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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Soilwork

By: Justin Donnelly

There’s no denying that one of the biggest melodic death metal acts on the scene today is Swedish outfit Soilwork. Over the last decade, Soilwork have seemingly gone from strength to strength, with the band pushing their sound beyond the confides of what is generally considered the typical melodic death metal mould with every new release, which in turn draws more and more followers to Soilwork’s cause. In mid October 2007, Soilwork released their seventh full-length album ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’ to overwhelmingly high praise, followed immediately with a European tour alongside Dark Tranquillity, Caliban and Sonic Syndicate.

Keen to keep the momentum going, the band stuck to the road for a quick month long North American tour (The ‘Clash Of The Metal Titans’ tour) with Killswitch Engage, DevilDriver and Lamb Of God, followed by a Finnish/Baltic tour with Path Of No Return. Having just wrapped up their month long second ‘Scum Of The Earth’ North American tour, I caught up with Soilwork vocalist Björn ‘Speed’ Strid, who’s taking a well earned break from the road in Phoenix after completing some thirty-two shows in a short thirty-four days! While soaking in the perfect weather, I asked Strid about the Soilwork’s return to a thrashier sound on their latest release ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’.

“Well I guess we were really looking back a little bit while making this album. We wanted to bring back the thrashier influences that we had back in the day and kind of mix them up with the more recent heaviness and direction of sound we’ve had on our last couple of releases. We also added some more atmospheric touches to the sound as well. To be honest, I guess we were looking back on the ‘Natural Born Chaos’ album a little bit than the others. That album really had the perfect balance between the heaviness and the melodies. I mean we didn’t want to make a ‘Natural Born Chaos II’, because that would be pointless. But we did want to capture that feeling and that balance, while taking it all to a new level. And I think we managed to achieve that.”

But while Soilwork are pleased with their efforts on ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’, Strid isn’t blind to the fact that the press have been less than impressed.

“I’m totally happy with how the album turned out. I’m no so sure about the press, because the feedback has been fifty/fifty both for and against. But the most important thing is that we as a band are happy with the album, and that the fans are happy with the album. And let me tell you, most of the fans out there seem to be really happy with the album. I mean they’re coming to the shows, and singing the songs along with us. And to me, that’s a good sign.”

Another good sign for the band is the sales figures that accompany ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’, with the group’s latest effort one of the band’s fastest selling albums to date.

“Yes, that’s true. I’m not quite sure about Europe, but it seems to be going really well there too. But here in the US, the album helped us get up on the Billboard charts for the first time. And the album is actually selling better than ‘Stabbing The Drama’ as well. I think that it’s really cool that even though we’re onto our seventh album, it feels like we just keep on going up. I guess that’s kind of unique. Usually if a band is ever going to make it big, they usually do that after their second album. In cases like that, they usually go up, and eventually go down after that. But for us, we just seem to be going further and further up with each new release. And now that we’re on our seventh release, I think that’s pretty cool. I mean, we’ve really taken the slow road, that’s for sure! (laughs) But I think in doing so, we’ve built up a really loyal fan base, who are always there to buy our albums. Of course, we always try and reach new fans as well, and in the last few years, we’re been able to broaden our fan base and make things even bigger through good tours and playing all over the planet.”

While a return to the band’s thrashier roots has played a part in helping shape ‘Sworn To Great Divide’ in a musical sense, Strid also credits working with producer Devin Townsend once again (Former Strapping Young Lad front man, and who last worked with the band on ‘Natural Born Chaos’) in helping him break new ground on the vocal front.

