By Ian Lemke
CALGARY — 2004 in Arvika, Sweden: a town with a population of less than 15,000. Five friends record a thrash metal demo dubbed Agony Awaits that’s full of all the snot and spit and Araya impressions you’d expect from a group of teenagers anywhere in the world. Fast forward to 2015 though, and every one of these young musicians in the band called Hazard will have cut their teeth on the world stage, with bands like Black Trip, Stench, Tribulation, and Enforcer among them. Looking back to the demo days, did they ever think they’d go so far?
“Yeah actually…” responds Olof Wikstrand, lead shrieker and half of Enforcer’s harmonic guitar unit. Explosive on stage and on record but refined in reality, Wikstrand’s self-assurance stems from over a decade of unglamorous tooth-and-nail effort.
“I think we were really, really dedicated back then as well, and that was everything we lived for and everything we struggled for, so I think in our childish naivety we really believed that we would do it in some way or another.”
Enforcer began as Olof’s one-man-band on the heels of his (and brother Jonas’) departure from Hazard in late 2004. Olaf was soon joined by Jonas on drums and guitarist Adam Zaars before solidifying the current lineup with Joseph Tholl (guitar), Tobias Lindqvist (bass), and the brothers Wikstrand.
One factor of Enforcer’s success lies in their deep reverence to their heavy metal roots, genuflecting as much to countrymen like Jonah Quizz as to Judas Priest, Mindless Sinner as to Iron Maiden. They’ve drawn themselves a circle that’s as refreshing as it is familiar, and it looks to be outlasting the “three-album curse.”
“Most bands stop doing great albums after three albums because then they sort of feel that they did everything they could with their own sound and then they just have to move on,” explains Wikstrand.
“Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes it’s not.”
With Enforcer’s fourth effort, From Beyond, so-called “experimentation” is kept to a minimum, exaggerating elements that have worked in the past without smashing a perfectly good mould.
“We [wanted] to do something that feels ‘us,’ something that is similar to previous albums but also takes a few steps in this or that direction.”
One of such directions is literally and figuratively ‘east.’ The title track is in fact a re-write of a song by bassist Tobias Lindqvist’s project Terminal, which is a nod to metal ‘from beyond’ the iron curtain. Titled “Slovo,” it and all other Terminal material are sung entirely in Slovenian.
“I think we all were really stoked about that song and we talked about doing something similar to it with Enforcer but then we were like, why not do our own version of it instead, since it was totally written by a band member anyway.”
The Soviet influence can be heard subtly throughout much of the album, especially on the instrumental “Hungry They Will Come,” of no surprise to Wikstrand.
“I think that was a general attitude that both me and Tobias had been digging ourselves quite deeply into, that kind of stuff, and it’s somewhere we could meet to write songs together.”
Although Enforcer is notably more “traditional” sounding than fellow Hazard alumni Tribulation, or the recently disbanded Morbus Chron and In Solitude, to Wikstrand the creative process is “absolutely no different.”
“They’re just inspired by things that the general metal head doesn’t know shit about…” Wikstrand continues. “Whatever inspires you, you know, because something has always inspired everyone that’s created. So it’s absolutely the same thing.”
2016 marks the band’s first North American tour since 2009, which also occurred alongside their Canadian brothers in arms Cauldron.
“On that crazy American tour we did together for, what was it five weeks in a small van, we became something more than friends you know… I think we never got so well along with another band.”
“Also I mixed the new Cauldron album so I’m quite involved in that too.”
The Canadian connection doesn’t end there. Edmonton artist Squid Hrushka penned the imagery for both bands’ newest covers (though Enforcer’s was reconfigured by a Swedish artist). Both too invoke a sense of the supernatural in a blueish hue.
“I also think that if you put a more cold blueish-like album cover to something people will relate [the music] to something more… It works the other way as well. But whoever makes that interpretation, it’s up to them, I want to leave as much as I can to the listener’s own interpretations.”
Mid-sized tours like this one don’t often make stops in middle Canada, a fact Wikstrand is well aware of.
“Sometimes you just can’t afford to take many days off with long drives” is the unfortunate truth of our population dispersal. But absence makes the stoke grow stronger, and the shows should be wilder for it.
“We’re incredibly stoked to play Canada and this entire tour I think is going to be really nice. Looks really, really good from watching online, people’s reactions.
“I’m really excited.”
See Enforcer with Cauldron and Warbringer in Winnipeg on January 25th at the Park Theatre, in Calgary on January 27th at the Nite Owl, in Edmonton on January 28th at the Union Hall and in Vancouver on January 30th at the Rickshaw Theatre.AB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia, Enforcer, Manitoba, MB, Nite Owl, Park Theatre, Rickshaw Theatre, Union Hall