By Carl Begai
At the beginning of April 2011, record label Century Media announced via official press release that the latest album from Swedish metalheads WOLF, entitled Legions Of Bastards, would only be released as a digital download in North America. The band was unaware of the situation, however, up until guitarist Johannes Losbäck stepped up to do this interview. Not the best way to kick things off, but Losbäck wasn’t interested in shooting the messenger. He was completely mystified by the label’s move, of course, and we both agreed the decision to limit the physical pressing for Legions Of Bastards is tragic, because like all Wolf albums, it was made for fans of traditional old school metal by fans of the genre.
“It’s important to let people know this has nothing to do with the band or the people we are,” he says. “We had no idea, and we didn’t even know that they released albums digitally because we’re vinyl fans. We’re still stuck in that age. If it was up to us we’d give the music away. This whole digital thing, I don’t get it. I have no files whatsoever of songs on my computer. I only use it for email and website stuff. I bought the latest WHITESNAKE and FORBIDDEN albums on CD and it was like I was a kid again; I just wanted to get home and unwrap them and play them. You can’t do that with Spotify. What the fuck is that?”
As expected, Legions Of Bastards continues Wolf’s relentless pursuit of and homage to traditional heavy metal. In fact, when put up against the band’s previous two records, Ravenous (2009) and The Black Flame (2006), the new one sounds even more raw and uncomplicated.
“You’re right about it in one sense,” Losbäck agrees, “because we aimed to a more raw feel on this record rather than a raw sound. If you listen to The Black Flame and Ravenous they are quite polished in a way. We don’t think of them that way, but we’ve heard it from people, which gives us a certain perspective on the older albums because we’ve got six albums out now and nothing to prove. We can record and release whatever we want in one sense, but when you put it that way… you might be right. It’s rawer, maybe a bit more honest; we didn’t go back and polish anything, we left it the way we recorded it.”
“I guess this album is a bit more raw because it was a lot of work,” he adds. “We had to make everything fit schedule-wise since we have families and day jobs, and that was really hard when we were making this record. There was so much going on around it because we did pretty good with Ravenous. We still had tours and gigs to do on top of everything else, and when we did The Black Flame and Ravenous we had very little to worry about. This was hard work, but we’re a working class heavy metal band and we don’t mind getting our hands dirty.”
Losbäck will be the first to agree that Wolf’s music is as far away as one can get from rocket science. There was no over-thinking or obsessing over each step taken to create the new record.
“I remember when we started writing for Legions Of Bastards, our attitude was ‘Let’s just do it.’ Okay, we say that every time but we really just went in with the attitude of writing 11 good songs. We never stopped and thought about it. Like Niklas (Stålvind / vocals) said, he’s been doing this 1995 and he just wanted to do an album. No talks about this or that, or to this or that person, or about why or why not. We just wrote and recorded.”
No looking over the band’s collective shoulder, maybe gathering inspiration from Wolf’s earlier records? Legions Of Bastards has the feel of a young band out to do some damage thanks to the aforementioned raw atmosphere.
“It happens, but that doesn’t mean an old song has inspired a new one,” says Losbäck. “You might get the same feeling as you had with that old song. Black Wings came out in 2002, which is Wolf’s fiercest and most intense albums, and if we went at this like ‘Let’s do a Black Wings Part 2’ it would just be a parody. I know that Nik felt that energy in the writing process for this record, which was great. You have to remember that it’s been eight or nine years in between and our lives have changed since, so that reflects on everything as well. I’d love to do another Evil Star, but what’s the point in trying that? There’s no way we could pull it off and we know it.”
“Writing and recording an album, that’s the easy part. This is who we are and it comes naturally for us. Afterwards you have the press, who are going to say whether it’s good or not, and I don’t buy that. It’s not up to someone at a magazine or website to tell people an album is good or bad. They can compare it to other work that we’ve done, but there’s no chance in hell a journalist is going to tell me this album is good. I don’t listen to them; I listen to the people that come up to me after the shows or the fans on the websites. If they say to me ‘Hey, I love the new album but The Black Flame is the best…’ I totally respect that. As long as it’s one of our albums they’re comparing it to (laughs).”
Credit where it’s due, Wolf have succeed in keeping things interesting for the listener on Legions Of Bastards without tweaking their sonic roots. Not an easy feat by any means when you’re six albums into a career and have gained a loyal following.
“When you talk about it that way you have a point, but we never think about that,” says Losbäck. “If we thought ‘It can’t sound like this or that…’ we’d have a bunch of riffs that wouldn’t give you anything. We have riffs where people say ‘Hey, that sounds like IRON MAIDEN and MERCYFUL FATE!’ and we just say ‘Thanks!’ That’s the whole fucking reason we started the band, dammit (laughs).”
“The only thing that was different for this record was the fact that we had a solid line-up for two albums in a row (laughs). It was like, ‘Fuck man, we’re actually doing a second album with the same people!’ It was very cool. Nobody has ever been sacked from Wolf; people left because they had to, which is a good thing in one sense because there’s never been any rivalry between members or anything like that. We just do what we do. If I write a riff and I send it to Nik, and he say it’s shit, he’s probably right (laughs). We don’t make a big issue out of it. I’ve recorded three albums with Wolf and I’ve been writing for four, and it feels the same now as it always has.”
For the future, Losbäck and his bandmates will be on the road pushing Legions Of Bastards until they feel a new album is in them. Regardless of criticism or questionable record label decisions, Wolf will remain true to a very clear cut and simple goal.
“We’re not the band that’s out there to change heavy metal. We’re the band you want to listen to, you want to go and watch and get shitfaced and have a good time with. Every musician wants to top themselves and do their own Reign In Blood, and that’s why you keep on going. We’re artists, but at the same time we’re not the people that sit down and try to be artistic. We’re metal fans that know how to play instruments that happen to have a band. We take Wolf and heavy metal so seriously, but we don’t take ourselves that seriously. There are so many bands out there that go ‘Fists in the air!’ and they have tons of spikes and say they drink boiling lead for breakfast. No, dude, you don’t, you drink tea with milk. I drink tea for breakfast, but I have AGENT STEEL playing in the background. We’re metal as fuck, but we don’t overdo it.”