“It was a little bit different this time around since I recorded the vocals at his home studio. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t like to travel too much. Basically he feels more comfortable being at home, so I decided to go over to Vancouver and record the vocals at his house. It was really cool to live with Devin at his home for two weeks, because I got to know him a lot better. It was like two buddy recording vocals in his basement. There was no pressure to it, so it was a lot of fun. Sure we worked hard. Sometimes we would work like a full eight hours of the day. It was crazy, but we had a lot of fun. I don’t know what it is, but he makes me feel so relaxed, and he allows me want to explore with my vocals a lot. He’s not the type of producer to settle with just the one take and then move onto the next song. He helped me play around and find some new things and experiment more with my own voice. So I’m really happy with the results. There’s a lot of singing styles on ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’, and he helped me take that it to that next step.”

It’s been quite a tumultuous time within Soilwork over the last year and a half in term of line-ups, with the first casualty being the departure of Peter Wichers following the release of ‘Stabbing The Drama’ in 2005. But as Strid points out, the parting of ways was amicable.

“I know that people were kind of sceptical of the band following Wichers departure from the band. And I think rightly so, because he was a big contributor to Soilwork’s songs throughout the years. But he definitely made the right decision for himself. He’s not the kind of guy who would make a decision like that overnight. That situation had been going on for quite a while. We’re still very good friends with him, and we talk all the time. Who knows, we might even do something together in the future. I think we really wanted to prove on this new album that there are still plenty of good songwriters in the band that have been contributing to Soilwork’s songs in the past as well. I think we really pulled it off. It still sounds like Soilwork to me. I think there are some really strong songs on the new album. It’s a very diverse album, but that’s the way we wanted it to sound as well.”

But if the resignation of Wichers wasn’t a big enough blow, Soilwork lost a second guitarist when Ola Frenning decided to part ways with the group back in February 2008. However, this time things weren’t quite as harmonious.

“The difference between Frenning and Wichers is that we basically let Frenning go. We just came to a point where we just couldn’t work with him anymore, so we had to let him go. That’s the difference here. Wichers made the decision for himself, and Frenning didn’t. We made that for him. It was a hard decision in a way, but we definitely knew it was going to be for the better for all of us. I mean at forty-two, Frenning is a little bit older than the rest of us. So I guess he was seeing things in a different way to the rest of us. He was looking at keeping Soilwork’s sound really straight forward metal like, while the rest of us wanted to keep up the progressive elements that make Soilwork famous in the first place. So I guess he was seeing things in a different way. That’s all I can say. It came to a point where we couldn’t work with him in a professional manner, as well as on a musical and personal level.”

Apart from musical direction, touring also seemed to be a matter the two sides didn’t see eye to eye on either.

“That’s right. That was also one of the things we didn’t agree on. As soon as a tour was booked, especially in a place like the US where it’s not really all that close to home, he was kind of sceptical about it. I don’t know what it was all about. The rest of the band was really up to the touring, and he just wasn’t into it. He wouldn’t complain if we were touring in Europe, but as soon as there were two tours in a row, he always made it feel like it was too much. The way we saw it, every time there is a tour, there was simply no point arguing about it. I mean, without touring, what’s the point of being in a band?”

Filling in on Frenning’s place is David Antonsson (who is otherwise the guitarist in Swedish heavy rock/metal act Edenhead). And while Antonsson’s position within the band is far from permanent, he’s more than a fitting replacement.

“That’s right. He did some tour work with us on this last tour we did here in the U.S. He’s a great guitar player and a great guy too. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in regards to making him a permanent member. We’ll try a few more guitarists, and then we’ll make a decision. We should have a permanent replacement in the band before the end of the year. But as of right now, Antonsson is helping us out, and we all rock out onstage. It’s a fun feeling playing in the band now, so the decision to part ways with Frenning was one made for the better.”

Wichers’ replacement in Daniel Antonsson (who is also a member of Pathos and Dimension Zero) on the other hand has certainly been a wise one with his contributions to ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’ helping Soilwork once again find their thrash groove.

