me, it’s not like I just stepped into something that was already there.
MB: From Khaos Legion onwards it became obvious that Arch Enemy was pushing a political message in the music. Do you feel connected with the political part of the band as well?
Alissa: Yeah, absolutely. I mean Michael and I are actually really die-hard punk fans at heart, and I think punk music often has a lot of political influence in the lyrics. I also have written politically themed lyrics in the past, so I definitely connect with that. On War Eternal we wrote a little bit more of personal album, just because we’d written so many political lyrics already in the past.
MB: Have you already heard reviews, or reactions from the fans in regards the new Arch Enemy material?
Alissa: Yes. Actually, all of the reactions from the fans, industry people, and other musicians have been very positive, so it’s very encouraging.
MB: As a curiosity, I noticed that just like Angela, you are a vegan. I remember that she always mentioned that she always put the band on a very strict, almost “training” regime, both when they were in the studio and when they were on tour. Are you going to continue that in the band?
Alissa: Angela and I are quite similar in some ways, which is kind of a coincidence. I’ve been vegan for 15 years and I’ve been working out since I was 11 years old. I’ve always been big into exercising, it’s good for your body, it’s good for your mind, it’s good for your vocal chords. So I’m very similar to her in that way.
MB: You mentioned that you wanted to continue with The Agonist, but the band felt that perhaps your participation with Arch Enemy would make that impossible and opted to just end the relation altogether. What happened here?
Alissa: My participation with Arch Enemy would not have made it impossible! I wanted to do both bands, there are many vocalists out there that do two bands, like Floor Jansen, who does Nightwish and ReVamp, or Tommy Karevik, who does Kamelot and Seventh Wonder. I myself had even done some vocals in Kamelot, but that’s not how it worked out. That’s what I wanted to do, but that’s not what my former bandmates in The Agonist wanted. Unfortunately, I’m not with them anymore but, fortunately, I am in Arch Enemy now [laughs] so I guess it ‘s all okay.
MB: Since our time today is very limited, I’m afraid that I have to let you go. Do you have any final message for the fans who are looking forward to experiencing this new incarnation of Arch Enemy?
Alissa: I would just like to say to all the Arch Enemy fans: I’ve been among you for a long time, I’ve been an Arch Enemy fan myself for a long time. I made sure with War Eternal that it was an album that I would want to pick up as a fan, and I’m definitely proud of it as the singer. So, thank you for the support, and I look forward to playing all the songs live.
MB: Alissa, thank you so much for taking the time to chat, and I look forward to seeing you on tour.
Alissa: Thank you, take care!