Wolf – Feeding the Metal Machine

Monday, 13th April 2020

At a time when traditional heavy metal was starting to regenerate interest as Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson returned to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, there was a second generation of bands willing to strap on their flying v’s and hoist their thoughts high for the genre. Sweden’s Wolf developed during that period – now together for twenty-five years and on their eighth album with Feeding the Machine. It’s been a long absence away from the studio for the group – but as guitarist/vocalist Niklas Stalvind explains in our talk, it’s not like they’ve lost their passion for the genre during that break.

In this engaging talk, you’ll learn about the delays between records, the new rhythm section and what they bring to the Wolf sound, plus plenty of thoughts on the genre itself, his thoughts on the musician on stage versus who he is as a person offstage, and plans down the line. Obviously the Grand Magus tour talk happened prior to the COVID-19 virus shutting down all tours for the foreseeable future.

Dead Rhetoric: Feeding the Machine is the eighth Wolf studio album – and first since Devil Seed in 2014. Beyond the record you did with The Doomsday Kingdom in 2017 and the change of members in the rhythm section, were there any other factors that took place for a prolonged absence away from the scene- and did you feel it was the right time to have that kind of break?

Niklas Stalvind: Actually, the thing that took three years to write were the songs, but then it took (guitarist) Simon (Johansson) a lot of time to build this studio where we made the record. The main thing that took a long time was related to that. We didn’t intend to take so long, but the building just escalated in time, in cost, in everything, working night and day to finalize it. He had a studio he was working on and got evicted from it when he started to record the drums. This time he built a top-notch studio.

In the end it was worth it, because the record ended up sounding great. The studio is fantastic and for the next album everything is set. With the new members they are fantastic, such wonderful and professional musicians. Everything is smooth right now, but it was a real struggle to get here.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like you lost any momentum that you have to catch up on with the six-year break?

Stalvind: Yes. I can see that now when I speak to people. Most people think that we took a long break and have been away from the scene but we have been playing live during this time. We didn’t really have much of a break, but I can see how people see it that way. We have lost a bit of momentum, but on the other hand it’s most important that when you decide you are an artist you have to be true to your art. This album has something that we couldn’t really force to write the songs quicker. It was a deep album to write and I really stand by it, every song on the album is something very special. I couldn’t have done it in any other way – at least I know that I did everything to make the new album. It’s unfortunate that it took so long.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess this set of material and what type of vibe you wanted to get across this time? Do you feel confident in where you want to go musically with Wolf record to record?

Stalvind: Yes. Every record is a specific response to the last one – like on Devil Seed, it was a special record for me at the time because I was writing a lot about my burnout and the songs were written in my journey to recovery. And also we wanted to do a deep sounding, high end sounding production on the album. After a couple of years, we felt like we have done this, we wanted to do something else and go back to the straight up, in your face, (much) simpler Wolf of the past. That’s what we tried to capture but keep the depths in the songwriting still. It’s a tricky balancing act to do.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the songwriting on this record, you said it took three years to develop the material. Is that because you placed more pressure on yourself to put out an impressive record?

Stalvind: It wasn’t to put out an impressive record. The story is that I felt I needed to face some of the demons from my past that have kind of haunted me for over 25 years. I had a really weird period in my life when I was young and when I got out of that period I put the lid on it and moved on. I wondered what the hell happened, but I knew someday deep inside I really had to take this demon and see him in the eye. To become whole, I had a lot of nightmares during those years that were haunting me. During this three- year period I wrote these songs and lyrics, it was therapy work for me to face these demons. I felt like I needed to go through this period, and instead of going to see a psychiatrist I went to the music. And that’s why I couldn’t really force myself to write the songs faster or just take that riff and put it together with that one.

It’s a bit deeper than that for me to write songs. I have done it, I’m happy that I did, I tried to write and work hard. I want to be true to my art – and I needed to work a full-time job during this period, I have a family to support. It’s hard to balance all this – a lot of people think that when you are in a band you are making a living just out of that and write an album and record it in a couple of months. Maybe some people can do this, but I can’t because I have this thing called reality that I am battling every day. It was a difficult journey, but finally we are out on the other side.

Dead Rhetoric: Discuss the video shoot for “Midnight Hour” – how did the process work between the band and director, and was this the obvious song to pick from for the album to give the fans a preview into what to expect?

Stalvind: The director is someone that had reached out to us and wanted to do a couple of videos. We recorded two videos on the same day – the second video for “Feeding the Machine” is going to be released in a couple of days. We had some discussions with him – he’s a vocalist in a band with our former bassist. That’s how we knew him, Daniel, he is a singer – he reached out to us, I checked out his stuff. He had a lot of imagination and an ability to do something with us. You force yourself to be more creative. It was a collaboration, but mostly his ideas – I love theater and have been working with a musical and I enjoy seeing the visual ideas come to life.

