What have bands like CARNAGE, CARCASS and ARCH ENEMY in common besides the fact that they are / were all killer? The fact that Michael Ammott was handling the six strings of course! I always thought that CARNAGE’s "Dark Recollections" was one of the most underrated albums ever. Somehow, it got maybe a bit lost in the maze of the Death Metal releases which all came out in the early nineties. Nevertheless it’s sure as good as "Left Hand Path" or "Like An Ever Flowing Stream", albums you could easily reflect the album to, not only because of the bandmembers which were also all in CARNAGE, but also because of the very specific guitar sound of the album (Sunlight Studio). CARCASS was a brilliant live band and also released many classic albums, who of you has never banged his head to "Exhume To Consume" of "Symphonies Of Sickness", the technical "Necroticism" or the melodic but nevertheless totally killing "Heartwork"? Ha, that’s what I thought… If you consider in how many great bands Michael was involved and on how many classics he played, for which he never really received the credit he deserves. I think he’s definitely one of the most underrated musicians around in the Metal scene. Anyway, take a deep breath and dive into the history of Michael Amott
Your first band, CARNAGE, still has a cult-reputation for many people. Do many people still ask you questions about your past with CARNAGE?
"Now and then, CARNAGE has always been a pure underground band, so if I get questions about CARNAGE, they are always coming from people who are still very active in the underground scene or who have been very active in the underground scene. We never reached the level of a band like ENTOMBED or DISMEMBER, we never were that known, only by the real inside people."
On the first CARNAGE demo, "The Day Man Lost", somebody else but Fred Estby was drumming, who was that?
"That was just a guy we sometimes hung out with, called Jeppe. On the second demo, "Infestation Of Evil", Fred was already playing drums. At that time we were also supposed to release a split 7" with NIHILIST or DISMMEBER but this never became reality in the end. CARNAGE actually didn’t exist anymore when our debut "Dark Recollections" got released. I think that fact is also responsible for a great deal that we never made to a wider audience. CARNAGE split up early 1990 I think, I joined CARCASS, Fred & David & Matti formed DISMEMBER and later Johnny joined ENTOMBED."
I still remember that I ordered the first CARNAGE demo because of a very good review in Aardschok / Metal Hammer. That review was written by Wim Baelus, he always had a good taste…
"Yeah, I also still remember that review very well (laughs). Because of that review, we got already over 200 orders just out of Holland, that was really amazing for us! It was also in that period that I really got very interested in the underground scene, I started listening to very obscure bands at that time like for example REPULSION. Johan, the vocalist in CARNAGE who also sings in ARCH ENEMY, and I shared an apartment together at that time, and during many days, we did nothing else than just copying demos to get the orders out. A really great time that was. At that time, many bands were also much more focused on just the playing of music itself. These days, it seems like every band has just one goal: to release an album as soon as possible."
Johan Liiva is, as you already said also handling the vocals in ARCH ENEMY these days. After the split of CARNAGE, he’s also been active for a while in FUWBOWL, after that he completely retired from the scene. Was it difficult for you to get him enthusiastic again to sing in ARCH ENEMY?
"Well, when I called him in 1995, to see if he was interested to work with me on a Death Metal album that I planned at that time, that was the ARCH ENEMY debut "Black Earth", that really came as a big surprise to him. He had sold all his instruments in the meantime, he had cut his hair. He still listened to Metal music but he had never expected that he would start singing again in a Metal band. After CARNAGE, he had released 2 albums with FURBOWL until he got kicked out of his own band by the other bandmembers as they didn’t like his vocals no more. I think it must have been at that time that he thought "Fuck it, I’ll search for a decent job and retire completely from the scene.", so eventually he started a small printing company. But when I called him, he was immediately very enthusiastic and nowadays he’s really totally into it again."
I still have some rehearsal-tapes of CARNAGE lying around with some songs on there that I think never appeared on any demo or any official release. Why did you never record those songs?
"I really can’t remember this anymore, you have to consider that all this is about more than 8 years ago. It’s possible that there are maybe 1-2 songs around that we never recorded for demos or didn’t appear on the album. But there are more weird things that happened throughout the CARNAGE career. There’s for example as you probably know a live 7" of CARNAGE around which was released many years ago by Distorted Harmony Records. It’s a recording from a show we played in Stockholm in 1989. I still remember that we recorded that show with real professional equipment by someone who worked for a radio station, we were planning to release those recordings as a live album, but eventually that didn’t turn out in the end because the main part of the recordings got lost which really was a shame."
You soon hooked up with CARCASS after the CARNAGE split. Is it actually true that you hooked up with CARCASS after you did an audition for NAPALM DEATH but didn’t make it in the end?
"Yeah, that’s correct, that must have been around 1990 somewhere, I think. Bill Steer was also still in NAPALM DEATH at that time and they were looking for a second guitar-player. I played a rehearsal with them, but it didn’t work out, and so I returned to Sweden. Later on, I got contacted by Jeff and Bill if I wanted the new band they started, that was CARCASS. Actually, they already asked me to join them before "Symphonies Of Sickness" came out, but I had heard their first album "Reek Of Putrefaction", and I thought it was really a weak album and decided to concentrate on CARNAGE instead. And then, when I heard "Symphonies Of Sickness", I really regret my decision because their result was really amazing! CARCASS improved so much at that time. But eventually I hooked up with them and joined CARCASS. I recorded a couple of albums with them and had some very nice moments with that band, so…"
How do you look back at all those years with CARCASS?
