While their new, and fifth studio album “Zenith”, are being received with what seems to be mixed emotions, I found myself enjoying the diversity of it a lot and got in contact with Olof Wikstrand for what I think is my fourth chat with the band. The last interview we did, can be read here, and looking at it, it’s already been four years since “From Beyond” came out. What does Olof think of the album when he looks back at it today?
– I think we kind of perfected our style and how we were seeing ourselves and had been seeing ourselves, up until then. You know this typical, aggressive speed metal stuff, but always with a hit factor. Looking back on “From Beyond”, I am really happy with it, but I think of it is a little one sided.
You also released the livealbum “Live By Fire”, since we spoke last time. Did the whole thing, songs, sound and packaging, come out as you wanted it to?
– I think so. I did everything myself, handled the mix, did all the layout, and the EP that was included with it. However, I really wanted to make the EP a separate release, but the record label didn’t want that because they thought we had promised the fans exclusive material on the livealbum. Those new songs we recorded, I am really happy with, but people didn’t kick it up, because the songs were hidden. That was one thing I wasn’t fully happy with. Also, we intended to release it in 2014, but due to several reasons, it got delayed to after the “From Beyond”-album. It doesn’t even contain material from that album! So yeah, the delay and the fact that the hidden tracks were so hidden people haven’t even heard them now, were two major let downs.
The new songs were certainly not left over material?
– No, they were exclusive songs. Our business partners were kind of forcing us to do this kind of thing to market the album. As a band, we are just not satisfied with leftover stuff or songs that are bad. I am really happy with the studio songs included on “Live By Fire”.
So at the moment, are you planning to do something else with these songs, to release them separately for instance?
– We been wanting to do it, but we haven’t been let to do it. We were considering re-recording some of the songs for “Zenith”, but in the end, we wanted to write completely new songs.
When we spoke last time you said: “The entire limiting thing was something we wanted to totally get rid of. Instead we wanted to be as open minded as possible, take all our inspirations, whatever they could be, that suited the atmosphere we wanted to create with the songs.” You can say pretty much the same thing this time around, can’t you?
– Yeah, but it is the same thing. I had the same attitude this time, but even more of it. I know that some of the other guys in the band have been coming with ideas in the past that I have been very negative to. Even though I have been sceptic, in the end I have always ended up saying: “Okay, lets use this.” But then when I return to the songs, maybe a year and a half later, and hear them, I am like: “Fuck yeah, this was a great idea!” Those kind of ideas, tend to not stick out very much, but this time around, all ideas were worked on 100 percent in the context.
Olof confirms that he thinks the band has showed more courage and been even braver this time around.
– I think we had a bit more attitude. “Fuck, we have nothing to lose”, was what we said. To do what we like to do, that’s really inspiring. After all, we are five albums down the line now, and at this point, you simply can’t continue doing the same things. Eventually you do music for yourself and not for anyone else, and in the end, you can’t satisfy everyone anyway so…
Did you know already when you started making the first song for “Zenith” that this would be a different Enforcer-album, or was that something that became clear as you wrote more and more songs?
– I think that was something we decided when we finished “From Beyond”. We started talking about the future, and said: “Four albums down the line, and we can’t do this style any better than on the previous albums. Let’s do something different instead.” Looking back at it now, I don’t think the album is very different compared to what we’ve done before, maybe that’s because I am way through this concept of changing the musical direction. At that time, I think it was early 2015, we were like: “What are we going to do now?” Then Tobias (Lindqvist, bass) had this song for his project Terminal, called “Zadnji Izlet” which we liked to such an extent that we decided to make an Enforcer-version out of it. The new version became “Regrets”. That was the first song we had, and with it we really set the bar high from the beginning. We wanted to play around with the extremes, and hopefully that song is gonna be a little bit provoking to people who think you can’t do something like that. Our version is quite close to Terminal’s version, but I think they used synth piano and computer generated drums, while we use real piano and real drums. We tried to be as close too the original
Apart from that Terminal-song, what was the first track you wrote for “Zenith”?
– Riffs and different parts have been flowing around for years, but the first song was “Die For The Devil”. Me and Jonas wrote the majority of the album in the USA, because Jonas lives there now. I went over there in 2017 for four months altogether, within a couple of weeks we had finished the skeletons of six songs.
The diversity on offer on “Zenith” really surprised me. Did you set out to surprise the listener?
