by Niklas Göransson
A no-holds barred conversation with Swedish guitar player Olof Wikstrand, frontman and founder of Enforcer – a visionary musician who detests nostalgia and lays down the law of metal.
– ENFORCER is the absolute antithesis of all the plastic and soulless modern bullshit of today’s metal scene. We’ve always been driven by a passion for this music and associated lifestyle, with fancies for aggression, violence and hatred. Uncompromising metal made for headbanging and wild shows; a conduit of total energy. We are in no way ’retro’, and certainly no generic and distasteful homage to the old guard. We are a metal band – a modern metal band, if you like.
Guitarist and vocalist Olof Wikstrand decrees that genre classifications are not for the artist to determine.
– Whether we’re labelled speed, thrash, death, black, whatever… I honestly don’t give a shit about categorisation, I’ll leave that up to those who are too lazy and uninspired to form their own opinions about music. Only stupid tribute bands start off by picking what style they want to play and then try to fulfil the criteria by checking all the boxes. I spit on these dime-a-dozen charlatans! I’m fairly certain VENOM, MERCYFUL FATE, or JUDAS PRIEST never started out as genre bands.
And this, he decrees, is exactly why they were so appealing – their complete lack of limitations and artistic conformity.
– Dismally, most of these old and by now ’classic’ bands who remain active produce increasingly generic music – staying safe within the framework of their genres. Really, who even cares about them for any other reason than youthful nostalgia over decade-old achievements? I mean, who goes to a MEGADETH show to hear songs from “The Endgame”…?
Many of the seventies and eighties stadium titans have either retired or announced farewell tours by now. It’s interesting to ponder what will happen to genres like mainstream rock and metal once the last remaining kings abdicate. It seems unlikely that any metal band will ever get anywhere near that big again.
– People will find other things to listen to and the entire genre will eventually die out. The vast majority of attendees at these massive shows are not interested in music, they just go for sentimental reasons. While the mainstream hard rock scene is huge, it’s probably the most narrow-minded audience imaginable. New music can never compete with the rigid nostalgia of the old and obsolescent audience – and this non-acceptance of new bands is what’s ultimately going to kill the genre. It doesn’t matter how many billion times better the latest ANTICHRIST album is compared to anything released by today’s METALLICA when not even people who still claim to be into thrash metal seem to pick up the real shit.
Olof adds that this goes to show how the majority of mainstream metal listeners are more into specific brands than the actual music itself.
– Strangely, death and black metal seem to be thriving quite well. And if we talk about the scene for what’s called traditional metal, it’s not entirely dead. There are tonnes of bands putting out greater music today than in the glory days. Look out for VULTURE from Germany – they just made the album of the century.
ENFORCER are commonly associated with the post-millennium wave of Swedish acts who espoused similar musical orientations and emerged around the same time.
– We were a few Swedish metal bands with a pretty similar mindset about music, metal, and life, who started garnering international recognition in the mid-2000s. PORTRAIT, IN SOLITUDE, HELVETETS PORT and ourselves. At that moment in time, I felt a strong connection with these bands. All of us came from the same generation, and with our uncompromising style we stood opposed to current trends within both metal circles and the music industry at large. Each of us had our own, unique touch – I’d say we pushed ENFORCER’s sound more towards the fast-paced, almost bordering on thrash metal sometimes.
Unfortunately, not everything washing up in their wake was positive.
– It opened the floodgates for a torrent of shitty mediocrity from all over the planet, with new bands believing that they were doing the same things we did. Adding insult to injury, this would later be called ’New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal’, as some sort of repulsive tongue-in-cheek wordplay on NWOBHM – with Traditional instead of British, obviously.
While not overtly concerned with labelling, this is where Olof draws the line.
– We have nothing to do with ninety-nine percent of the generic frauds peddled under this banner. I’d even go so far as to say they ruined this entire scene, along with the reputation of the few real metal bands who rose from it.
Leading up to this interview, Olof mentioned his firm conviction of ENFORCER as the most extreme and heavy band in existence. I’m not quite sure how to approach this bold claim other than inviting him to elaborate.
– Speed metal is the fastest and most aggressive type of metal. Period. Don’t get me wrong here, I’ve grown up on all kinds of bands and spent most of my life in the underground scene. However, I think the music that inspired me to form ENFORCER is far more violent and extreme than pretty much any death or black metal today. Just because you pull off blastbeats in 32nd notes over mid-tempo riffs doesn’t mean the composition’s actual tempo is at any extreme level
He adds that this description encompasses most modern extreme metal bands.
– Seriously, take “Long Live the Loud” (EXCITER), “Kill ’em All” (METALLICA), “Skeptics Apocalypse” (AGENT STEEL) or “Master of Disguise” (SAVAGE GRACE); all of them faster than pretty much any NILE album… total dickhead band by the way, or whatever the fuck else is considered death metal nowadays. The music is faster – not only the drums – and adding melody and dynamics on top makes it even more dramatic. While these bands did indeed once influence us, instead of just copying them we did our thing and pushed it to new heights.
What’s generally considered ‘modern metal’, on the other hand, is something Olof feels is being driven into entirely unwelcome directions.
– Throwing distorted guitars and some growling on a hip hop song does not and will never make it metal. Whether we’re talking about obvious cases of rap groups – PANTERA, SLIPKNOT and KORN come to mind – or most of the ugly shit-bands gracing these big European ’metal’ festivals year after year; it’s the same mundane rubbish. Modern melodic ’death’ metal, opera ’metal’, folk metal, ironic power metal and so on… This is not metal, and it’s time we reclaimed the entire genre. Call your music something else, or blow it!
