Soilwork – Facing RealityTuesday, 8th January 2019
Continually bringing new elements to their sound over the years, there seem to be some launching points with each iteration of Soilwork. The most recent point would be that of The Living Infinite, an ambitious double album of material that saw the band embracing a more melancholic and somber approach to their music. Something that has continued with the last two albums, including 2019’s Verkligheten.
In a mix of patented Soilwork riffing with classic heavy metal aspects, somber tones, and catchy melodies, Verkligheten is the product of a band that continues to strive to better themselves, even with a catalog that extends into double digits at this point. In short, everthing a Soilwork album should showcase, and then some. We were able to grab vocalist Björn Strid for a round of questions in December while he was on the road with The Night Flight Orchestra to talk about the new album, his thoughts about the band’s middle years, favorite songs, and more.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s been an increasing amount of melancholy over the years. Do you feel that this influence has been a result of aging and experiencing more in the world?
Björn Strid: I guess so, in a way. I think it all started with The Living Infinite, and we found a new expression there with the melodies. I think we were also sort of straying away from more American influences we might have had [laughs] and having more of a Scandinavian sound. We have always had that, but there was a time between Stabbing the Drama and Sworn to a Great Divide where it was more groove-based and slightly bouncing; more American influences mixed with our trademark sound.
I think we wanted to bring back the older elements but find a new expression, and I think that’s what happened when we went into the experiment that The Living Infinite was. Also, classic heavy metal influences as well. But yeah, like you said, the melodies stick out. It’s kind of hard to describe them. We have the perfect word for it in Swedish, but you can’t really translate it. Basically, it is melancholy, and there’s a lot of that running through the new album.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that Soilwork has hit a groove in terms of your writing, in terms of the feeling that this is what Soilwork is supposed to be?
Strid: Yeah, that’s what it feels like. We are reconnecting to the first three albums, but it’s something new and refreshing. I think it also has to do with the line-up changes, which has been something good for us. When David [Andersson] came in, as well as Sylvain [Coudret], that brought something new to the table. It inspired me, especially David’s sense for melodies, which I think is unique; it has that Scandinavian touch.
We started bonding over classic Swedish TV shows from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that showcased suburban anxiety and how great the music was, and even stuff like that inspired us. He has a lot of that in his melodies, and I think it inspired me – I picked up the guitar starting with The Living Infinite and there was a lot of stuff coming out. I think it really fits us. I think that’s what we should be, and where we sound the best.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering this is your eleventh album at this point, what do you look to for lyrical inspiration at this point?
Strid: It’s hard to not repeat yourself and find new topics, but it has been more of an existential phase starting with The Living Infinite. It feels like a new era in many ways. I think it also has to do with what we talked about earlier – growing older. I’m 40 now and the older you get, the more you have to face reality, and you have to find new ways to escape it. That’s very much the lyrical theme on this album. Some of the lyrics are full of escapism, and other lyrics are more realistic, even more social ways. That’s also the title of the album – Verkligheten is reality in Swedish.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about the song “Stalfagel” – it seems to have a unique vibe within the album.
Strid: It’s definitely a special song that stands out. I think it’s the first time we’ve had these ‘80s-oriented keyboards on a Soilwork album. That’s another thing that we have done on the new one. There’s not much Mellotron or Hammonds around – it’s more early ‘80s sounding keyboards. There’s something really cool about it.
Maybe that song will be a bit of a shock to some people, but it’s a really powerful song I think. Some people are going to hate me for this, but it’s almost like an extreme metal version of “Turbo Lover” [laughs]. I don’t know why. We actually watched the video for “Turbo Lover” last night, and it has some of those elements in it. But a slower version, it’s not upbeat.
Dead Rhetoric: The revolving door of members continued with Bastian [Thusgaard] replacing Dirk [Verbeuren] in between albums. What did Bastian bring to the table?
Strid: First of all, he’s really young. He’s 26 years old and I think we needed a breath of fresh air coming into the band [laughs]. He’s very good, he’s very organized. He has been taking care of a lot of the stuff outside of the music, which really helps. Plus, he brought a lot of stuff in musically. He can pull off all of the extreme stuff, but he also has this classic heavy metal/rock drummer chops. That really inspired us.
This album isn’t really groove-based, it’s more straight-forward but very dreamy. There’s a lot of stomp and blast beats, and some surprises here and there. But that also inspired us to make that album. I think we were already on that track, but when Bastian came in it inspired us even more. He’s not over-playing, it’s more tasteful and it works really well.
Dead Rhetoric: Have you gotten used to things changing up line-up wise seemingly routinely with each release?
Strid: No – I mean I guess I’m used to it and of course there has been times where I have felt, “Is there really a point?” I don’t know how it looks on the outside – people might see it as a circus and I must be a nightmare to work with, but that’s not the case at all I promise [laughs]. People find other priorities in life, which is understandable. We started this band 20 years ago. Making that journey and growing up with a band, there are going to be other things in life too. After Peter [Wichers] jumped off the second time after The Panic Broadcast, that was a time when I asked “Is there really a point?” But that’s when David came in.
Sylvain had already joined with Panic, but when David came in, it really gave me a reason to continue. He really inspired me and it felt like we could create something really good together. In many ways, he has become my musical mentor, also to pick up the guitar again and build a song from scratch. I was so used to maybe writing a riff here and there, but mostly just being thrown a song and doing the lyrics/vocals and that was it. It was a challenge for me as well. There was unexplored territory. It started to make sense again.
