There’s a particular type of scream in heavy metal that sends shivers down the spine. It’s a key signifier – like a yell from beyond that acts like a clarion call to all heavy metal heathens. If you have the scream all is good in the world. Halford had it – he was the king of the sustained “yeaaaahhhhh”. Dio, Kiske, Adams – hell, even Deceptor who are featured elsewhere in this issue have the scream. It’s up there with the Tom G “OOH”. The “yeah” in ‘Number Of The Beast’ takes some beating, but 27 seconds into brand new single ‘Mesmerised By Fire’ by Swedish leather boys Enforcer and we’re won over. We’re home. There’s something so comforting about that high-pitched cry of determination. Fuck the world. We are heavy metal. We are strong.
There’s always that fear of the new. It’s not a worry that’s left only to the metal tribes, all groups of music fan have it we’re sure, but it’s maybe moreso in heavy metal because it’s a love born of passion and, yes, we’ll admit it, ownership; so when a band you’ve loved since you heard their demo in 2006, and who you’ve made a pact to support and follow from town to town, bring out a new album, you take a deep breath before pressing play. What if they’ve let you down? What if they’ve moved on from the band you once fell in love with? What if this change in line-up, or change of label, or change of studio has altered the band beyond recognition? Don’t tell me you’ve never felt that way? The fingers indeed hovered over the play button when ‘Death By Fire’, the new album from Enforcer, landed at Iron Fist HQ.
It’s not like this album was in any way easy-going. In March 2011 it was announced that long-term axeman Adam Zaars (and our artistic mastermind) would step down from the band and not long after that it became clear that vocalist Olof Wikstrand would take over his guitar duties while retaining full control of the mic. Then there was the switch of label, which was announced suddenly late last year. The band were hopping from Earache to German giants Nuclear Blast, to join forces with the label who already play home to fellow Swedish metal traditionalists Grand Magus and Bullet. We fear change. But as the soothing piano of ‘Bells Of Hades’ swept over us it calmed us before the storm that was ‘Death Rides The Night’. All previous Enforcer trademarks were present, and then some. The neck-breaking speed, the singalong choruses, the intricate dual guitar melodies, the ultra-fast drum fills, the bluesy bass swagger – and we weren’t even a minute into the song yet. It all felt so familiar, yet much more revitalised than anything the band had done before. This was Enforcer powered-up. Next level – as the youth might say.
“It’s Enforcer multiplied by a million,” agrees Olof. It’s New Year’s Day and we’re all cradling our hangovers from the night before. Well, I’m nursing my fourth coffee of the day but Olof and his brother Jonas, who provides battery for Enforcer, are at home in Stockholm, looking annoyingly chipper.
Maybe it’s the hearty fika (showing off my Swedish there) or the fact that they’re mid-way through talking about the making of ‘Death By Fire’ that’s shaking away their cobwebs, but they’re bouncing off the walls, finishing each other’s sentences and with Olof’s hearty axe always to hand, playing riffs at me through the medium of Skype. That’s not helping the hangover, guys! However, there’s nothing better than to brush away the booze blues than talking heavy metal with two people who are as obsessed as you with the genre and it’s fitting that Iron Fist should see in the new year with one of 2013’s most exciting proponents of speed.
“We shared a vision from the beginning, we all had it,” Olof says excitedly. “That’s the difference with the earlier albums as well, we built the sound up together, in our heads and saw the flow and the dramaturgy of the album before we even had any songs; it’s much, much more a band thing. Yeah, ‘Diamonds’  was a band thing too, but this is a completely different thing because this preserves our own individual style of playing and that’s how we could put so much personality into every track, which eventually lives up to the Enforcer sound, consisting of now four different persons bringing their own personalities into one thing.”
He’s not wrong – the vibe of Enforcer oozes from every riff, drum crash and scream on ‘Death By Fire’. Jonas looks like a Sunset Strip rock god but plays with the fury of Phil Taylor in his prime; guitarist Joseph Tholl is effortlessly cool and dexterously dangerous, executing every lead with harmonic hedonism; bassist Tobias Lindqvist is jazz, funk, soul, rock and blues all at once but unmistakeably heavy and Olof, well he looks every bit like a Jeff Hanneman at the Costa Mesa in 1983 but when his vocals kick in you can feel that heavy metal is coursing through his veins. And it’s that connection between the four players here that brings us to their third full-length – instead of waiting to be snapped up by a label and forced into a stressful recording situation to appease their budget or their release schedule, the band took their time and did it their way… or else.
