ENFORCER – OLOF WIKSTRAND Talks Nostalgia, The New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal, 15 Years Anniversary Of Into The Night
May 8, 2023, a month ago
Elite Swedish throwback metal titans Enforcer proudly wave the banner of a by-gone era where riffs and solos reigned, vocals soared, hair was big and bountiful, and the rulebook was thrown out the window.
Led by brothers Olof Wikstrand (vocals, guitars) and Jonas Wikstrand (drums, piano, keyboards), Jonathan Nordwall (guitars) and Garth Condit (bass), Enforcer double down on the vibes that never die on their latest full-length studio effort, Nostalgia.
Olof sat down with BraveWords for a deep dive into all things Nostalgia, his stance on the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, reflections on the 15th anniversary of Enforcer’s debut album and much more!
BraveWords: I've been a huge fan of you guys since day one, simply because some of my favorite metal music is rooted in the period you represent. I know you guys love trad, classical, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and now obviously this New Wave of Trad Heavy Metal, which you guys are really waving the banner for. What is it to you about that particular era and style of music that resonates so well still? To me, it's absolutely timeless.
Olof: “Yeah. I mean, first of all that's like music I guess I'd grown up with. And when you grow up with something you also set the standards for yourself, how it's supposed to be. So it's just like that's why it resonates. A little more objective I guess, like why it resonates with me now is that it's from a time where your music was more real than it is today. I mean, when heavy metal, and I call it heavy metal, other people say traditional heavy metal, but for me it's heavy metal, a subgenre of metal. Just as thrash, death, whatever. Heavy metal. Just when heavy metal was something new, it had no boundaries. You know, you could do whatever you want.
“It was creative. It was Zeppelin, it was Deep Purple, it was Black Sabbath. They all were so different, but they were all heavy metal. And then came like Motörhead, and it was still heavy metal. You had Saxon and Venom, you had Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and those bands who formed the genre, it's just like a huge variety of music. And each band really doing their own thing and altogether becoming what heavy metal is today. Compared to today when everything is so boxed in by the genres that already exist.
“You know, if you're going to play heavy metal today, you're probably going to look at bands today that are playing heavy metal and they are perhaps like one percent of what heavy metal is in total. And that's what I like with the old stuff that it could be, bands like Judas Priest on Sad Wings Of Destiny. You could have like a ‘Epitaph’ or you could have where sounds like Elton John, but it's fucking great, you know? Or they could have ‘Tyrant’ or some of the heavier songs they had. It was like a universe of just music. It didn't have to be so boxed in, you know what I mean? That's what I like with that, and it's the same with most genres. I mean, thrash was also the coolest thing when it first came out, before it became thrash, when it was just forming to be thrash. And I think that's a big difference. That's what makes the originators in every genre most often great and the followers not so good because the followers were just following. They had the rules set for what they were trying to do, while the originators were the creative ones.”
BraveWords: You had Black Sabbath and to a lesser extent, maybe Deep Purple that were really setting the groundwork for what metal would be. And then everything was kind of springing from that ... There were no boundaries and everything was new and fresh. And now it feels like everything's been, like you'd say, done to death. It's really hard to get something new and we are so deeply rooted in nostalgia, which is why I love this record.
Olof: “The entire metal scene or rock scene today, it's a nostalgia show. You go to festivals, there are no rock festivals. They're like nostalgia festivals because they only book like old bands. And that's what you get. And I mean, the labels, and even the fans … I mean, we do everything we can, but it's impossible to compete with those old bands that have all the nostalgia factor, you know?”
BraveWords: In the really early days, what were some of the real breakthrough bands for you that really changed the way you saw music and that really got you addicted?
Olof: “Oh, there were a lot of things, but I mean, I have to mention Metallica, obviously, because I'm born in '86. So growing up in the early nineties was like Metallica, Metallica, Metallica from everywhere. Also Guns N’ Roses were a band that were really popular when I grew up. Iron Maiden also. And that's kind of like my childhood bands, I guess, growing up with that. Also I was into the Rolling Stones because my dad was into that and I also got a lot of classical music from my family. So it was like a big mishmash of different things. But it was when I found, especially Metallica, when my musical background met my interest and I saw that, wow, this is what you can do with music.”
BraveWords: I really feel like Metallica were such a big gateway band for so many people. Whether you spiral to Iron Maiden or Judas Priest or you get heavier in the thrash or find death metal from that, it's like everyone starts somewhere.
Olof: “Totally ... from the Exodus stuff you went to Slayer, you went to death metal, you ventured into black metal, and when you couldn't go more extreme I went back to the basics. Started discovering bands who once inspired all these bands. I went back from Metallica to Motörhead, Diamond Head, Saxon, those bands and even back to Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy and all of a sudden you have like the entire spectrum of it.”
BraveWords: So when would you have started collaborating and playing with your brother in bands? You're three years older than he is?
Olof: “I'm three years older. Born in ‘86, he was born in ‘89. I think we always did that. We come from a very musical background, especially our dad. Our mom also, but especially our dad, encouraged us a lot to play and write music. We were writing songs together on the piano before I can even remember. We have cassette recordings from both of us where we just write lyrics. ‘Oh, let's write a new song!’ We had where my dad would play the boogie piano and we would write kids lyrics to it and we would record it and we'd go on and make another song and all of a sudden we had like full cassette tapes with our songs. And that's where it started, man. I must have started doing that when I was like two years old. I mean, that's before I had memories.”
BraveWords: Does it get a little awkward being in a band with your brother, particularly where Enforcer is really your baby and something that was your brainchild to begin with? Obviously you've played with him in bands like Hazard and Leprosy, but when you're the main creative agent of it, have there been awkward times with him? Family fights sometimes, as we all know.
