Enforcer – Reaching the ZenithThursday, 25th April 2019
We’ve all known the story. A hungry band establish themselves, a cult-like fanbase grows through word of mouth and touring – and then fear sets in as that ‘baby’ band becomes bigger and more successful through a breakthrough album. Metallica went from the underground to mainstream by their fifth album – Iron Maiden became arena legends through The Number of the Beast – the list could go on and on. Enforcer have put the speed/heavy metal legions ablaze since premiering on the scene in the mid 2000’s. They’ve released four studio albums to date, toured globally and won over non-believers and skeptics even on diverse tours with Dark Tranquillity to Warbringer in North America.
Their new album Zenith is a big step forward for the band – expanding their horizons with a piano-led ballad in “Regrets” and 80’s-throwback melodies that could easily have come from California on “Sail On”, it’s a risky move for these musicians at this point in their career. Deeper listens will probably make this record a landmark effort in the Enforcer legacy – as the meticulous attention to every note gives the listener so much information to hang upon, while still being tight, focused, and hook-oriented. We reached out to drummer Jonas Wikstrand shortly before the band’s start of the Zenith tour across Europe – and he was happy to fill us in on the guitarist change, thought process behind Zenith, and shared some insight into his brother’s growth as a vocalist/ frontman as well as how he’s enjoying life in Texas compared to his Swedish upbringing.
Dead Rhetoric: Jonathan Nordwall is the latest member of Enforcer- replacing long-time member Joseph Tholl. What necessitated this member shift- and what does Jonathan bring as a guitarist to the table that may be fresh and unique compared to Joseph?
Jonas Wikstrand: Joseph had a lot of priorities going on – a lot of different priorities. He’s an artist that has so many visions and he wouldn’t be able to commit to doing Enforcer full-time. He said it was better to leave the band and for us to find someone that really wanted to do this and pursue this full-time to take over his spot. Olof did a full-length album recording with a band called Lethal Steel and he really liked Jonathan who was playing with them. He really liked the way he played the guitar, the way he was composing his songs and his solos, and also how he was treating the guitar, being passionate about practicing and becoming a better musician all the time. When we got an open spot for the guitar, he was our top choice. He had also replaced Joseph on two big European tours before, so he’s been with the band before. When Joseph left and there was a vacancy in the band, he was the natural person to ask about it. I don’t think he second guessed his choice. It’s been really great since he’s joined the band- he fits culturally, he fits musically. He’s a good addition to the band.
Dead Rhetoric: Zenith is the fifth Enforcer album – how do you think the band has evolved since the recording and touring cycle for the last album From Beyond?
Wikstrand: We had a lot of discussions going on after finishing From Beyond and we had been touring the songs. We took a long break and we said to each other ‘we don’t want to make another From Beyond again’. We want to do something completely different. I think it’s completely natural for a band that when you play the same songs over and over, the next step would be to do something completely different. What general direction did we want to go in? There were multiple inspirations and types of bands that we like, what kind of songs we want to have. One thing we wanted to do more was to work more with the songwriting process, the structure of the song. We weren’t just going to write material, rehearse it in the rehearsal space, and then record it- we wanted to think about every detail in the song to make it a structure that makes musical sense. That the material was really well thought through – to create songs that make sense together on an album and also we can get a lot of diversity for the music, the lyrics, the production, everything. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves.
Dead Rhetoric: The first single/video is “Die for the Devil” – what factors come into play to determine the first song or two you release to the public to represent this record? Do you ever worry that you may send the wrong overall message for the album’s contents through these picks?
Wikstrand: I really understand the question and the concern about what we want to put out. Do we want to put out a song that is most similar to our previous stuff, or do we want to present the song that is different? We want to show something different, another face of Enforcer. They will still get some of the stuff like we’ve done on the previous albums, it’s going to come in a completely different shape. We wanted to have a certain shock value, to see that we are back and we are doing something different and something for us. We understood that putting out this single, there was going to be a lot of haters out there, and that was calculated. A lot of the fans who didn’t really like the sound for the first 30 seconds, they came back to the song eight times and now they love the song because they understand the underlying thing of Enforcer in there. They have to get over and hear the new sound so they can understand the concept we are working on.
That’s why we wanted to start with something completely different, to show that we are not repeating ourselves.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you confident that you’ve established enough of a faithful fanbase that Enforcer as musicians and songwriters can take the band into the direction you want, especially given the type of heavy metal style you display?
Wikstrand: I think it’s hard for me to answer yes or no to that. We have established a fanbase that seems faithful for us, but you never know when they are going to leave us. There have been a lot of fans that were with us in the demo days through the first few albums, and then we signed with Nuclear Blast and they called us sellouts. People want their bands to be intimate to them, and they are the only people who know about the band. They are abandoning us – but we are getting bigger and more accessible so that they can see us more, more festivals, etc. With that said, I think we have a huge fanbase that love the Diamonds record, and a lot of the stuff on the new album is an evolution of that Diamonds record. A lot of these songs will speak to those people that are into that era of Enforcer.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be embarking on another tour run with Warbringer across North America this fall – as you also toured with them across this continent for the last record. What makes sense for this to happen again so soon, and do you enjoy a diverse tour package for the fans versus having similar styles all night/tour long?
