This Momentary Bliss – Soilwork Interview

Posted April 16, 2013 in
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As time goes by I'm beginning to think more about the cycles in life along with the odd coincidences. It feels in conjunction with my age and growing cynicism towards things also comes a tolerance and just the attitude that things can't be changed. As far as Soilwork's involvement in all this their new album Living the Infinite released in late February took on hefty tasks. It's a double album for one thing and the band tackled it without their long-time maestro guitarist Peter Wichers. It's also heavily lyrically themed as the titles suggests living life by terms of the infinite.

Snap back to the late ’90s, and Soilwork was bursting on the scene as a band part of the second wave of Swedish melodic death metal. While their debut full-length, Steelbath Suicide, felt more like a thrash record than melodic death metal, Soilwork took everyone's breathe away with Chainheart Machine with its technical prowess and its new take on what melodic death metal could be. As years, decades and albums passed for Soilwork, so did their style and sound. The band is arguably one of the flagship artists for what many define in genre terms as melo-death metal: Their take on the classic style of melodic death metal with a bit more—dare I say—pop elements. Living the Infinite sees a mixing of the old, new and unexplored for Soilwork.

The Swedish fellows of Soilwork hit the stage Thursday, April 11 in the smaller side-portion of In The Venue while punk rockers elated next door to the always great Bad Religion. Going back to my cynicism’s – I found it odd that the fans were pushing, shoving rocking hard to Soilwork this night because the sound in that little space is rarely good. The volume was maxed as expected but the mixing was rough, guitars were muddled and irky. The only things that really stood out were the unique vocal thrash-meets singing style of Bjorn “Speed” Strid and the virtuoso drumming of Dirk Verbeuren blasted out of the mix. With the audience not seeming to give a shit about the bad sound mix, they ate up every verse, breakdown and louder than loud drum hit. Props to the dude in the crowd consistently air-drumming—and doing it quite well, I might add. So my snarks about the sound aside the crowd that spend hard earned cash to see the band and buy their merch had a blast and that's all anyone can ask for.

Before the show, I had the opportunity to talk to the band’s singer, Bjorn “Speed” Strid, about things current, past and the in-between. As a preemptive treat for my wife (coincidentally we celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary on April, 13), who is also a great a fan of Soilwork and moreover a fan of “Speed”'s singing style, she joined me for the interview—all the while making me a bit nervous talking to Speed to make sure I didn't offend the man. The interview offered a good insight into the emotional backing that “Speed” put into writing his lyrics and the themes of everything on the new record – which also coincidentally I just got my first tattoo which is an infinity symbol joined with a spiral and containing my daughter and mother's initials – to me a symbol of the infinite cycle of life and death.

SLUG: What made you guys decide to do a double album at this point in time?
Bjorn “Speed” Strid: We just felt that we needed to do something different—we needed a new challenge instead of just throwing out another album with eleven or twelve songs. It's our ninth album, and we needed to go outside our comfort zone a little bit. Also, I think it was important for each member to step up and start contributing musically and lyrically after everything that happened with Peter coming back and leaving again. I think we needed to prove to ourselves and our listeners that there are other amazing songwriters in the band. I think doing a double album would give us a little freedom to break boundaries and express ourselves differently.

SLUG: The album has been out for a couple months now. How have the fans been receiving it?
Speed: It's been really good—it seems like it's really uniting our old fans and our new fans, so to speak. For example, there was one guy on Blabbermouth who has posted ever since Chainheart Machine came out, and whatever post he wrote about Soilwork has gone downhill since that album. Even that guy liked the new album, so I think that says a lot.

SLUG: How did you get the nickname “Speed”?
Speed: I've never really done drugs, so it has nothing to do with that. It comes from Jr. High and when I got introduced into more extreme metal. Basically, I got compilation tapes from a friend in class and he always asked me which songs I liked, and I kept pointing them out. After a while he was like 'Fuck man, you only like the fast stuff—I'm going to start calling you Speed Strid [STrEED]”—that's how you pronounce my last name. I decided to keep that moniker. It's a pretty innocent story.

SLUG: Lyrically, the new album Living the Infinite discusses all things infinite. What were some of the inspirations behind it?
Speed: The lyrical theme in general is dealing with a lot of existential questions. I've been spending a lot of time after a traumatic experience that led me to think about life and death and where all of our feelings and thoughts go when we die. I couldn't come to peace with it. It led me to think, what if life is just a projection? What if we coexist somewhere else? It's scary if you spend too much time thinking about those things. This album is my way of getting to terms with the whole thing and reaching a level of acceptance that I can get answers too all those questions that I have—kind of make peace with it.

SLUG: What do you think about what melodic death metal in Sweden started as and what it has morphed into today with so many bands doing so many different things?
Speed: I think it is more diverse and interesting today—not saying that I miss the old times, but I feel it's easier to separate those bands that came from that scene of the mid ’90s to late ’90s who have grown into something else and they have their own sound so it makes them stand out more—it's the same with us. It's definitely more interesting. I'm not really keeping track of what's going on as far as the young scene—I guess that's what happens.

SLUG: You guys were kind of not officially in the beginning of the melodic death metal scene.
Speed: No, we came kind of in the second wave of that a little bit, and we blended in some of the other elements that some of those bands didn't have. We were really influenced by Devin Townsend's music, and Strapping Young Lad’s City album really changed our lives.

SLUG: I have to ask, because of his album Infinity and his logo, is there any influence from Devin Townsend's stuff with the infinity thing?
Speed: Not really, no. This is my own influence.

SLUG: Didn’t Townsend produce a couple of your albums?
Speed: He produced Natural Born Chaos and then he produced the vocals on Sworn to the Great Divide.

SLUG: Speaking of your vocals, you started out not really singing much, but it has developed over the years and gotten better and better, I think. How did you find your singing voice and develop it?
Speed: I ended up being a singer out of coincidence really, because I was a guitarist from the beginning. I met Peter in high school and he came up to me and asked if I wanted to sing in this band he was about to start. I said I'm a guitarist, but what the hell, I'll give it a try. After a while, things progressed so fast as musicians I wanted to learn how to express myself in different ways than just do screams. Some people enjoy doing that and feel that that's how they express themselves. I don't feel that for myself, so it's been a natural thing for me.

SLUG: I think it makes what Soilwork is that much more original—you stand out and have that signature sound. One of the songs on the new record I keep coming back to is “This Momentary Bliss.” What was the lyrical inspiration for that song?
Speed: Well, you find yourself in a situation when there is joy in life, but you always need to question that. You can never really be at peace with that. There is always something around the corner. The song is my way of expressing that I need to stop doing that and try to grasp the moment while I can. I think that's a pretty common thing for humans to do.

SLUG: Is it a hard balancing act to pick songs from the new record to play and pick the older songs that everyone like and expects?
Speed: It's been rough—doing a headline set that's like an hour and twenty minutes and we have nine albums to pick songs from and the latest one having twenty songs it's been pretty hard. Then again we started touring around the same time as the album was out we kind of realized the crowd might not appreciate if we do too much of the new stuff because people are not familiar with all the new songs. But I think the new songs have been going over really well and we've picked out four or five songs from the new album. We also try to listen to fans and see the reactions to some of the songs and start with the new and hopefully in the future we can do the album its entirety.