Dead Rhetoric: As mentioned in the press sheet for the album, there’s a lot of different Soilwork listeners from over the years (early stuff, FnF/StD, latter day). Speaking firmly from the early days quadrant, what do you feel that Soilwork has always done with your music to keep it fresh?
Strid: It’s hard to say. When we released Stabbing the Drama, that was our biggest album commercially. We could have tried to recreate that thing. It’s just never been possible for us. There’s never been any master plan [laughs], and I think that has been to our advantage. It sounds really pretentious but it feels like it was kind of written in the stars that we would keep evolving and our fans would join us on our journey in the end, and I think that’s what most people do. They expect that for each and every album there will be new elements and surprises but there will be a lot of presence in our sound. That’s really the keyword in our sound. I think we have been really good at focusing on the music, and have been terrible businessmen. That’s something to be proud of I guess [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: Like I was saying, following the band back with The Chainheart Machine and listening since, my own expectation is that with each release there’s going to be a bit of change that comes along into the Soilwork sound, and it’s not going to be a “part II’ of the last release.
Strid: That’s true, I think that people could sense that from the beginning. If you listen to Steelbath Suicide and then The Chainheart Machine, you can tell that this is a band that wants to do more than something Gothenburg/melodic death metal.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering the wealth of material at this point, do you have a few Soilwork songs from over the years have a special place for you?
Strid: It’s kind of funny because I haven’t listened back that much in recent years. We have a setlist and there are certain songs we always play – they are just there somehow. We play them live, and some of them you like more than others when you perform them live. I don’t know, there’s something about “The Crestfallen” that I love playing live. That’s the reference nowadays. Whatever feels the most, or brings out the most emotion live, that’s what you go for. “The Crestfallen” is one of those I would say.
There’s a bunch of others too, and right now I can’t come up with them [laughs]. The Living Infinite, the whole album, I’m just so proud of. I think it will definitely stand the test of time. Any song from that album – we could even perform that whole album in its entirety, but we probably won’t since everyone else is doing that and we are stubborn like that [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What do you recall about the years between Natural Born Chaos and Stabbing the Drama, as the band was beginning to accelerate in terms of scene recognition?
Strid: It’s a little blurry to be honest, but we did so much touring back then. Especially in North America, I think we did like 2 tours with Chimaira in one year back then. It was an interesting time. Discovering North America was quite a journey, we had so much fun. We also noticed how much Natural Born Chaos was inspiring the whole metalcore scene at the time. It was growing really large, which started with Killswitch Engage telling us that Natural Born Chaos and A Predator’s Portrait were some of their most important albums. That was an interesting realization, when we saw that whole scene booming and you could hear influences from Soilwork.
The first album was released in 1998, and that was really cool. Because we did so much touring in North America, I think we got inspired through the live scene there, and I think that Stabbing the Drama, Sworn to a Great Divide, and maybe Figure Number Five came out [like they did]. They were live-oriented, and you could tell what was working, playing live, which was cool. I’m very proud of those albums too, but it’s just not where we are at nowadays.
Dead Rhetoric: As The Night Flight Orchestra has been picking up speed recently, do you feel there’s a balancing act between the two bands coming in the future?
Strid: I hope so, next year is going to be very interesting. It’s going to be World Cup in logistics basically [laughs]. I’m preparing now. We are going to have a Christmas break – the last Night Flight Orchestra show on this tour is [December] 22, then pre-production for the tour with Amorphis starts on January 6. So we will see. We are going to make it work somehow.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you still have goals you have not achieved with Soilwork that you’d like to accomplish? Or is it like you said earlier, that there’s no masterplan?
Strid: I don’t think there’s much of a master plan. I think it’s just making great music and getting great tours. Touring with bands we like, and I think it starts with the Amorphis tour. I’ve been a long-time fan, and I think it’s a perfect bill. We’ve done so much touring for The Ride Majestic, and a lot of the tours didn’t make much sense in the end, so we have to pick our battles and be more selective.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of Amorphis, you had Tomi [Joutsen] on one track on the new album. How did that come about?
Strid: I guess I got inspired by us touring together. When I was writing the song, it felt like there was something missing. I came to think about Tomi and how he is a master of low growls, so I reached out to him and thankfully he said yes. I think it turned out really cool. We’ll see if we are going to perform it on tour. I can’t really guarantee, but I’d like to ask and maybe do the weekends or something [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: I have my own little goofy question that goes back to The Night Flight Orchestra. You had the song “Speedwagon” on the last album, did you ever have a car that you named Speedwagon when you were younger?
Strid: [Laughs] No, I don’t even have a driver’s license in Sweden, which is pretty common. I actually used to own a car, but I never got my license. It just never happened. It was an old Datsun with one of those fuzzy steering wheel covers, and it was green. But it wasn’t called Speedwagon. I wish I called it Speedwagon [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Just to finish up, what are the band’s plans for 2019 other than the Amorphis tour?
Strid: We are going to do a bunch of festivals with both Night Flight Orchestra and Soilwork, and I think we might have some recording sessions with The Night Flight Orchestra to work on the next album. I don’t think it will be released until the beginning of 2020, but that’s about it for now. If I start thinking too much about the schedule, I’m going to start going crazy [laughs]! One day at a time.