Among the seemingly endless sources of contemporary affronts, there’s one Olof detests with a particular passion; this phenomenon of self-deprecating ironic attitudes in which it’s implied that taking metal seriously is a bit silly.
– Any ironic metal attitude, whether it comes from a magazine or band, can choke. Metal and humour don’t go together. In any way. Ever. Bands like STEEL PANTHER, HAMMERFALL, SABATON and similar stuff are proof that comedy is bigger than music. Rather sad if you ask me.
In your style of metal – whatever you want to call it, how much room for evolution and innovation is there?
– I don’t see any limits at all with where I’m going musically, and I admire bands like TRIBULATION, IN SOLITUDE and PORTAL for the same reasons. I take inspiration from literately everything I hear and put it in the context of ENFORCER – from black metal to AOR, from classical to pop. Music must constantly evolve in order to remain interesting. No matter how good JUDAS PRIEST are, I don’t want to listen to the trillionth band copying “Painkiller”. If incapable of bringing anything remotely unique to the table, you should perhaps remain a cover band and play recreationally in a random basement out of earshot from anyone else.
He believes this lack of evolution is to blame for why several formerly prominent bands from the traditional metal genre have recently moved to smaller labels.
– In order to survive as a band, you have to keep developing your style for every release – otherwise people will find something else to listen to. No one wants to keep hearing the same record all over again, people aren’t paying for a duplicate of your previous album. That’s the reason why bands who started around the same time as us are now seeing a decline in interest only a few albums into their careers. It’s sad to see and typically there’s nothing to do about it at that point.
Olof says it’s got nothing to do with a waning interest, since international demand for this brand of metal is now bigger than at any previous time.
– Living here though, it might seem that way. The Swedish heavy metal scene that rose from the underground about a decade ago ebbed out almost as soon as it started. In recent years, I’ve seen the same wave that washed over Europe in 2007 now hit the U.S. and Canada. It’s always been a huge deal in southern Europe, parts of Asia, and South America. A few bands made it to some sort of semi-mainstream level and have remained there.
Where would you say you are in your career right now – still on the rise?
– We reached our commercial peak thus far with the previous record, “From Beyond” (2015). We hit the charts in several countries and our touring all over the world pulled larger crowds than ever before. Our sales have steadily increased for each album we’ve put out. So far, things are going in the right direction for us and I guess that’s what keeps us motivated and hungry.
Olof says that as a result of their rise to prominence, now that they’re an established band and no longer a novelty, attention from what’s generally called the metal underground has cooled significantly.
– I suppose they found new stuff to hype, so a person mostly dwelling in that scene is unlikely to hear much about us these days. I couldn’t care less, I have absolutely nothing to gain from flirting with the underground. We started more as… an elitist metal band for elitist metalheads, if you will. The only problem with those types is how they’ll always insist the old stuff is infinitely better than anything new, so that’s a dead end if you want to move forward as an artist. Plus, if they do like you – they’ll only approve of the first demo and then spend your remaining career bragging about how they discovered you before anyone else.
Is it your ambition to make a career out of ENFORCER?
– If it would pay so much that I didn’t have to keep another job, I’d focus on the music one hundred percent. Without a primary occupation taking up the majority of my time, it’d probably mean ENFORCER would release more music. However, I’m thirty-one years old now and I’ve gotten used to a life where I don’t have to compromise with anything, so it would have to reach pretty enormous proportions to match up to the same amounts my other job does now.
Olof and his ENFORCER cohorts are originally from a small rural town called Arvika, but reside in Stockholm since many years back.
– The local metal scene is such a huge fucking joke it’s not even funny. Just like the rest of this country, it’s more important to fit in and have the right opinions about utter nonsense than showing your own will and understanding of things. Fucking dumb sheep! This kind of behaviour makes me want throw up in my own mouth and never attend a show ever again. They can go to gigs and stand in the back with in-and-hip band t-shirts, crossing their arms and thinking they could do better, without me.
As many musicians have remarked upon before, there’s been an increasing politicisation of metal in recent years – something Olof believes has grown to outrageous proportions in Sweden.
– The fact alone that we have a heavily bewildered movement of brainwashed hipsters trying to polarise the Swedish metal scene by introducing trendy political agendas gives me urges of shooting myself in the head. ‘If it’s too hot for your weak and humanistic brains – stay the hell away from the fire!’
Olof says the reason he was drawn to metal in the first place was from a belief that it was something strong, elitist, and extreme.
– The subsequent disappointment upon finding it just as infiltrated by the same petty and streamlined opinions as the remainder of society, was devastating. Metal and its associated lifestyle is supposed to be extreme, it takes precedence over any and all of your shitty political doctrines.
Fortunately, he adds, there are still unconquered bastions of true metal left in the world.
– Playing in places such as Greece, Portugal, Mexico and South America is a huge difference. It’s pretty much what you imagined playing in a band was like as a child; wild as shit people who show genuine passion. A special shout-out to the Chilean metalheads for being extremely dedicated and taking things all the way, both in regards to attitude and lifestyle.
What’s next for ENFORCER?
– Having now been home from any kind of touring for about seven months, we’ve been focusing on gathering material for our fifth studio album and have about eight or nine songs at this moment. We’re anticipating the recording to take place by the end of the year, therefore putting it at a release time of mid-2018. We’ve literately broken and pushed every limit in multiple directions. The new material will be the most fast paced yet slow, the heaviest yet lightest, and overall the most epic and catchy album we’ve ever done. Look out for this one, it will undoubtedly be something very special.