“We decided in the early days that we wanted to keep things close to the band, both recording-wise and production-wise,” Olof explains. “We’ve always had control over most things but we wanted 100 percent control over it; every single soundwave, you know? So we could create something to be proud of. So pretty early on, since me and Jonas have this experience and knowledge to do such things, we started out recording the drum tracks and it turned out so well we decided to continue to do everything ourselves and that enabled us to keep our vision and build the songs, and I’m really, really proud of that, because that’s when we had the opportunity to do it our way, which is very different from how other bands record their music and how their music sounds.”
Olof’s always been a perfectionist, that much is known. This is after all his baby. He started the band in 2004 with a two-track demo coming a year later that included live staples ‘Evil Attacker’ and ‘Mistress From Hell’, and he did it all himself. Those tracks found themselves onto an Iron Pegasus released 7” (good luck finding a copy of that – and if you have a spare get in touch!) and a split with Toxic Holocaust among others for Heavy Artillery, who signed them for their debut full-length ‘Into The Night’, which now boasted Jonas on drums, Joseph on bass and Adam on guitars. But even that was recorded by the Wikstrand brothers while mastering was handed over to Rikard Löfgren from Vomitory. Rikard was promoted to producer on their 2010 album for Earache, ‘Diamonds’, but with Olof working as a sound producer for television moguls Endemol and Jonas working as a professional music composer and producer, it made sense for them to join forces and bring the entire production of ‘Death By Fire’ in-house. The brothers even worked together at a studio in their hometown of Arvika before moving to Stockholm, and it was there that the pair worked on releases for the cream of contemporary, underground Swedish metal, such as Tribulation, Stench and Helvetets Port so it was easy to pull in favours to get the studio time they so craved to make this album their magnum opus.
“We can work with the music until it’s perfect,” Jonas beams. “We can work on things over and over again and come back to it and decide if we want to re-record bits until we’re really satisfied.”
But surely, by setting out for perfection, you have to be pretty damn disciplined to have an end-date in mind. When did the brother’s decide enough was enough? A project like this could go on forever…
“I don’t think so,” laughs Olof. “We had such a clear vision from the beginning about what we would sound like so when we did something that meshed with our vision we knew we’d be done, so it’s not like we didn’t have a very clear goal from the beginning.
“On ‘Diamonds’ we only had 30 days in the studio, including mixing, so it was more like 15 days that we had to squeeze in all the songs on tape and this time the recording process has been something like six months, but that also gave us distance to the music and meant we could go back to it, record, listen, listen some more and go back.”
“It’s been a big advantage,” continues Jonas, “because if you finish it too fast and you go back a month later you discover all these things you want to do different and now we had time to listen to the actual recordings and do the changes to create the perfect album.”
“I think that we turned everything upside down when it comes to recording and producing music,” adds his brother. “We took everything back to when people still had the knowledge to know how making a record works. I’m not saying we were aiming for an ’80s record – that’s definitely not what we did. We were aiming for a good sounding record and by mastering it ourselves and keeping it within the band we brought back some elements of music producing that’s been lost for 25 years.”
It’s not just music production from times gone by that the bands are concerned with – as one of the advocates of the traditional metal sound Enforcer keep it old school in every way; bringing in elements of early British hard rock and heavy metal, but also a dash of early American speed metal too.
“I would definitely agree that we have a British sound but we mix it up with so many other aspects,” says Olof. “But the British sound, if you look at that, sounds a lot like a basic rock sound, much more than Swedish, European or American metal from that time, and I think we have a lot of influences from British heavy metal. A lot of the riffs that we build our songs upon are based on a pentatonic bass, where you have this rock-based riff that’s very based on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sound so, yeah, I think it is one of our biggest inspirations from when we first started to create the sound of the band. I don’t really get pissed off when people say that [we are taking our riffs from NWOBHM], because it is one of our biggest sources of inspiration, but it’s not the only one; we are also inspired by the Swedish scene, with the more melodic chords from the ’80s and the European more fast and intense stuff, and then from America too, I think we pretty much we take from all the scenes and NWOBHM is a big part.