"I have some very nice memories about that time. The best moments are probably the very good concerts we played in so many different countries. You have to know that I was just about 20 years old at that time when I got the chance to travel to countries like South-Africa, America, Israel or Mexico to play gigs, that was really something amazing for me. Also the first European tour we did together with PUNGENT STENCH, ENTOMBED and DISASTROUS MURMUR or the American tour together with DEATH was just a great thing for me. I got to meet so many people that I was in contact with in those days, that was really a wonderful period for me personally. Sometimes, I really tend to get very sentimental when I think about those days, but still, I think the future will still bring it’s bright moments for me."
Why did you leave CARCASS in the end?
"There were so many things. With CARCASS, we were almost always on the road, we were always on tour for a very long time, and in the end, it just got a bit too much for me to take. There were also the so-called musical differences which started to rise, at that time I really started to get very interested in the rock music of the seventies. And I also wanted to play this kind of music with other musicians, which was somehow the base for SPIRITUAL BEGGARS, my other band, I guess."
ARCH ENEMY is one of the very few Swedish bands which still has an own sound, I mean I can’t come up with another band which sounds like you do. Also through your releases with ARCH ENEMY, I also started to learn and recognize your guitar-leads on the CARCASS albums much more.
"Thank you, that’s a very nice compliment, it means that I must have a sort of own style of guitar-playing. Both me and my brother take our guitar-playing very seriously, we are very ambitious and I don’t think you can find this that often in the Metal scene. I think that there are many people out there who maybe are not big fans of Death Metal but still appreciate our music because of our guitar-playing which is maybe a bit more developed than in most Death Metal bands out there. Of course you can hear a lot of influences of other bands in ARCH ENEMY, but still, I think that we play a healthy mix of all those different influences. Our ambition is to record an album or to develop a style which is really unique. It’s not up to us to say if we succeed in this or not. If the fans think ARCH ENEMY is special, of course we think it’s fantastic. The songs on our last album "Burning Bridges" are a sort of follow-up of "Stigmata", it’s not that far away from what we have done in the past. I think we have just defined our style a bit more: the calm parts have become more calm, and the aggressive parts are more controlled. We have tried to make "Burning Bridges" more attractive and dynamic for the listener and I hope we succeeded in this."
Your brother Christopher, is also an ARCH ENEMY member. How big is your age-difference and do you like it to play in the same band with your brother?
"I’m 29 for the moment and my brother is 22, so that’s 7 years age-difference. When I played in CARCASS, he was still like 14 years old. One day, I gave him the "Necroticism" album as a gift and he switched straight from computer games to CARCASS and guitar-playing (laughs). I probably ruined his whole life (laughs)."
ARCH ENEMY has grown from a pure underground band with a pretty successful debut, "Black Earth", to where you are nowadays. It’s not something you still see these days, this ‘development’.
"Yeah, still I think that the development we made as a band was a pretty normal evolution. When we started with ARCH ENEMY we didn’t take the band as serious as we do nowadays. When I recorded "Black Earth", I just asked some musicians which I all personally knew rather well if they were interested to record an album with me and that was basically it. We wrote the material and recorded the "Black Earth" album in a very short period of time. We were very amazed by the reactions we got from the press and the fans, and the success the album had. So, from that point, we started to take the band much more serious."
In another interview, you said that it was never planned to play gigs with ARCH ENEMY or to go on tour, still you went on the road last year with IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY and CHILDREN OF BODOM. What made you change your mind?
"These days, we have a lot of personal problems and line-up changes behind us, something that made things quite impossible for us to go on tour for for example "Stigmata". That was a real pity at that time, because we got quite some offers to accompany certain bands on a big tour. But since the line-up is complete, we are feeling stronger than ever before and there is a much better atmosphere within the band these days."
Next to ARCH ENEMY, CARNAGE and CARCASS you also played in ARMAGEDDON, CANDLEMASS and you still have another band called SPIRITUAL BEGGARS which is more Doom-Rock orientated. Is there any day on which you are not busy with music?
"To tell you the truth, no, I’m always busy with music. Since about a year, we have a decent management who’s taking take of the business-aspects of the band which was really a big relief for me. Everything is much more structured these days, which gives me more time to concentrate on the music. I love playing music, I’m doing it now for already over 10 years also constantly and I just don’t get tired of it. The business-aspects are the only unpleasant thing for me, but I guess this goes for every musician. It’s the music that keeps me going…"
ARCH ENEMY: Vocalist Johan Liiva is no longer in the band and Toy’s Factory has released an ARCH ENEMY live album called "Burning Japan – Live 1999" (unfortunately the album will only be released in Japan). The tracklist: ‘The Immortal’, ‘Dark Insanity’, ‘Dead Inside’, ‘Diva Satanica’, ‘Pilgrim’, ‘Silverwing’, ‘Beast Of Man’, ‘Bass Intro / Tears Of The Dead’, ‘Bridge Of Destiny’, ‘Transmigration Macabre’ and ‘Angelclaw’. The CD also features CD-ROM material like a picture gallery, weblinks and a 4,5 minute film with live clips, interviews and clips from the mixing session in Studio Fredman.
Interview: Steven Willems
All live pictures by Claudio Torres (Chile, April 1999)