The shuffler: Angela Gossow, the striking German lead singer of Swedish death-metal band Arch Enemy. After honing her skills in lesser-known bands, she became Arch Enemy’s leader after illustrating her incredible vocal chops. One of the few women to have mastered the intimidating “death-metal growl” style of rock vocals, Gossow has earned the respect of a fan base that often treats women like pin-up queens. Arch Enemy is currently touring Europe behind The Root Of All Evil, which features re-recordings of the band’s earlier songs before she was lead vocalist.
Carcass, “Vomited Anal Tract”
Angela Gossow: I got lucky! I thought it was going to be something embarrassing and I would have to skip it. But they told me it’s not allowed.
The A.V. Club: People like it when the embarrassing stuff shows up.
AG: Maybe I’m not so lucky, then. But Carcass is one of my favorites… Jeff Walker is one of the biggest influences on my singing, and we have covered some of their songs in Arch Enemy.
AVC: Where are you guys right now?
AG: We’re in Sweden. All the way around the world from you.
AVC: I always liked Carcass’ early stuff because they had the most amazing song titles. All that stuff from medical dictionaries.
AG: Yeah, when I was listening to them growing up, they were one of the bands that really pissed off my parents. They found a copy of one of this record [Reek Of Putrefaction], with all the titles like “Fermenting Innards” and “Maggot Colony,” and my mother wrote a bunch of question marks next to them.
Cannibal Corpse, “Evidence In The Furnace”
AG: I’m lucky again! This is from their newest album, Evisceration Plague. Definitely one of their best. You know, you couldn’t buy any of their records in Germany for a long time. They were banned.
AVC: Did you get in trouble a lot growing up because of the kind of music you listened to?
AG: Yeah. My mother went through a period where she was in this very strict Christian sect. It wasn’t even a church, it was almost a cult, and they were very strict. This was around the time that I was first getting into metal, so I had to keep hiding my vinyl albums, because my mom kept trying to throw them away. That’s one of the reasons I liked metal so much. If people wanted to get rid of it so bad, listening to it represented freedom.
AVC: Did the fact that your parents didn’t like it make you like it even more?
AG: Of course! The more they wouldn’t like it, the more I would get into it. It wasn’t just them, though; I was very much alone in being into metal. My parents didn’t like it, my teachers didn’t like it… I was the only kid in school who was into it. I had to travel all over just to be able to find the records. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Testament’s The Legacy, and the second, I think, was Slayer’s Show No Mercy. Nobody else dressed like me. I was wearing the skinny jeans, the big sneakers, the denim jackets with the patches on them. I looked like the perfect Hollywood caricature of a heavy-metal kid.
Sleep, “Holy Mountain”
AG: I just know that the next time I press the button there’s going to be something by David Hasselhoff coming up. This is from Sleep’s Holy Mountain, and I don’t usually listen to this kind of metal so much, but I really like the voice of the lead singer [Al Cisneros]. This whole record has a very interesting sound.
AVC: What singers were a big influence on you growing up? There weren’t a lot of female metal singers, and almost none in death metal.
AG: It was all boys. I have a mezzo-soprano range, so the only singer I know who can come close to that is Rob Halford. [Laughs.] David Vincent from Morbid Angel was a big influence on me, even though he is a baritone. His delivery really shaped the way I sing, and so did Chuck Schuldiner [from Death]. Hopefully now I am going to be an influence on girls who want to sing in this style, but when I was young, it was all guys.
AG: Oh, that’s cute! It’s Asmodina. This is my very first band, and this is one of the first songs I ever recorded. The song is called “Misery,” and this is from, I think, the summer of 1991.
AVC: Do you like listening to your own music?
AG: Ugh… [Sighs.] I’m very ambivalent about it. Most of the time, I hate listening to myself; I find that I have the most horrible pitch in every song I listen to from the early days. I have it all on my iPod just so I can have a digital copy, but sometimes I don’t know why I keep it. I think it’s going to be fun to listen to when I’m, like, 75.