“The early American scene was definitely inspired by what Britain was doing at the time, some of those bands just took it further, like putting on more catchy, more kooky refrains. It’s awesome, you’ve got the whole speed metal evolution happening in America in the mid-’80s, which is a big inspiration for us. Take early Metallica, I’ve never seen them as a direct inspiration or anything like that, I mean I’ve always listened to them, but I see a lot of similarities between us and them because we are influenced by the same sort of bands. As a reference for the drum sound on the new album we had ‘Ride The Lightning’, a very compact drum sound, with a snare sound that feels like someone punched me in the stomach.”
While the band are candid about their plundering and homage to the metal sounds of ’79-’85, how do they feel about more modern metal. Ironically, on the day we do our interview The Times publish an article claiming that heavy metal will be the sound of 2013. Great, we cry – finally some recognition from the major newspapers. Sadly, upon further inspection we find that they’re talking about bands like Bring Me The Horizon and While She Sleeps (what happened to good one-name band names like Raven, Saxon and Satan?).
“If we’re going to talk about that type of music, to me that’s not really heavy metal so I couldn’t care less,” Olof scoffs. “I haven’t even heard those types of bands, so it has nothing to do with what we do. It’s a shame they used the expression ‘heavy metal’ though because it’s far away from what they are doing.”
Although we don’t agree with the bands per se that The Times is name-checking we do however live in hope of the sentiment. It does seems like traditional sounding heavy metal is in rude health right now and Enforcer are one of the leading lights of the new wave of the new wave.
“There is nothing that I hate more than being lumped together with all that shit,” Olof sighs. “It’s a big fucking shame that the ‘new wave of traditional metal’ exists really because fuck those posers, they try to exploit the old wave of British heavy metal and that was actually a wave of bands and this is just a handful of bands coming out, playing the music that they grew up with and the original scene would never be like that. You would never have the original bands bunched up, I mean, none of the good bands. Yes, there are a handful of good bands out there, but they are being bunched together with a shitload of poser bands, which will mean it only ends badly in the end where all the good bands are bunched together with shit bands and that’s a big, big shame and a big mistake by people, who don’t really know what they’re doing by creating these types of trends.”
Oh, we love stirring the pot, knowing our question would incite rage we ask him to name names, but of course he’s too polite.
“I’d rather not say, all I know is there are a lot of good bands but most bands are very, very bad and are imitating rather than doing their own thing and there’s a big difference between doing your own thing, which is full of passion and enthusiasm and copying other bands and bands that dress out instead of dressing up is a big difference. And you can tell really easily as well.”
Now we’ve caught his ire, we can start pressing him with more difficult questions. Of course the massive elephant in the room here is that the band had a line-up shift. They’ve had one before, it’s nothing new – in 2008 the band hired bassist Tobias and Joseph moved to guitar, which makes total sense. But that’s nothing compared to the move from vocals to guitars for Mr W… or so you’d think. The first show we caught of Enforcer AZ (After Zaars) was in London in April 2011 and having been lucky enough to catch the group as a five-piece on many an occasion, including near-legendary slots at the Sonisphere and Bloodstock festivals, it was odd seeing Olof with a guitar strapped to him, but fast-forward 18 months and onstage in Birmingham supporting Angel Witch and it’s as if he never went without – he looked confident and comfortable doing dual duties.
“We probably did over 200 shows with me only singing. You saw us on our first show with me on guitar, so it was hard to get into it,” Olof admits. “At that time I hadn’t even decided if I wanted to play guitar, but as time passed I got into the role pretty well. I mean, I am a guitarist originally, not a vocalist and I feel a lot more confident on stage with a guitar, so it worked out. In the end I don’t think it matters if you are four or five people, it’s more about delivery energy to the audience.”
“Olof has been playing guitar since he was nine or ten years old,” his brother adds, jumping to his defence. “He just took a little break from the guitar.”
“It feels very natural now. I first picked it up in the rehearsal place and it took time to adapt and get the same routine as I had in the old role and now I’m very comfortable, especially with the way we have been writing the new record,” Olof continues. “We deliberately thought about it to fit me as a vocalist and as a guitar player at the same time. We wrote the songs to suit my voice while playing at the same time, because it’s much more of a live feeling on this record, I would say. So yes, it feels really good at the moment and we’re definitely staying like this.”