Wikstrand: I think it’s important to take care of things, when you get all the press and release a new album, there’s a lot of buzz going on. Your name is out there, it’s important to take care of that and gain momentum by going out there and playing shows. If you wait half a year, you could already be gone. It makes sense to promote the album when it’s a recent release.
We attract similar kinds of an audience but also a very different kind of audience. Both fans still like what the other band is doing. It makes sense to do another tour with them – we have a mutual fanbase, and sometimes a little bit of a different fanbase. They’ll all go to the same shows and have a good night together.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you feel like a major upswing in fan support for that last tour run, considering you hadn’t played in North America for such a long time?
Wikstrand: The support has been great for North America- that was one of the best tours we’ve ever done. I’m really excited to be in North America again and do shows, to see how the fanbase has evolved from the last tour run. We hadn’t been to the US for eight years or something like that – now it’s been 2 ½ years. We did one US tour in between with Dark Tranquillity, so now to see what we would have with a fanbase and how the new album will be received, compared to the European audience. That’s a really interesting part, the European audiences seem to be much more like traditionalists, they want to keep hearing the same stuff a little bit more than the American fanbase. The American metal scene seems to be a little bit more open minded to change than Europe.
Dead Rhetoric: How does living in Texas compare to your upbringing and life in Sweden?
Wikstrand: I love the climate (laughs). Austin is such a great place to be at, it’s a great place if you like music and you meet a lot of similar minded people. I love having that as a base. The life in Sweden, it can be really limiting sometimes to be so far from everything. I feel like I am more in the center of the entertainment world here compared to when I am there in Sweden.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise us to learn about your brother Olof, and how do you feel he’s evolved as a person and a musician from the start of Enforcer until now?
Wikstrand: I think the biggest evolvement he’s ever done in his life relates to the vocals. He’s done a lot of evolvement as a guitarist too, but I think that for the band, his singing is important. When you go on tour and you are singing every day, you are getting better and better, practicing every day. For every record, the vocal performance has improved. The biggest step-wise is on From Beyond to Zenith. He’s doing so much more with his voice that he wasn’t able to do a couple of years back. I think he’s exploring his voice all the time, finding new ways of singing. A lot of the times in the previous records, there would be only a couple of notes that sounded really good in the high range – it’s limiting when it comes to the writing of those notes for the melodies. It helps with the dynamics to be able to use the lower range as well as the higher range and everything in between.
He’s always been a good frontman – and the songs that we have now, we can take that to the next level. He can perform more towards the audience. There was a time when he was only a singer and he could entertain the audience really well. When he added the guitar, it became limiting to him because of handling two duties. Now he’s gotten a way around it to still entertain the audience.
Dead Rhetoric: In an earlier interview I did with Olof a few years back, he mentioned that you weren’t convinced to join Enforcer at first, and had to be bribed with alcohol as you were underage – what do you remember of that early situation?
Wikstrand: That’s true. I remember that we had multiple bands throughout our childhood, from when I was like eight to now. It’s been band after band, doing different things. When Enforcer first came, I didn’t feel like it was more special than anything else we’ve ever done. I thought about skipping this. He told me that we were going to have this show – I was underage and he said he would buy beer for me until I was of age to buy. I said, yes – I’ll join (laughs). We had so much fun, it was the first time we went out and could see the actual reactions of the audience. Going to a venue and playing for golf claps with the previous bands. We had a good reaction and we were a serious band, so it made me get going and understand what this was all about, the message we were trying to send.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the career highlights for Enforcer – either albums, festivals, or touring situations that will forever remain in your memory banks?
Wikstrand: I think my biggest thing that I keep coming back to is playing the Loud Park festival in Japan. That was such an amazing opportunity for us, to be on stage in front of a large audience with all of these bands that we admire. The personal sushi chef did make it interesting. The first US tour that we did with Cauldron – I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a highlight, it’s something that we will remember forever because we had all these guys in a van and going into hotels sleeping twelve people in one room – being around with those people made us friends for life. The first Latin America tour, so many stories to tell – all the sketchy things that can happen. These are not necessarily highlights, but personal memories can stick with you.
Career highlights- everything keeps going and keeps getting … I’m more excited about the future than I am about the past. Our career highlight for me is just what happens next.
Dead Rhetoric: Has your definition of success for Enforcer changed from the beginning to now?
Wikstrand: Not necessarily. I don’t think we ever were thinking about success in a commercial or economic way. That has never been our goal with anything- and that hasn’t changed either. We all do things on the side, have different careers outside of the band. It would be so much pressure on us to pursue this as a full-time job. I think that also makes us really inspired to not have to press- we don’t have demands on ourselves that we need to do this to provide for our families. We do this for ourselves and give the audience and our fans something that we are really proud of.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Enforcer over the next twelve months?
Wikstrand: The first thing is the European festivals, we have a bunch of shows booked this summer. We will see the reaction from the audiences, and then we have a North American tour run. We have a plan to take this into all markets, but nothing more is booked up to this date. We are going to see where this takes us.