The pressure comes from ourselves and nowhere else: Interview with Olof Wikstrand from Enforcer
Has Enforcer, eleven years into their career as one of the main names of the swedish scene of classic heavy metal, reached their Zenith? If you believe the album title, they have indeed. Zenith broadens the bands sound one step further and provides everything from raw ballads to energetic hit songs and epic metal opuses. Stargazed Magazine called founding member Olof Wikstrand up for a discussion about dead seriousness in heavy metal, trends, ballads and winning grammies.
FIFTH TIME’S A ZENITH
“Zenith” is the point in the sky directly above an observer. Is this the place where you are located in your career right now?
Yeah, that might just be where we hope to get to be! says guitarist, vocalist and founding member Olof Wikstrand. But yes, I think so. This is the fifth album, and some sort of “fifth time’s a charm” is a sort of way. It definetaly feels like our undoubtably strongest album so far!
Your last album, From Beyond (2015), was highly succesful and developed your earlier metal into something more broadened. I would summon it by saying there’s less german cult band 1986 and more british classic 1983. Do you sense that Zenith is taking this a step further?
Yes I do, actually! Sure there’s more classic metal on this album than there is arrowsharply directed speed metal, definately! But above all, there is a much greater palette of inspiration on this album, in how we have tried to be completely unfettered in choosing what ideas we turn into songs. In earlier days we might have been a little singleminded, one might think…
What pulls you into this direction?
We’ve been doing this for fifteen years, we’ve done four albums prior to this. To be creative and keep on being creative, you have to take in something more to make it interesting for us instead of just repeating the same clichées and clichées on top of each other. On the last album, it felt as if we kind of perfected our concept. From Beyond (2015) was kind of, at least from our point of view, a carbon copy of Death By Fire (2013), only even better. This time we felt we wanted to do something else and walk that path.
You included something of a ballad in Regrets. How does it feel to take on that style?
I think it belongs! If you take a look at any heavy metal band that is great – Judas Priest, Scorpions, Thin Lizzy – all those bands have a great deal of variation among their songs, and a lot of the stripped down kind of songs too. It rather feels like it’s bands today who doesn’t dare to take themselves into all directions. Doing this made us feel we had raised the bar to go ahead to do something in the size of the classic bands we’ve grown up with, and then it takes that you dare a little too.
Absolutely, because back in the days of classic heavy metal bands, their style hadn’t been invented, because they invented it as they went along…
Exactly, and now we have been trying to think back one more step to how you really do an album alongside the great classics and really try to do something that isn’t just another album, but that also can stand up to those classics. After that, it’s up to the listeners to determine wether or not we succeded, but I for one feel very proud of how we took upon that task.
Are you a wimp if you think Regrets is the best song on the album?
Definately not. You think so? Cool! It was the first song we considered not including, seeing how it raised the bar… I think it is great as hell! There was an earlier inspiration for that song which heights I hoped we would be able to reach, I thought it was incredibly good, so you could say I’m a little tainted by that inspiration, but I hope people experience Regrets in the same way I experience that inspiration.
What has the sucess of From Beyond meant for you and the new album?
Success is relative. You always aim higher and if you ask me, I wouldn’t say we reached any larger succes with that album than before. But in a way, the circus around the band has become organized and, especially on the last album, we organized it for us to be able to play all over the world in one tour. It was very well organized! I think we played in 42 countries. 220 gigs in 2 1/2 years. That’s it, really, being given the oportunity to do that, was the biggest difference.
Have you met puritans that think you sold out?
No, at least not anybody saying it to my face. Maybe you’d seen somebody comment our new video with that attitude, but on the other hand, they haven’t heard the album. I’ve only heard positive words from the ones I’ve talked to whom have listened to the new album. So I guess it’s yet to be seen! I don’t think we’ve sold out, just… We’ve kept everything we’ve had before! We’ve done our fastest and hardest songs ever on this album too, so we’ve covered all the aspects. It would be if we changed our sound completely, just including all the extremes withouth something that really raw and aggressive… But we have that too, so our whole basis is covered.