“We did one rehearsal where Olof was just singing and Joseph did all the guitars,” Jonas admits, “and suddenly we realised it had to be two guitarists so Olof picked up a guitar.”
But if Olof is originally a guitarist, is more comfortable with guitar and admits that singing is not his forte, did the band ever consider letting Olof rip on the axe and get in a new frontman?
“No, of course I can’t leave the vocals,” Olof says, shocked at the suggestion. “You just don’t do that. We created this based upon all our personal, unique ways of playing, including my unique way of singing and there’s nothing we can do to change that. We wrote those songs to suit my personal voice, you know? On the last record we didn’t really think of that so much – there were even some songs on the last record we couldn’t even perform live and so now we’ve written the songs to suit my voice, so I can be much more myself instead of trying to be someone else. We also put a bit more of myself into it, and made it a bit lower, which suits me better and I can put a lot more energy into the performance.”
The brothers keep mentioning that word. Energy. It’s clearly important to them. And listening to the new album you can certainly hear the energy in each one of its nine songs. And then of course you have their live show, which is an exhausting display of triple-shot espresso fuelled speed metal.
“We don’t play fast for the sake of playing fast, we just try to deliver an energy in the music and whatever tempo fits with that song is the best tempo, it’s not necessarily fast for being fast; it’s a big difference, but to me, or to us it’s very important to deliver a type of energy in all our songs and that’s what’s important rather than playing fast,” Olof explains. “Actually, I would say that musically we are more extreme than any other bands of today or the past 25 years too. Just look at all the modern death metal bands or extreme metal bands, they’re playing extreme just for the sake of it. There’s nothing extreme to it, for me, because if you look at the music, they’ve got a standard, average death metal sound with a blastbeat, but there’s no energy in it. It’s basically just the drums playing fast, but the tempo of the actual song is really laid back and there’s no effort or no energy and what we do is that we build songs upon riffs, so that they’re fast and intense instead of having just fast drums. We don’t focus on writing fast songs but on writing good songs.”
“It’s like exercise,” Jonas laughs when I ask if this style of playing is a strain when it comes to touring. “I sweat after every show. It’s like a workout, but I, well we, enjoy it. That’s a big part of our show, delivering the energy to the audience.”
“It’s just as important doing shows as doing records,” adds his brother. “It’s pretty much the same thing. So it’s not that I wanna say we’re a live band or that we’re a studio band, it’s just that we just we wanna do the shows we’d want to see or write the songs we’d want to hear.
“Yes, I’m really excited to go on this tour,” he adds of the forthcoming jaunt around Europe with labelmates Grand Magus and one of their prime influencers in Angel Witch. “It’s the best of the past and the future with Angel Witch, who have a great legacy and a strong present and also with Grand Magus, they’re one of the best new bands, so I think it will be great.”
Jonas adds; “For us personally we have a new album out so we can play new songs. We’ve been playing those same songs for two and half years so it’s going to be really interesting to see how the new material goes down.”
“We’re really excited to be able to play the new material and also bring the new stage show and take things to another level that we’ve been really longing to do and can do with this new material,” adds Olof. “Now we finally have the opportunity that we didn’t have before and do a total heavy metal rock show.”
Jonas: “We’ve been busy preparing ourselves. We had a big stage rehearsal last week and prepared a big live show with all the backdrops and the lights.”
Stage rehearsal? That all seems very professional!
“So many bands of today, especially bands from 1990 until pretty much now have been really laidback about the show, and after all heavy metal is about delivering a show, it’s just as important as the actual music because that’s how you can express yourself, not just musically but visually and aesthetically as well,” Olof tells us. “It’s like a big part of music. No other bands of today, or very, very few take it seriously, but that’s the show that I wanna see. I wanna see something special when I go to a concert. I don’t want to see bands stepping up in regular clothes. I want to see something extra, I want to see something big, you know? I want the energy to flow between the audience and the artist. If I wanted to just hear the music I’d put the record on, but I want the full musical experience, so I think it’s very important to give the audience something special when we’re out.”
Lucky then that this new album, and the deal with Nuclear Blast, is going to push Enforcer into new realms and it looks like 2013 will see the band busying themselves with seeing their vision come to fruition. It’s been a tough ol’ (death) ride, but it’s been worth it.
Originally printed in Iron Fist #3
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