– Yes, of course. The worst thing that could happen is if the people are like: “Wow, good stuff. ” You want a reaction, something more than that. When I am listening to “Zenith” now, and comparing it to the old stuff I think: “Oh, fuck we should have gone further.” I don’t think it’s different. It falls perfectly in line with the other albums . I wanted to do something more different, but it didn’t come out as different as I had hoped for.
This hard rock influence for instance, that you can hear in “Die For The Devil” and a few of the other tracks as well, you could already hear on an album like “Diamonds” for instance..
– Yeah, and it’s intentional to bring back a little bit of that hard rock stuff. I think, looking back on “Diamonds”, we got so critized for going soft, and I thought: “Oh no, Enforcer can’t go soft”. So, to compensate, we made “Death By Firee” so incredibly fast and un-hardrocking, just metal, metal, metal. But of course, you change your opinion when you get some distance to it, or maybe not change, but you see things you don’t see when you are in the middle of something. Now the hardrocking vibe is something that makes our sound stand out.
It seems pretty obvious that “Die For The Devil” was chosen, no only because it is a catchy little tune (yet in my opinion the weakest on the album), but also to provoke or to create some reactions among the fans.
– I think it is a song that falls in line perfectly with a lot of songs we’ve done before, so I don’t think it’s an odd song for us. We’ve been awfully critized for that song on the internet by some people, but I knew it would come, because retro, die hard metal fans with their heads up their asses, are like that. The choice to put it first on the album and also to release it at as the first single, is indeed meant to be provocative. I want a reaction from people! If we had released other songs from the album, that are more safe, people would have said: “Good”, and then nothing more would’ve happened. In the time we live in, where everything is about likes and shares and that kind of shit, you want to create a discussion on things. Releasing music videos is all about marketing anyway.
And people are very fast to judge a whole album based on one song alone. There are some pretty speedy and aggressive stuff on “Zenith” as well.
– We have not gone soft, we have just broadened our perspective a little bit.
Would Olof still call Enforcer a heavy metal-band or does he find it limiting in a way?
– That’s’ a very good question. For me, the concept heavy metal is very broad already, but I am more and more careful to put a genre on my own music, even if the music definitely qualifies as heavy metal. The problem is, putting a label on your music, make other people judge you, based on this label. So both yes or no, I would say to your question. I tend to be more and more careful with using the expression “heavy metal”, I usually say “metal” when people ask what I call our music.
I bought the first single when it came out and also the very first t-shirt you made with only the logo in red and white, and I am still here, enjoying what you do. In general, do you think bands should have some sort of respect for the fans who have followed a band since the start, or should bands only do what the want to do?
– Of course you should respect your fans, but eventually making music is about yourself, and you always make new fans too. People follow you for a reason, and its not that we changed completely, we are both true to our roots, but also true to our responsibility of keep on writing creative music, instead of just stagnating and writing the same shit all over again, like certain bands do.
Do you think you will be able to reach a wider audience with “Zenith” compared to what you have done before?
– To be honest with you, I don’t have such goals anymore. I know that the metal scene is 100 percent dead, and it’s literary impossible for young bands to reach a broader audience. I don’t have such ambitions anymore, since I realized that. Of course it would be fun if people could pick up on the album that aren’t among your expected fans.
The metal scene 100 percent dead?
– The metal scene as I know it at least, is just filled with nostalgia. The fans are just general rock and metal fans, which still makes out 98 percent of the market, then there is this two or or maybe even one perecent that are actually interested in music, like you and me. You have to realize that we are a very, very small part of the entire market. It’s just filled with people who want to go to shows and listen to the music they listened to as kids, for nostalgic reasons only. People that go to Iron Maiden-shows because they want to hear fucking “Run To The Hills” and fucking “The Number Of The Beast”. People are not interested in new music, and people are simply not interested in new bands either. We have been trying so fucking hard, but people clearly prefer to listen to “Run To The Hills” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane” on rock radio instead. Rock radios won’t even play new bands, and festivals like Sweden Rock and those kind of happenings, they don’t have one new band, they simply book the same, old bands that have been playing the same shit for 35 years. There are simply not any commercial interest at all for metal music.
The nostalgia thing you can even see at genre festivals like Keep It True, where great, upcoming bands are doing killer shows, but most people seem to focus on reunited acts headlining the bill.
– I love Keep It True, but it’s a festival for nostalgia, not necessarily a festival for music. I am nostalgic myself, I fall into this category as well, but I do appreciate a new band here and there too. Therefore, I think the entire scene is dead. Young bands are so freaking stuck up with playing genre. For instance, there are tons of retro thrash metal-acts, and they are putting up strict rules for themselves, how they’re gonna sound, what they’re gonna have on their covers, what clothes they’re goona wear. It’s so not interesting! We have been given the chance to play lots of bigger festival, so its not about Enforcer, but more about the state of scene.