When you emerged in a little more than ten years ago, you talked a lot about how you took yourselves and heavy metal music 100% seriously. Is the attitude more relaxed nowadays or is it still dead serious?
It’s still dead serious, there is nothing funny about heavy metal. At least nothing that should be ironised and joked about. That ruins the whole concept! The whole heavy metal scene is in pieces today. There are very few bands taking it as seriously as they should. It seems as if bands that are ironic and generic gets very much attention, which sadly also includes all other bands, apart from a few, but that’s another discussion.
What bands are there?
That are not ironic? Of course there’s a lot of bands that aren’t ironic, but they are more swimming around in the underground rather than beeing seen on the surface. It feels as if around the mid 90’s, heavy metal got a little split. The dead serious emerged into extreme metal and the more easy metal became parodic and ironic.
Your old pals in Tribulation won a swedish grammy last year in the category “best rock/metal” and their album Down Below has been ranked among the years very best heavy metal albums, alongside with Judas Priest and Ghost. Has their success worn off on your career?
No, I don’t think so. We don’t have that much business together nowadays. But having that connection benefits both bands, I think. I see many of our fans accepting Tribulation in a way, otherwise seeing how we have more traditional metal fans, just because we are having that connection. I also see many of their fans starting to like us! So it’s a win-win for both, really.
Maybe it’s good to have that connection now when they’re doing so great.
Yes, but that’s just fantastic!
Do you think you will ever win a swedish grammy?
No, I don’t think so!
Yes, but absolutely not! That’s something I’ve came to senses with a long time ago. I just don’t think we are a part of that… If you take a look at the heavy metal scene, or at least what is on the outside regarded as heavy metal, I think we are getting very much branded as a retro act among that kind of audience, and I don’t think we are innovative enough to get an award like that. And that’s not the point either. We don’t follow any trends, we have never done that, we make our own. We are just to untrendy to even take part in that kind of community.
So what about your future?
Look, it’s nothing I can affect. The only thing we can do is to write as good songs as we possibly can, and I think that is what we’ve done. There is nothing I would like to undo or do different if I looked back. What gets to be hip or trendy or whatever, no one can determine that. What gets to be hip feels completely random. Let’s not forget that musical quality and some kind of commercial success is completely unrelated. That’s an entirely different equation! But I realized that a long time ago. It’s just to take a look at all these amazingly bad bands that are popular commercially and how many amazingly good bands that will never be praised or that people even listen to. So like I said, it’s not for us to decide.
You’ve stated that you will not tour as intensely as you’ve done before. It’s that a risky move in these days, when digitalization has more and more made touring the main income for musicians?
Yes, but also, having this in mind, it’s rather about prioritizing quality before quantity. You shouldn’t do two hundred gigs where one hundred is good and one hundred is quite bad… or more like a hundred good ones and a 100 mediocre. In that case you don’t have to do mediocre gigs at all, so… The basic idea is that we wanna raise the bar a little. I guess that’s our point.
Your point of view is to first and formost do what you can do as good as you can and then people can take it whatever way they want?
That has always been our attitude, I think. Everything that we do, it’s just for ourselves. If people then like it it’s great for them too. And great for us if people like what you’re doing, of course. But above all, the pressure comes from ourselves and nowhere else. It’s just fun to have the opportunity do all this, but that’s another thing.
So what are the plans for the future?
The closest future? Well, I guess we’re gonne play as much as we can with this album and take it out on the road. I think we have 18 gigs this summer in Europe, and then we are touring USA this autumn, and after that, we’ll see. We are currently talking about what we’re gonna do after that!
Zentih is available from the 22nd of april and on through Nuclear Blast Records. But you can already read Stargazed Magazines review of the album here: