By Carl Begai
Out promoting SOILWORK's new album The Living Infinite, frontman Björn "Speed" Strid will tell you that as far as he's concerned the band's previous effort from 2010, The Panic Broadcast, didn't get the attention it deserved. It was a record that washed away the bland taste of Sworn To A Great Divide (2007) with waves of thrash, colour and dynamics that really did deserve more than just the initial buzz out of the gate, but Strid doesn't blame their record label for a lack of support or the fans for lack of taste. He chalks it up instead to a glaring lack of touring on the band's part, who logged far fewer miles than in past years thanks in large part to the will-he-or-won't-he status of founding guitarist Peter Wichers.
Having left the band in 2005 only to return in 2008 - and thus give Soilwork a much needed kick in the ass - Wichers found himself torn between commitments to the band and his personal life. Things eventually came to a head in June 2012 and he announced his (final?) departure, leaving Soilwork with a clear conscience and a clean slate. What better way to get back in the game doing double the work and churning out 20 songs for an official release?
"We always try to have the element of surprise in there whenever we go in to make a new album," Strid says when Soilwork's collective sanity is called into question. Most bands have a hard enough time coughing up 10 songs with substance. "The real reason behind it… with all the chaos around Peter, I think we needed to turn things around and do something unique, something that stands out and turn it into something positive. We also wanted to show or prove to ourselves and the fans that there are other amazing songwriters in the band."
Having different songwriters involved rather than just the Strid/Wichers seems to have had positive effect on the music as well, as The Living Infinite is definitely in the same park as The Panic Brodcast.
“For sure, and I think that was good for me. I definitely needed that because when Peter was a part of the band we knew each other so well musically, and in a situation like that sometimes you become too predictable. The fact that Peter was losing interest as well would have affected my work as well.”
Turns out that Strid is to blame for planting the seed that grew into The Living Infinite.
"Doing a double album was the mindset from the beginning. I presented the idea to everybody in the band in the summer of 2011 while we were doing the summer festivals. At that time Dave (Andersson) was already touring with us as a session guitarist, which he did before that as well. They all kinda looked at me and said 'Really?' (laughs). But, I guess they were intrigued in a positive way. The main concern was about whether we could come up with enough songs, because we didn’t want to compromise and have one disc of killer stuff and a second disc that goes completely downhill.”
"We knew it was going to be a band effort because everyone was inspired by the idea of making a double album. It was definitely a challenge, and it's always been a democratic situation in Soilwork; everyone is allowed to write songs, there's no contract saying only one or two guys can write. Pretty soon we realized that things were turning out really well and that we wouldn't have any problem making a double album. We were still a little bit nervous when we hit the studio because we were worried it wouldn't turn out as good as we'd pictured it, but then again we had really shitty demos so things could only get better (laughs)."
"There’s a lot of experimentation on the album, and I don’t think it could have turned out any different because it's a band effort. We wanted to be more progressive, more free, even a bit more playful with the music I guess you could say."
Strid credits Andersson for lighting a fire in the Soilwork camp by coming in as a full band member rather than a session player. The pair worked together in 2011/2012 on their classic rock project THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA, where Strid discovered Andersson's formidable musical personality.
"He's a genius, seriously, just unreal. I think the fact that me and Dave recorded Night Flight Orchestra together made a difference on The Living Infinite, because even though we’ve known each other a long time that was the first time we were really in the studio together. That did a lot for the chemistry in Soilwork. He really inspired us to write more stuff, and maybe it's a good thing it didn't turn out sounding like classic rock (laughs)."
Strid, of course, was still left with having to arrange vocal lines and melodies for almost double the amount of songs he would have been responsible for on a regular album.
"It was a pretty big mess, but it was also a different process for me this time because I began singing very early on in the recording process. In the past I've always been up in the last two weeks; 'Okay! Vocals! Go! Three songs a day!' (laughs). This time it was like 'This is a double album. I’m going to start recording my vocals as soon as there's one song that has rhythm guitars.' And we were working in three studios at once, so we could make it work that way. That way I could focus on one song a day, which made a huge difference."
No doubt the thought "We should have done this a long time ago...." went through Strid's head on more than one occasion.
"Oh yeah, it did, trust me. I was saying 'Oh, we can actually record vocals early in the process? Really?' (laughs). We should have done it before this."
From a long-time fan's point of view Strid's pride in The Living Infinite is justified, but there's no getting away from the stigma surrounding a double album release of all original material. Particularly these days, when so many people are focused on instant gratification. The Living Infinite runs the risk of being lumped into the box Too Much Information, much the same way GUNS N' ROSES epic Use Your Illusion album(s) were. People remember the hits, but tracks like 'Perfect Crime', 'Double Talkin' Jive', 'My World' and 'Breakdown' are lost on all but the most obsessive fans.
"I think we were thinking of that double album stigma, yes," Strid admits, "but at the same time we needed the challenge. We just decided to go for it because when you start worrying too much about certain things it's not going to have a good effect on the album."
Just sequencing the tracklist must have been a nightmare...
"This was the first album where Dirk (Verbeuren/drums) took care of the song order. I’m the one that usually does it but Dirk wanted to give it a shot. There were a few times where I said 'What? You want that song there..?' but after a few listens it started to make sense."
"I think it's really important to have that kind of trust," Strid adds, "because sooner or later you can end up in a situation where people feel like they're going to a job where they hate the boss."
Admittedly, The Living Infinite is a long haul and one really has to be in the right frame of mind to digest it all in one go. But, credit where it's due, at no time does it feel like you're slogging through a bog-worthy mess desperate to find the exit sign.
"That's a good sign and that's the way we wanted it. This is one of those classic double albums where it really is a journey. We wanted it to be old school in that sense, with a lot of variation and surprises. I think we succeeded in making it interesting. I can’t really see people being bored by this album."