If the metal genre as we know it is going to survive, festivals sooner or later have to put new bands on the top of their bills, which is exactly what Trvheim in Germany does with Enforcer this summer. Olof is more than satisfied...
– Of course. I think that’s the way to go. We are still an experienced band, five albums down and have a strong following. There is no reason not to do have Enforcer headlining.
You are always eager to find new bands, or new, old bands, are there something you have listened to in the last four years that have influenced you strongly on the new album?
– There are…but I am no sure I want to mention it in public… Before we released “From Beyond”, I was really into Russian metal, which has had an even stronger impact on this album. But that’s nothing new, of course. But, yeah I guess I can say that I have discovered Def Leppard, which made a huge impact on me, because just a few years ago I thought of them as this fucking, sucky band with shitty lyrics and stupid attitudes. Then a friend of mine said I should give them a chance beyond “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. I started listening to both “Pyromania” and “Hysteria” a lot and, suddenly I was like: “What the fucking hell, how could I have missed this for my whole life?”
So even “Hysteria” with the ultra slick production?
– Yeah, its so fucking great. It has some really incredible songs. I can also hear how much these cool, obscure British bands for example were influenced by “Pyromania”. If you listen to “Night Of The Blade”, by Tokyo Blade, they fucking stole half of the riffs from “Pyromania”.
In the last interview we did, we spoke about our fellow love for bands like Credo and Magnit. “One Thousand Years Of Darkness” from the new album, struck me as bit influenced by those bands?
– A little bit, yeah. These bands like Credo and Magnit and Yngwie Malmsteen as well, have forced me to listen a lot to classical music, real classical music, and not only neoclassical music. When you play so many, shitty rock clubs, doing long tours, you get tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, when you hang out with People aftewards. I had this period of about a year when I didn’t listen to rock music at all, and pretty much only to classical music. When we started collecting material for “Zenith”, I was pretty much only listening to classical music, so it was a natural thing for me to bring in those elements, directly from the classical music, and not only from bands inspired by classical music.
The song “Sail On” also comes as a bit of a surprise.
– I was packing my stuff, going home after four months in Texas, and Jonas was sitting with his acoustic guitar playing this main riff in an odd signature. I asked him what it was, and he told me it was only something he used to play. In a matter of two minutes we had the entire song.
I suggest there is a bit of seventies influences in that song, but Olof isn’t quite sure.
– I don’t know what its influenced by, but maybe in the sense that we wanted all the parts of the song to stand out to each other. Jonas had a very distinct idea of how the riff should sound, not the typical metal chugga-chugga, but the opposite, so we were turning down the gain from 10 to 4 to really get that old Marshall tone, to really give an impact on the riff. When people say that it’s seventies, I kind of agree, but all that it is to it, is that it’s played with less gain. All bands nowadays play with full gain. Doing the opposite, I think gives the first part of the song a very strong contrast to the second part, where it goes to four/four and we go full on with distorted guitars. We have been thinking a lot about playing with the extremes when it comes to this, and you have to go back a little bit to have the dynamics, so when you go full on, you will already feel the energy instead of just starting with 100 percent and there is nowhere to go from there.
It also seems like your vocals are more diverse than ever. Have you tried to develop and make them more diverse?
– It’s just that I don’t think I had the confidence before to sing in any other mode, than the mode I am most confident with. I always wanted to play around with different types of voices.
“Ode To Death” is one of the songs were Olof shows a different side of his voice, and he admits that Manowar might be part of the influence for that track.
– A little bit, yeah. The idea for that song came from when I was listening to our old stuff, and wondered why we always have to have such a hurry between every riff and every part in a song. I wanted to do something in contrast to that, where you build and build and build one riff for like two and a half minutes and give the lyrics more room to tell a story. And yeah, I love Manowar, for example the “Into Glory Ride”-album, it’s amazing! So when it comes to the song structure, they might have been an influence for “Ode To Death”.
Olof has told me before that he hear music in his head more or less constantly. It appears not much has changed.
– I think it’s always the same. You hear music in your head and then try to transfer it from the head to the guitar or to a rough demo, but unfortunately 99 out of 100 ideas are shit. I try to record most of the ideas on a voice memo, both me and Jonas do a lot of that. When we made “One Thousand Years Of Darkness”, we were looking for a verse that was good and catchy, as everything that we forced through came out like shit. Then we went through our voice memos where Jonas found something we could use. We threw it into the song, and it worked perfectly with the rest and we suddenly had a verse.