Olof: “We never really had a fight. And the reason why we decided to go with Enforcer instead of other bands was just basically because it took off. You know, we uploaded this on MySpace and just a few weeks later we had hundreds of thousands of views and we realized, woah, we might have something. And why that took off, because I mean, I think we had great potential with other bands we played with before, but nobody was really picking up. I think a lot of my bands I was with before could just as well have worked, especially this band we were in, like it was first it was called Leprosy, then it was called Caustic Strike, which was more of a like progressive thrash kind of band.
“I think they had a lot of musical quality, but nobody really listened to it. We really tried everything, but it was just like ourselves who listened to that. If that would have kicked off, you know, maybe that would have been ... because eventually what you chase is like a musical gain, something that you feel accomplished. But also you're chasing success. You kind of, as a musician, get obsessed with success after a while. You see that something works and you really get something back from it. And all you want to do is get that again.”
BraveWords: Nostalgia feels like an Enforcer album in all the best ways. You're not reinventing the wheel. It's fun. It's big soaring tracks, it's big guitar, it's big vocals. It's everything I really want from this band. You don't really need to throw out the blueprint. This is what this band is and people fucking love it. So why reinvent it?
Olof: “I think so. I mean, because a big part of the idea was to make something that was more cohesive or of consequence. You know, this last album, the idea with Zenith was to make an album where every track would stand out to each other. And I get that that was a pretty wild idea, looking back on it. And a lot of people didn't pick up that and just focused on what they didn't like rather than what they actually liked about it, which was a bit fucked to me, but whatever. That's how it works. But this time I really wanted to do an album that could work as an entirety. But also where every song could represent a single for the band. So that was the mindset that I had when I started this album process.”
BraveWords: It’s almost like bands now are in the business of creating singles. In a perfect world you'd have an album that you can play top to bottom and listen all the way through and there be no weak spot. If you create every song and have every song have significant weight, then it doesn't matter.
Olof: “Yeah. And after all, I'm inspired by the biggest albums of the genre. You know, I'm looking at albums like Heaven And Hell or Back In Black, those big rock albums and how they are composed and which varieties they have. Like Sad Wings Of Destiny is an example that I always take up or Number Of The Beast. They have such a huge variety at the same time as they are straightforward and you got like super memorable tracks. At the same time they're a bit cliché, but they also have a ton of surprises. You know, it's just fun music to listen to.”
BraveWords: What's your take on the whole New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal title? To me it’s such a fantastic, beautiful thing because it's really carrying the torch of that NWOBHM movement and that era of music. And you're seeing it now with guys like yourselves, with Haunt, Skull Fist, Cauldron, Saber, and it goes on and on with all these amazing bands and festivals that really carry the spirit of it. It feels like it's really keeping the flame of that alive.
Olof: “I mean, at first I didn't like it. I was very vocal about that I didn't like it. The thing is that I still didn't like where it was in 2015 because when these bands started out for me, a lot of these bands were very generic. It was like boxed in. It was boring. It was rather coming out as a parody than an output of music, if you understand what I mean. They were picking up too much on clichés, too much on predictable stuff in the music, rather than creating something that was unique and fun to listen to. Like musically challenging from a musical perspective.
“But you know what? I really changed my mind because a lot of these bands, when this boomed and these bands were on their first album, that's not very strange that it was like that. Our first album isn't great either, but most of these bands have really developed and are right now putting out some really interesting music which is musically challenging, which proves that they have found their own identity. I would take a band like Ambush, for example. The first time I heard them, I was like, ‘woah, what is this cliché band?’ But I mean their latest album is so full of hooks, so many great songs, you just have to surrender to their greatness, you know? And I admit I can be wrong, but I can also change my mind.”
BraveWords: You mention debut records and 2023 marks 15 years since Into The Night. When you look back on that record, obviously you've grown as an instrumentalist, as a songwriter and producer. 15 years is a lifetime for a musician. What's your take on that album with the benefit of all that hindsight?
Olof: “Yeah, I haven't listened to it in a really long time, but I think there are plenty of songs that are really, really good. But I also think that we could have recorded it differently. There were just a lot of things. We had no budget, like all bands’ first albums, but instead we were trying to do, I guess, something that was like professional, but we didn't kind of make it. I would almost rather see us having played it more raw in the beginning when we were recording it.
“It's like we were too careful with it. We broke it down too much instead of focusing on that we were a band playing together and I can hear that. I think the songs are great, but that it could have had, not a better production, but it could have had a more organic production. I think that it would have benefited from that because the songs are good. I love the hooks from songs like ‘On The Loose’. It's so simple, but it really sits and then it's like a rip off of Iron Maiden's ‘Running Free’, but it's still cool.”
BraveWords: And cluing up, obviously it's a big couple weeks for you guys. Album release and then moving into festival season. Is there anything you're really looking forward to in the coming months? It's a really cool time in the Enforcer camp.
Olof: “Yeah. I mean releasing an album, that's when you have the spotlight on you for once for a few days or a few weeks or best case for a couple of months. There's possibilities. I'm super stoked to be able to play all these big European metal fests, like Sweden Rock, Copenhell, Hell Fest, like those really big festivals. I think we played some of these before, but for the most part that world had been closed for us before. I don't know why, because it feels like promoters from more major rock festivals have not been taking young metal seriously enough to put it up on their festivals. But I think that now we get this chance, which is amazing really, to show what our generation has to offer in terms of metal.”
Enforcer’s Nostalgia is available worldwide May 5 through Nuclear Blast.