His head is full of crazy, weird ideas. Hopefully the next video is a bit more far out there.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the cover art piece designed by Thomas Holm come about – as he’s been working with the band since your second album Black Wings in 2002? Do you give him free reign based on the music to do his thing – or did you also come up with ideas and collaborate in a back and forth process?

Stalvind: Usually we give him a free leash to do whatever he wants. I have a deep discussion of the concept and my process or thoughts about the songs. If I have some visual ideas I throw them out there, but it’s up to him to do his stuff. What I like about him is he’s not just an illustrator, he is an artist. He loves metal but he sees metal in images. He told me this and that’s something I really can sense when I see his pictures. I told him this time about my journey and this phase of going back in my life and facing my demons, sorting things out.

What my take on the lyrics were – and he thought that was really interesting because he had also done like this himself. He made a couple of oil paintings, and this was one of the paintings he did. It wasn’t finished, he showed me some small excerpts. He finished it, it was a lot of work, and then he sent it over to me digitally. I was blown away, and nothing at all… I was expecting something completely different in my mind, this was something from a totally different angle and take on everything. I put it down, the next day I took it up and I started to feel connected to it. I saw these songs from his side, it really grew on me. The other guys in the band loved it straight away, the guys at the record label as well.

It just felt right. It brings the album another dimension, so we went for that.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe artwork is still an important factor for appeal in metal, because of the visual connection and striking aspects that you can take into so many different directions?

Stalvind: Yes, for me it is. I listen to a lot of music on my phone, at the gym when I am working out, thrash metal, and I don’t sit at the gym looking at the artwork. When I was young listening to Iron Maiden, I’d have the vinyl in my hands, look at the sleeves of Derek Riggs and it blew my mind. I looked at every detail, the album and picture were so closely connected – the imagery and the music. It’s almost like one, a symbiosis. I like that kind of thinking when it comes to albums, the artwork is important in this genre.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be embarking on a European tour as special guests to Grand Magus – how much are you looking forward to this experience, will it be fun getting to tour with a fellow Swedish band who have a long history in the scene like yourselves? And will it be tough locking into a setlist given the eight records at your disposal to pick from?

Stalvind: I’m looking forward to it a lot. We’ve wanted to tour with Grand Magus for many, many years, we’ve just never been able to. We talked about it during the years when we’ve met at festivals. Sometimes you meet in airports, now it’s finally happening. It will be a great combination for the fans. Like you said, it’s a shorter set of 45-50 minutes. How do you represent the band with eight albums and the history, in that short amount of time? We do four from the new album and then we will do a best of from our history, our live hits to give the obvious ones like “Speed On”, we always end our set, “Voodoo” is one of those songs as well. It’s really hard, but we will pick new songs on other tours.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been with Century Media since 2006 – how would you describe the relationship between the band and the label? Do you believe there is a mutual respect and understanding for each other and what the responsibilities are?

Stalvind: When we signed with them, by that time we were in our thirties. We started to have families, we were honest with them. We let them know we cannot tour all the time, if you asked us when we were 25, no problem. We can’t be away for a year, and they thanked us for being honest. They appreciate that, and they still wanted to sign us because they believed in our music, and they like what we do. It’s a mutual respect thing. I have always liked Century Media because they have always been very honest with us. They are not bullshitting – I cannot say the same for other record labels in the past.

We have a new A+R guy and we’ve really hit it off. You can tell they are doing the best that they can, and you can tell it’s not a really easy business anymore, to have a record label. They are passionate and so are we, I can’t complain actually.

Dead Rhetoric: In our last talk, you set a three to five-year goal of getting on bigger tours and seeing this style of heavy metal getting more popular. Considering the strength of recent tours by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest as of late as well as the appeal of Firepower as an album, do you believe traditional heavy metal is more popular than ever – including the output of younger bands drawn to the style?

Stalvind: I think so. It was huge when I was a kid, but it was huge for me because I was a kid. If you go to an Iron Maiden show nowadays, it’s bigger than ever. Bands like Judas Priest and Saxon are putting out albums that are great – Firepower is a really good album from guys that have been doing this for almost 50 years. That’s amazing, and I feel like we are the second generation of heavy metal bands to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Now we have a third generation of younger kids that are doing their thing – we started this thing in Sweden when nobody really cared about this genre. Now there are kids coming that are into this classic heavy metal stuff, I think it’s really cool.

Metal is so broad nowadays, classic or what you want to call it, it’s one of the many branches of metal. It’s a genre that succeeds many generations of people, many classes in society. In Sweden, you don’t have to be just in the working class to appreciate heavy metal. A university professor can wear an Iron Maiden t-shirt here, I know a professor that’s totally into heavy metal, he names his scientific discoveries to people like Lemmy. Metal is a genre that cannot be ignored, it’s huge – but at the same time, it’s still underground. It’s a bit of a contradiction, I’m happy that people are still interested in our stuff at least, otherwise it would suck to make records and play for only ten people.

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