After four years of waiting, April 26th sees the release of ‘Zenith’, the fifth album of Swedish Heavy and Speed Metallers Enforcer. The self-produced record took over two and a half years to write and record and the aim of the band to create the greatest Heavy Metal record of all time sure does not lower the expectations on the side of the growing fanbase. While Heavy Artillery Records and Earache Records released their first two albums ‘Into the Night’ and ‘Diamonds’ respectively, the Swedes moved on to the Metal giant Nuclear Blast with their third full-length release ‘Death by Fire’ in 2013, and have stayed there ever since. 2015 was the year of record number four, ‘From Beyond’ – followed by the longest period that has ever occurred between two Enforcer albums. I had a phone chat with vocalist and guitarist Olof Wikstrand who had just woken up, supported by a cup of coffee.
I dive right into the interview by asking about the time-consuming recording process. Olof explains: “We were very much looking at the album as a comprehensive whole and not just a stack of songs, you know. And within there we wanted to have as much variation as possible a lot of extremes. Do the extremes and go to the extreme with the extremes you can say, do you know what I mean?”
In order to learn more about Olof’s ambition to write an outstanding record, I ask him about the Heavy Metal forefathers that influenced and shaped his new compositions that even include orchestral-souding passages. “For example, making all the songs stand out from each other was a goal. As you can hear, a lot of the classic Heavy Metal albums that everyone seemed to worship you know, for example the 70s and 80s Judas Priest albums are incredibly varied and have a lot of different types of songs. People worship that, you know”, he says. “But people also seem to forget that that‘s why they worship those albums. And all the bands today, even the old bands, seem to get stuck in a pattern of just releasing ten songs that are so similar you can‘t really tell them apart after a while. So this was one key in making the album at par with the old classic records of the genre. Within there, of course, you should also have good songs, so we really focused on the songs and really to find a catch point in every part of every song.”
This sounds like quite a mission, and Olof contends: “Yes, but you know this is kind of our approach. It took a lot of time to do this and also to record, produce and make it sound. We use a studio as an instrument to give all the riffs their specific characters with different layers of guitars or different effects built into the riffs. So you give every riff also its own identity.”
It is impossible to deny the character of progression and varied change in sound, and Olof agrees with me that you cannot keep doing the very same things. So what about the lyrical part of the song-writing? “I think the themes are pretty much the same; we haven’t changed any themes or any lyrical ideas, and I think that we‘re pretty much in the same aesthetic position now that we‘ve been for the last couple of years”, Olof reflects. “We developed another goal, I think, and that was was not to be inspired by other band‘s lyrics but actually be inspired by things that make more sense instead, rather than just stacking cliches on top of each other, you know. So we‘ve been trying to write about.. could be movies, could be books, it could be life-time events or stuff like that, more than repeating what other bands would sing. Many younger bands are only influenced in their lyricism through other band‘s lyrics. I think somehow that this gets a bit generic after a while.”
Olof stays somewhat mysterious about the specific lyrical inspirations so I address the Spanish version of Die for the Devil. Olof gives me an account of how it all came about: “We toured a lot in Latin America and we kind of discovered how important it is for people to be able to relate to the lyrics and to the song. Also, South America has the most dedicated Rock and Metal fans in the world so we figured: ‘Why not give this a try?'” He goes on to add: “Because sometimes, you know, when you’re watching Youtube and you see that translated or subtitled Spanish versions have more views than the regular versions of the songs… I don’t know, somewhere there the seed of thought was planted. I started to play around with these ideas and eventually came up with the idea of doing one song in Spanish – but it turned out so great that I just decided to do the entire album.”
Olof stays a little tight-lipped about tracks that he favours on the new album, also regarding their writing and production process but says that he is “most happy” with the title track Zenith of the Black Sun. In turn, I ask him about the creation of Thunder and Hell, a track that positively stood out for me because of its energy. He outlines the songwriting process: “We had a version of it that we never really nailed so we just re-wrote the entire song in the rehearsal space. It‘s meant to be a crowd-pleaser like for the old fans of the beginning. It‘s a song that came together i would say like in two days.” I comment on the effective use of sampling on the track, which he then illuminates: “You can kind of build an association the for the listener with using these kind of samples. You put the song into a more literal domain. You close your eyes and when you use these samples you can see yourself in a situation of thunder and lightning – and it gives the song a kind of vibe. The idea was to use the lyrics and sound effects to really put the song in that context.”
So what are Enforcer’s promotion and touring plans after playing a release show in Sweden’s capital Stockholm? “We are doing a bunch of festival shows this summer in Europe and then we are doing a few weeks in North America in the fall. That‘s all we have for now as touring plans but i guess we‘ll get back to it once the record is released. Then we‘ll see what kind of reception it gets.”
As the band originates from one of Europe’s most notorious Metal nations and has built a large part of their fanbase in the European Metal underground, I ask Olof about his opinion on the scene. In the face of newly emerging music leaning increasingly towards more extreme sub-genres like Black Metal, Olof feels confident about the standing of Enforcer: “I think it just gets more interesting and challenging to stick to your own idea. None of us have ever been following trends at all whatsoever, and that‘s why we are doing this. We were the only band in the world playing real heavy metal back when I started the band in 2004; there were no other bands. So we were kind of used to go our own way. The bigger the contrast to the trends is, the bigger we are going to be. We have always been the option to the trends and we will always continue to be an option to the current trends both in society and also in the Metal scene.” He adds: “There‘s a saying in Swedish: ‘Only dead fish follow the stream.'”
I ask if he maybe wants to conclude the interview with a message to Australian Enforcer fans but unfortunately Olof passes. So it remains a mystery whether the Swedish Heavy Metal quartet will set foot on Australian shores.
According to the frontman, the fresh single releases have started a bit of a discussion and tension due to their mixed reception – this was expected and intended, though, and he approves: “Overall, it’s been better than expected.” It remains to be seen whether especially long-term Enforcer fans will enjoy the new record – whether in English or Spanish – despite or maybe for its varied departure from the early amalgamation of aggressive retro charm and true underground rawness.