Has Jonas had a stronger influence on this record than he had in the past?
– I would say a little bit more, definitely. We have been working more closely together, and I have been more accepting to his ideas since I really wanted to have the attitude to bring everything in. And I have been letting him take that room, that I might not have given him before. Before I have been very concentrated on realizing my vision. Me and Jonas have been writing 80 percent of this album. We do demos of our ideas and then arrange them with the other guys. Tobias also came with two songs that were more or less 100 percent ready, “Regrets” and “Worship The Dark”.
Joseph Toll who has been in Enforcer since 2007, first as a bass player then as a guitarist, recently left the band. Is this something you have seen coming?
– I could tell for a very long time that he was distancing himself from the music. In 2014 I remember thinking he was not gonna stay for very long, and then in 2015 things happened in his life that was making him not able to play, so we brought in Jonathan Nordwall as a replacement. And then Joseph came back for a few shows, but it became clear he couldn’t do it. We then took in Jonathan on a permanent basis. I’ve known Jonathan for a very long time. When we started Enforcer, he was a fan of the band. He is a few years younger than us and I remember we were playing somewhere in the north of Sweden back in 2008. Then we was 16 years old, but you had to be 18 to get in at the place. The promoter came to me saying: “There’s a bunch of guys here that are only 16, they say they have travelled from Stockholm to see you. Should we let them in anyway?” That was Jonathan and some of his friends.
Has the extra diversity in the songs also craved that Olof changes the way he writes lyrics, and what he writes about?
– I think we are bit more careful with what we write about. Before, we have been very focused on writing typical metal lyrics, pretty much not knowing what we were writing about, throwing in some clichés here and there to make it catchy. There was definitely something I wanted to develop, so there is so much more effort in the lyrics this time around. We haven’t been inspired lyrically at all by other bands lyrics, which I think is a mistake we have been doing a lot before, just listening to other bands, saying: “This is a cool concept, lets do something like that.” Instead we’ve been trying to inspire ourselves in different ways, from books, from movies, from our own thought patterns and our own experiences. I have been inspiring myself by reading poetry and things. I have been focusing a lot on improving the lyrics, I think we all have. Or write lyrics that actually mean something, not only some random bullshit.
I guess you also grow better as a writer, quite naturally, just by the practice…
– Of course. Writing lyrics is probably my biggest insecurity when it comes to crafting songs. Its always something I wait with until the last second, and where I feel the biggest pressure. Finding the right lyrics that rhymes with the idea you have in your head.
Olof confirms that the song “Zenith Of The Black Sun” is some sort of title song, even if the title of the album is a bit shorter.
– Yeah, it’s the title track, definitely. It was the title that stood out the most. We started by calling the album “Zenith Of The Black Sun”, but after a while we figured out we wanted just one word, and then it became “Zenith”, a pretty good one word title, if you ask me.
What really suprised me, was that you have also done a version of the whole album in Spanish?
– A friend of mine, plays in a pop band or something similar, and has a wife from Argentina. They have been hanging out a lot in Argentina, and he told me they had done some music in Spanish that went really well down there. As a matter of fact, I speak a little Spanish, so I thought I might give it a try. I let the idea mature for a few years, but when I was done with this album, I decided to try to make a song in Spanish. I have a lot of friends in Latin-America, since we have been touring there so much. I asked one of them to try to translate the lyrics. At first I thought it was going to be super easy, but you can’t just translate lyrics from English to Spanish, so I had a friend of mine re-writing all the lyrics. I started with one song, and it turned out so cool, and my Latin American-friends were approving, so I decided to do the entire album. I spent something like six or seven weeks doing this.
Does it give a different feeling listening to the album in Spanish compared to in English?
– Yeah, I think so. Some songs are even turning out better. Spanish is a very nice language to sing in, it’s a much more vivid language than English. You can hear that when you listen to bands that sing in Spanish, they put so much emotion in the vocals compared to English lyrics. There is more room for interpretation.
You have recorded a couple of cover songs (tracks by Zone Zero and Divlje Jagode) which will be used as bonus tracks. Which criterias are using when choosing songs to cover?
– I think you have to choose a song where there is a lot of room for your own interpretation. It’s super boring to record something that is already 100 percent produced, perfected and there is nowhere to go from there. So usually we try to pick up songs that aren’t famous, but where we see potential in the songs. That’s a criteria for recorded covers we do. When it comes to live covers, we just want to pump up the audience.