Formed by vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid and Peter Wichers [ex-lead guitarist] over 20 years ago, the Swedish metal sextet have never been pinned down by convention. Across an impressive 10-album back catalogue, especially fourth record Natural Born Chaos, the group have branded the metal scene with an atmospheric yet melodic sound, and a presence that has taken them around the world.
They’re set to drop a rarities collections called Death Resonance later this month, featuring a mix of old and brand new material. Ahead of its release, I sat down with the frontman to talk his long-time idol Devin Townsend, the mental toll of recording, and connecting childhood with melody.
You guys did a round of club shows here in February supporting latest album The Ride Majestic (2015), which was awesome, how would you reflect on that?
“It was a great tour. It was the sixth time, so we came to Australia at a pretty early stage in our career, already in 2003. So it’s always great to come back, and with The Ride Majestic as well. It contains a lot of songs that work really well live. I actually got the chance to bring my dad on that tour, so that was a first [chuckles].”
Let’s talk about Death Resonance. What I love is that it makes this link between life and death, and the band’s entire history. What was your mindset in putting this one together?
“It was definitely a trip down memory lane, and a lot of those songs I haven’t heard for years. So it really cool to go back and listen to them, and see how we’ve developed as songwriters and musicians. It was really important for us that it was going to have an album flow, rather than us just throwing a bunch of leftover songs. We decided to remix and remaster them all, and I think it actually works. You go back to ‘Martyr’ and ‘Wherever Thorns May Grow’, and I realise that I was pretty bummed out back then that they didn’t end up on Sword To A Great Divide (2007). But here they are, like ten years later, so that’s really cool that they’re going to be available for everyone to hear.”
Moving to songwriting in general, have you there been moments where you’ve surprised yourself about just how raw the process is?
“I always somehow connected childhood when I create melodies… I’m very nostalgic, but I always try to look forward as well. But it definitely is a personal thing, and that’s one of those things that you develop as a songwriter through the years. In the beginning it’s more like “Oh this is a cool riff and here’s another one, let’s just kind of pile them up”. With age, you really go for the feel of things. Writing a song can be very easy but also very hard. It’s a matter of finding that presence, and I think we’ve become a lot better at that.”
What’s awesome is that even now, you’re developing as a singer. How would you reflect on your growth, and what do you still tend to struggle with?
“I’m just really happy. I was 17 when we started, and now I’m 37 and still developing as a vocalist. I’ve been doing many different types of music. Aside from Soilwork I’ve been doing a lot of guest vocals and started the band The Night Flight Orchestra with David [Andersson, Soilwork guitarist]. That’s completely different, like late ‘70s, early ‘80s classic rock. I really found my voice there, got a lot of confidence and brought that with me for Soilwork…
It’s taken so many years for me to actually start liking my own voice, and use it the right way. I’m still developing but it’s way easier to sing and switch between the screaming and clean vocals… Of course it’s a lot in the studio, you sing for 10 hours straight and do it for two weeks, it’s crazy. That’s why I actually did all the vocals for The Ride Majestic at home, so I could spread out the recording sessions. I think that did a lot, especially mentally. That part is always the hardest.”
A great way of putting you guys is as a ‘metal collective’, because you all have such eclectic backgrounds. How much of a challenge has it been reconciling those differences?
“I guess it was harder mid-2000s… There’s a lot of things happening between when you’re 17 and 25, in your private life and music taste. Being a part of the metal scene… it’s almost like you can’t go back just being a normal metal fan again, because we’ve seen everything behind the curtain. You tend to take in other influences as well, you can’t help it. I think along the way we found a mutual vision somehow, even though we never really discuss where we’re going to take the next album. So it’s pretty interesting how it has worked out.”
“It was a really cool experience for us, and a very healthy one at that. For me as a singer, working with Devin Townsend was the first step for me to actually be more confident in what I’m doing… Especially with the clean vocals, because we only did one album before that with them, so getting that confirmation from Devin… He was one of my biggest idols as a far as singers go, so it was a great learning experience. Being in Gothenburg and having Devin and Fredrik Nordström co-producing was definitely interesting. They’re both pretty crazy characters [chuckles]. It was two great minds and then the band doing something new. [The album] was very atmospheric and I think a little ahead of its time when it came out. Nobody realised it, and it became a cult album a bit later and had a huge impact on the metalcore scene in America and other parts of the world.”
Absolutely. Another band that had a huge impact on you was Strapping Young Lad with their City album. How would you reflect on that?
“I guess that’s something that makes us a bit unique in the late ‘90s Swedish scene, where so many of those bands were influenced by classic heavy metal, twin guitars and stuff like that. We were influenced by that as well but also looking elsewhere, and hearing City for the first time… That was completely different, so we got really influenced from that to try and create something unique. I think we really driven by the atmosphere and open chord choruses, and we were also influenced by Carcass’ Heartwork as well, even classic rock like Rainbow and Deep Purple… We had bluesier elements that nobody else really did at the time.”
Markus Wibom came in as your new bassist last year, which is great because even though Ola [Flink] was a longstanding member, Markus has been a friend for a while. Didn’t he start out as a guitar tech with you guys?
“Yes, he came with us to America, did a European tour… I’ve actually known him since the late ’90… So it was a very smooth transition. It’s ironic that he sort of looks like Ola as well, it was almost like the crowd didn’t notice the difference. When we were playing in Stockholm, before it was announced that he was the permanent bass player, people started chanting ‘Flink! Flink!’ and didn’t even realise it was a different guy [laughs].
“But he’s an amazing bass player and a fantastic friend. So far he actually hasn’t written any songs, but he’s a very interesting character, so I’m curious to see what would actually come out if he started writing. He’s a very social guy and sort of reunited the band… Sometimes it takes a bit of a social fly to come in [chuckles].
It used to be like we’d all just sit and drink a little bit before shows in groups or separate, but now we’re sitting together, which is a great thing.”
Delve into a rare collection of old and new Soilwork with Death Resonance, available for pre-order here, out on August 19 via Nuclear Blast Records.
Read Wall of Sound’s Death Resonance album review here
Interview By Genevieve Gao