By Carl Begai
Swedish pop metal export Amaranthe started life as a wildcard band. Polished and pretty, when they surfaced with their self-titled debut in 2011 their budding career had equal chances of becoming a rousing success or a laughable bellyflop. The three vocal attack (female, male, growls) was an effective attention-getter, but the layers of electronica keyboards and trance beats backing the modern-edged guitar/bass/drum attack of an otherwise self-respecting metal band left Amaranthe wide open to ridicule. The sextet did indeed earn their haters, but the international metal scene proved once again to be an open-minded collective. By the time the band’s second album, The Nexus, was unleashed in 2013 they’d earned a solid fanbase and rounded up a new legion of followers during the world tour that followed. Amaranthe’s third album, Massive Addictive, is their all important next step and is everything the title proclaims. Prior to the band’s recent North American tour supporting Within Temptation, vocalists Jake E. and Elize Ryd took time out to discuss what is being called Amaranthe’s strongest work to date.
Jake: “Between the first album and The Nexus I felt a lot of pressure. There was an anxiety to deliver as something as good as what we did with the debut, and doing the first album was very relaxed. There was an almost instant success with the first album, and we only had six months to write and record The Nexus so there was a huge pressure on my shoulders to do something just as good. I think maybe that’s why we took the easy way out a bit on The Nexus by writing songs that were similar to the ones on the debut. It could have been called the Amaranthe II album (laughs), but with a few more influences put into the music. I thought when we started writing Massive Addictive there would be more of the same pressure, but I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t worried.”
“When you play live in front of 50 people at the start of your career, you usually have this black hole in your stomach and you feel nervous. You’re wondering how the audience is going to react, will they like it or not, will you sound good? When you do this every day – we go up on stage and play in front of 500 people or 15,000 people at a festival – that feeling is totally gone after a while. That’s an everyday situation for musicians doing what we do, and that’s what I’m more or less trying to say about making this new album; it was just another recording session or songwriting discussion as far as my mind was concerned. I’m so used to the process that I just did it.”
Folks already supporting Amaranthe will get what they came for, but it becomes clear rather quickly the band was serious about not putting out the same album for a third time when creating Massive Addictive.
Elize: “For the new album we wanted to make the Amaranthe sound clearer. There doesn’t have to be a question of whether we’re trying to sound like pop music or like metal. Make it clear, for fuck sake (laughs). Out with it! If they’re my parts they need to be pop, if there’s growling it’s going to be fucking heavy. That was our inspiration writing Massive Addictive, to make things absolutely clear to people.”
The first single, ‘Drop Dead Cynical’, drives the point home. Call it a sunshine and happiness version of the Marilyn Manson calling card “The Beautiful People”, with Elize and Jake bringing the pop, and new growler Henrik Englund belting out the metal as two very obvious extremes.
Jake: “I actually heard the song on the radio for the first time yesterday, and I thought ‘Shit, this is a hit song…’ I’ve never thought way about our music before. It’s going to be a lot of fun when Marilyn Manson hears it (laughs). The cool thing about ‘Drop Dead Cynical’, which my wife told me yesterday, is Olof’s (Mörck) guitar riffs. The song in general is pretty catchy, but the guitar riff brings the song forward.”
Elize: “I just had this feeling when we played it live for the first time; it felt so good. And because the chorus ‘drop dead cynical’ repeats so many times we don’t have to sing it by the end of the song because the crowd does it for us (laughs). It went went over really well, and the groove is so different from the other albums. And that song is freaking high, so during soundcheck the first time I was thinking ‘Oh no, what did I do? Why did we choose this key?’ (laughs). But, when the audience was there and I got that adrenaline rush from them so it wasn’t a problem.”
Having a new mindset within Amaranthe resulted in giving the metal vocals more space for Massive Addictive. Originally brought on board as a temporary replacement for Andy Solveström on the band’s 2013 support tour with Stratovarius, Henrik was made a permanent member by the time The Nexus tour cycle wrapped up. He was given an equal share of the vocal duties in the studio for Massive Addictive, turning the death metal side of Amaranthe’s personality into more than mere nuance.
Elize: “It’s been great working with Henrik. If he wasn’t as talented as he is we would have looked for someone else, but he did a great job on tour. The audience liked him a lot and he’s fun to work with on stage. He has those qualities that you need to keep a band together, so he passed that test as well (laughs).”
Jake: “I don’t want to throw shit at Andy, but I think changing the line-up and bringing Henrik was something we actually needed to do as the songwriting progressed in this direction. Andy is one of the best in the business when it comes to death metal growling. He’s in my Top 5 in the business, but if he had done Massive Addictive it wouldn’t sound as modern as it does. We switched things around with the vocals, absolutely, and the one song that I think is really cool is ‘An Ordinary Abnormality’. Henrik does everything except the chorus, and I was thinking the other day that it probably won’t be one of the five songs we pick first to play live, but I think a song like that is needed in a longer set.”
As for deciding who sang what and where on the new album, it proved to be a challenge when it came to assembling the individual songs.
Elize: “It didn’t used to be very hard to decide on that, but I think it was a little bit harder on this album. Me and Olof worked together on some songs, Jake and Olof worked together on the music, and we decided after all that who would sing certain parts. Sometimes it was obvious who should be singing, but on others we both recorded the same thing and decided in the mixing phase who should be where.”
No matter how well Massive Addictive is received, the true success will be measured by the hundreds of kilometers travelled and boxes of merch sold. Amaranthe have no choice in this day and age but to live by the industry standard of Tour Or Die, and they’ve fared better than many bands at the same level. In fact, being able to pull off North American and European headline tours back-to-back as a young band and not lose their shirts is a rare and epic feat.
Jake: “I totally agree with that and I’m also a little bit amazed myself. The secret lies in that we’re doing everything ourselves. Instead of signing off on an agency that has 25 bands and focusing on Iron Maiden, we’re booking most of the shows ourselves. We get help from different booking agents in different territories; they point us in the right direction and we take it from there. We work with people that actually believe in us. You can’t rely on people in the business that say ‘I’m going to do this and that, sign here…’ You have to find people that actually believe in the band.”
Elize: “I have to be honest, this is the first band I’ve ever played in. I’ve toured with other Swedish artists, I’ve been out with Kamelot, and they all have big audiences but they started 10 years ago or more. I don’t know what their audiences were like when they had only existed for three years, so I don’t have anything to compare my experience with. Olof and Jake and Henrik have had their own bands that they started when they were teenagers, so they fought and struggled to reach their goals. They didn’t get as far as Amaranthe has, so they know this is freaking insane. They’re surprised, and what I understand is that this is not an easy thing to accomplish. But again, because I don’t have anything to compare with I can’t really be surprised by our success in the same way as the other guys. It’s strange, it’s fun… I really don’t know how to describe it.”
For information and updates on Amaranthe go to this location.
Check out footage of Amaranthe performing ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ live in Montreal on October 5th, 2014 here.