Carcass, “Exhume To Consume”
AG: Thank you, iPod! This one is from Symphonies Of Sickness. More great song titles.
AVC: That’s the Carcass album that really caught my attention.
AG: Mmm-hmm. This is the one where they really went for it. I love the dual vocals, the high and the low with Jeffrey Walker and Bill Steer, and the way they miked it really makes it sound amazing. They are much improved musically by the second record, too. This is one of those records where you just know you are listening to something special.
AVC: Do you still travel together as a band?
AG: Yes, we are usually still in the same bus together when we’re on the road.
AVC: Do you ever get into arguments about what music to listen to with the rest of the group?
AG: No. We all have our own computers and iPods and can listen to them on headphones, but even beyond that, something we like to do is just pick someone’s iPod and plug it into the bus PA system, and hit shuffle to find out what they are listening to lately. We all have fairly similar tastes in music, but even where we diverge, all the guys in the band are accomplished musicians, and they can find something worth listening to in almost any sound. I would say it’s very diverse. Chris [Arch Enemy guitarist Christopher Amott] is very much into jazz and blues. My iPod is all full of black metal and death metal. Mike [Arch Enemy guitarist Michael Amott, Chris’ brother] collects a lot of progressive stuff and these rare recordings of jam bands on vinyl, which he converts to digital. Danny [Arch Enemy drummer Daniel Erlandsson] likes drum-and-bass and trance music. There’s always something to discover.
Testament, “The Burning Times”
AG: Oh, this is from Demonic, where they really started getting into death metal. Can you tell that I like death metal? [Laughs.]
AVC: If people only know one thing about you, it’s probably that you like death metal.
AG: [Laughs.] I think you’re right. You know, I have never told anyone this before, I don’t think, but this is my favorite album to work out to. Chuck Billy’s death growls really get my heart rate up, and there is something about the rhythm of Eric Peterson’s guitar riffs that makes it perfect for doing my workout routine. I listen to a lot of death metal when I work out, though… I love the Florida stuff from Morbid Angel and Obituary, the really technical stuff. The musical aspect is appealing, obviously, but for me—because I am a singer and not a musician—what really stands out to me is the atmosphere and the attitude. That’s the first thing I notice about any band when I hear them for the first time, and that’s what I try to create when I’m onstage.
King Diamond, “Welcome Home”
AG: Classic death metal. I love this song. This [Them] is the first King Diamond album I ever heard, and it made such an impact on me. He was really groundbreaking, I think, in the early days, because he had such a tremendous voice. No one could stand next to him in what he was doing. It’s just so insane, what he does with the voices. And the lyrics are scary as hell, I’m telling you! He has to be the only guy who can sing the word “grandma” and make it sound frightening. It’s like [Imitates King Diamond’s high-pitched wail.] “GRANDMA!” Oh, holy shit!
AVC: King Diamond seems like he’s always been more influential in Europe than here in America.
AG: I’ve seen him live both with Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, and thousands of people will wait for hours and hours just to see him perform. I don’t think he can draw those kinds of crowds in the States. He’s really changed the whole modern metal scene in Europe. Even the outfits that people wear and the face paint that some bands have comes from him, even though he’s old-school, not new-school.
AG: There you go. One of my favorite Slayer songs. I love the new album [World Painted Blood], too. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve played it since it came out; I think the rest of the guys in the band must be getting sick of it. But I just love Slayer; I’m hoping that we get to hook up with them on some of their upcoming European dates. They’ve just meant so much to what metal has become. Reign In Blood is probably my favorite album of all time, and every one of their albums has some killer tracks on it. I think if you don’t like Slayer, there’s something wrong with you.
AVC: I interviewed Kerry King recently, and he said that finding out what you guys are going to do next was one of the only things that kept him interested in the metal scene.
AG: Oh, I love Kerry King. I really like him as a person. I’m not one of these Kerry King haters you see all over the place. We’ve toured with them a couple of times, and every time I get to see him, we just spend hours talking and drinking. I love Slayer.