“He’s an absolute asset to this band. I mean he’s a really cool guy and fits in the band really well. He’s definitely a metal head. He’s a thrasher and that influence can be heard when he plays the guitar. That was one of the things that we wanted to bring back into the band. And I think he contributed a lot of interesting things on ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’. He contributed a lot of those thrashier elements to the songs. He also had a good sense of melody too. I think that’s very important, because that’s what Peter had as well. But the most important thing is that Antonsson fits within the band on a chemistry level. That’s definitely really important, because you spend so much time in the tour bus travelling around the world. Basically if you can’t get along, it simply isn’t going to work. It doesn’t matter if that person happens to be the greatest musician in the world, if they can’t get along with the rest of the band, it isn’t going to work. You still need to be able to get along. So that’s really important to us. You know, we started the band when we were pretty young. I mean I was about eighteen. And people do change. There have been a few line-up changes within the band, but it’s really not that weird. There are a lot of bands out there changing their line-ups. And when you start a band when you’re really young, and you have been going for a few years, people do change within that time. I mean its 2008, and I’m twenty-nine this year. I have changed a lot myself since this band first started. People find other values and priorities in their lives. It’s not that weird. But as long as we can find someone who can bring some fresh blood to the band, and fits in with the rest of the band in a chemistry sense so we don’t have to struggle to keep the band going, we’ll keep moving forward. I mean, we only know one way to write Soilwork songs, so finding someone that works within that chemistry and have the same musical vision as us takes a bit of time. Luckily, we found Antonsson.”

So far, the chemistry with the six piece act has been working in perfect harmony, with the band managing to survive their somewhat crazy and hectic ‘Scum Of The Earth’ North American touring schedule.

“That was a cool tour. It was a different crowd for us of course, because there were a lot of hardcore kids there. I mean we’ve toured with hardcore/metalcore bands before, but it’s been a while since we had done that. Throwdown really comes from that hardcore scene, so there were a lot of straight-edge kids there, and stuff like that. But the kids seemed to go mental out there on the floor, and it was really cool. In some places, there weren’t a real lot of people, but it was still really good for us. It was also a tough tour, like I mentioned before. We played like twenty-three days straight. That was pretty crazy, but having said that, I really think that tour was one of the really good ones for us.”

Although on a vacation, it won’t be long before Strid and the rest of Soilwork will be back on the road, with a string of dates throughout the rest of the world.

“We’ll actually be touring in Russia next. And when we play Moscow, that’ll be the one hundredth show of this tour that we’ve done off the back of ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’. I can’t believe that! We’ll also be playing St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk, which is in the middle of Siberia. It’s crazy. Then we’re probably going to do China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan after we finish up in Australia. It’s going to be a pretty crazy tour, and also an interesting one for us.”

And speaking of Australia, the band is set to make a third visit to southern shores mid May after a lengthy four year absence.

“I think fans can expect to see a huge growth from us as a live band. It’s been a while since we were last down there. I can’t believe it’s been four years since we last played there! (laughs) It’s crazy. I can’t believe we didn’t get down there on the ‘Stabbing The Drama’ tour. We didn’t even get to go to Japan on that tour either. What makes it even more surprising is that off the back of ‘Figure Number Five’, we actually played Australia twice! So it’s kind of weird. But we’re really psyched about coming back to Australia because we had such a great time down there in 2003 and 2004. We love the crowds down there. And I really mean that. I always mention that when someone asks me about certain crowds. I’m not just saying that because you’re an Australian journalist either. I really think that Australian audiences are the loudest motherf**kers in the world! (laughs) I mean they mosh, do circle pits and everything else in-between in one! It’s just crazy. And after four years away, I can’t wait to see and hear that once again!”

I would like to thank Björn ‘Speed’ Strid for his generous time, and Chris Maric at Riot! Entertainment for making the interview possible.

Soilwork Australian tour dates

May 13 - Brisbane, The Arena
May 14 - Sydney, Manning Bar
May 15 - Melbourne, Hi Fi Bar
May 17 - Adelaide, Night Train
May 18 - Perth, Metro

Soilwork‘s album, 'Sworn To A Great Divide’ is out now through Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment.

For more information, visit

www.soilwork.org/