SOILWORK – A Taste Of Swede Reality
February 20, 2019, a month ago
"Yeah, we had plans to release a triple album.... for about two seconds."
Soilwork frontman Björn "Speed" Strid is, of course, referring to The Living Infinite from 2013; the surprising and surprisingly good album double album that jump-started a new era in Soilwork history. Gone was guitarist and primary songwriter Peter Wichers for the second time, replaced by David Andersson, and the reception to The Living Infinite was ironclad proof he was a perfect fit for Strid's musical vision. When it came time to plan the follow-up, which became 2015's The Ride Majestic, the question of how to top its predecessor was met with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion of a triple album, which was quickly forgotten.
Now eleven albums into their career in 2019, Soilwork are faced with the problem not of how to top The Living Infinite or The Ride Majestic, but the issue of keeping their fans happy without boring themselves to tears by sticking to a formula they pioneered in the ‘90s. New record Verkligheten is testament to the band having found that very necessary balance.
"It's been kind of easy for me ever since David (Andersson / guitars) came into the band," says Strid. "I think that was something we needed, a kind of injection. We communicate very well musically and on a personal level, and I think we found this mutual vision together with the other guys in the band as well. I think it all started with The Living Infinite because it gave us that sort of injection I mentioned, where we went 'Wow, we've found something new here.' It was an experiment that turned out really, really well, and I think we're still feeding off that adventure in a way. We're developing our sound. So without that album... I think it was crucial for us to make The Living Infinite, really, for the band's survival."
Funny how four years on and we're still talking about The Living Infinite like it was released within the last year. Its impact is still being felt to this day within the confines of the band.
"It's also sort of strange that it's still to this day, when some people hear the name Soilwork, they say 'Oh, it's the Stabbing The Drama band,'" Strid reveals. "I'm surprised because The Living Infinite got really good reviews but not the recognition it deserved, maybe because we didn't tour half as much as we should have for that record. It's a shame but it's still there. 'Nerve', for example, is a song I'm very proud of, don't get me wrong, but I feel that what we have now is more like what I had in mind when I started the band. And with The Ride Majestic and the new album, it is a new era for Soilwork."
Verkligheten features the Soilwork recording debut for new drummer Bastian Thusgaard, replacing Dirk Verbeuren, who joined the band in 2004 and left amicably to become a part of a little act called Megadeth. Asked about what orchestrated the change, Strid sums it up in two words.
"Dave Mustaine (laughs). But it wasn't a surprise at all, really, when Dirk left to join Megadeth. When he got that call from Dave Mustaine, I was happy for him. It's an amazing opportunity and I'm also a Megadeth fan, so it was obviously really cool that he would call and try to steal our drummer (laughs). It's hard to say if the drummer change had any profound effect on the band's sound because the transition was really smooth. At first, Dirk was only going to be filling in with Megadeth for one month, but in the back of my mind I knew they were going to sound great with Dirk. The chances were pretty big that Megadeth would pop the question (laughs). I think we were all prepared, and at the time we had Bastian touring with us. It was almost like we were subconsciously getting ready for that day, and it did happen. And because we were touring I think we just accepted it and tried to move forward. It's a big deal because Dirk did so many amazing things on all these Soilwork records, so of course I miss him, but I miss the person more than the drummer."
At press time, Verkligheten has yielded four official singles / videos, released between October 2018 and January 2019. Putting songs out in rapid succession is a sign of the digital times, and it's a process that has served Soilwork well. The schizophrenic riff-heavy second single "Full Moon Shoals" stands out in particular for giving diehard Soilwork fans everything they could want within its 4:46 running time.
"We had plans to make the first single a mid-tempo song, but 'Arrival' fit really well with the Swedish melancholic spaghetti western intro on the album (laughs). 'Full Moon Shoals'... I'm really proud of that song. I wrote everything for it from scratch, and it's probably one of the best songs I've written. It came together pretty quickly. I don't know if I'd been listening to Headless Cross a lot (laughs), but I wanted it to have that epic feel on the main riff. But when the chorus opens up it sounds very much like Soilwork. It's got a beautiful guitar melody. I really started playing guitar again when we were working on The Living Infinite, and I remember David's 'wow' reaction when I brought 'Full Moon Shoals' to him. That's an amazing confirmation coming from such an amazing guitarist."
As it turns out, the new album was written by Strid and Andersson without input from their bandmates. It was a very different creative framework compared to previous Soilwork albums.
"That wasn't the plan at all," Strid reveals. "It just happened. Soilwork has always been a band where everybody is welcome to write a song, and normally Sven (Karlsson / keyboards) would write two songs, Sylvain (Coudret / guitars) would write two or three songs, but I guess they couldn't get it together and it didn't happen. It doesn't really matter who writes the songs in the end, and things just turned out the way they did this time. It was interesting because me and David have been very busy with Night Flight Orchestra as well."
Strid, Andersson and the press have discovered that it's almost impossible to discuss Soilwork without bringing up the link to the duo's successful feelgood glitter rock band. Four albums into their career, the Night Flight Orchestra sees Strid and Andersson wearing very different musical hats - literally - and a growing fanbase. This begs the question of how easy or hard it is for them to separate the two bands when it comes to songwriting.
"It's actually very easy for me and David to separate these bands. Our sense for melody comes with us wherever we go, but we also know what is Soilwork and what is Night Flight Orchestra. I remember when we finally finished the mixes and everything for (Night Flight Orchestra's) Sometimes The World Ain't Enough, I just sat down one day and said 'Okay, it's time to write the Soilwork record.' I thought it was going to be a weird transition but it turned out to be easy. And it's not like I'm just composing things and throwing them out there; there's a lot of emotion behind the music. I was afraid of not being able to connect emotionally to Soilwork after Night Flight, but it happened very smoothly."
There is the cliché belief that working on music for one band clears frees an artist up once its done to work on something else, making the experience that much more satisfying.
"I think that's very much the case," Strid agrees, "and ever since we started Night Flight Orchestra, I don't feel like I want to be Tom Araya and Lou Gramm at the same time in Soilwork. I think Soilwork has gotten darker because of it. Musically it's very easy for me to switch, but lyrically it's harder. Sometimes I'm better expressing myself through melodies than lyrics, but maybe it does cross over a little bit as well. Just because it's Night Flight doesn't mean that I need to sing about flamingos and cocktails (laughs). I do go deeper even though people say that Night Flight Orchestra is Miami Vice music. I get it, but I actually think there is more sentimentality in Night Flight's lyrics."
As of now, Soilwork have the first leg of their Verkligheten tour cycle for Europe wrapped up, with plans to spend a healthy amount of time on the road to support the album.
"I would like to focus more on the three latest records on tour," Strid admits, "but I know the fans would hate us for that. But, I'd like to do that, and it would actually make more sense with the current line-up. I'm very proud of all the Soilwork albums, and it's only fair that we include songs from our whole career in any setlist we come up with. And really, the early albums - Steelbath Suicide (1998), The Chainheart Machine (1999) and A Predator's Portrait (2000) - actually connect more with The Living Infinite, The Ride Majestic and Verkligheten than the albums we released through the 2000's. I think we've been looking in the rearview mirror a bit without being nostalgic. I think that's a case of wanting to go back and revisit and understand why we started the band in the first place, getting back in touch with those elements that we loved."