Latest release: The Living Infinite (Nuclear Blast)

When Soilwork vocalist and founding member Bjorn “Speed” Strid comes to the phone, he immediately apologises if he sounds a little nasally thanks to having woken up with a cold the day before. In truth he sounds perfectly fine, ready to take on the world again as his band unleashes its most ambitious album to date, The Living Infinite.

“Sometimes it doesn’t really affect the vocal chords,” he says, referring to his ailment. “Sometimes it does, and you have to make the best out of it. As long as you don’t have fever. That’s when you really start thinking about cancelling. I’ve been playing shows with 41 degree fevers and I can’t remember one single second of it. I just woke up at the hospital after that!”

There was a time when Speed Strid was so busy with his music that it was difficult to see when he got time just to sleep, never mind recover in hospital from a fever. As well as releasing seven albums in eight years with Soilwork during the 00s, he also fronted two other bands, Terror 2000 and Coldseed, and was in constant demand as a session singer, working with Darkane, Kamelot, Disarmonia Mundi and Mercenary, among others. The band’s heavy workload saw its membership in a state of flux for most of its career so that Strid is now the only original left following the final resignation of guitarist and songwriting partner Peter Wichers last year. With the group’s 20th anniversary virtually within sight and a huge double album to promote, however, the focus now is very much on Soilwork.

“It’s all Soilwork right now,” Strid says. “It’s taking a lot of time. For Panic Broadcast things were not as busy. We couldn’t really tour as much as we wanted to. Peter not being able to be away from his family and even though we had Peter Andersson standing in for us, he is also a doctor. So it was very difficult for him to say, ‘Ok, I have to go away for a year on a tour,’ one month in advance. But for this album things are really different and people really want to tour and there’s so much preparation for this North American tour that’s coming up real soon, and also for the release, and there’s so much social media and I’m chatting on Twitter and I’m doing this and that, so I can’t really do anything except Soilwork.”

Soilwork’s 12 – 18 month album/tour cycle was so consistent that when 2010’s The Panic Broadcast appeared after a mere three year gap, it was heralded as if it were a comeback album.

Broadcast was like, ‘Welcome back, you’ve been gone for years! This is like a comeback’,” Strid says with a laugh. If anything, though, he feels that it is The Living Infinite that should be referred to as such. “I would rather consider this to be a comeback, because to me it marks a little bit of a new era in a way because I think we’ve found something. We’re touching on something new with this album.”

The Swedes have never been afraid to experiment with their sound or expand their frames of reference, often to the dismay and chagrin of fans who saw the introduction of increased melodies and keys and a more groove-oriented direction as a betrayal of the band’s earlier melo-death origins. The Living Infinite is a step away from some of their more controversial stylistic dabblings, but still manages to open up new territory, with songwriting contributions from every member of the band.

“This album is really a band effort. Every single member of the band has contributed songs and lyrics,” the singer points out. “So I guess, that stands out for sure. I would consider that pretty unique for this band. But I think we also needed to do that because it’s a double album and we needed the material to be pretty diverse and I think that’s something new about this album and I think we’ve explored the horizons a little bit more. I think it just sounds really epic and dynamic in the transitions between the songs as well.”

Well known for its effortless ability to switch between savage growls and soaring harmonies, Speed’s voice is perhaps one of the most recognisable and sought after in modern metal. He is very pleased with his vocal contributions to the album.

“Vocally I would say that there’s not just the screamed vocals and the clean with no in between. I’ve learned how to express myself in so many different ways,” he says, before going on to suggest that The Living Infinite has one particular element that he feels brings Soilwork back in touch with their roots.

“I think we also brought back some of that melancholy that we used to have in the beginning. I think that melancholy really enhances the feeling. It sounds Scandinavian again. Whatever that means! It’s really hard to explain. Hopefully people can understand. It has an interesting melancholy.”

Strid began toying with the idea for The Living Infinite while Soilwork was on the European summer festivals circuit two years ago. He wanted to do something more than just another Soilwork album, something that challenged himself and the band creatively.

“I presented the idea to the band, and I already had the title as well, The Living Infinite, and people liked the idea. They were intrigued. The only concern was to come up with enough songs and not having to compromise. Not having the first disc sounding awesome and the second disc going downhill. Obviously that was really important. As soon as we started writing songs for the album we knew that it was going to be diverse. Which I think we really needed. Having two Figure Number Fiveson top of each other really wouldn’t have worked.”

It was a task made potentially tougher by the departure of Wichers, the band’s main songwriting force, but quickly ameliorated by all members taking an active role in the album’s creation. Strid claims the process was remarkably fluid. Everyone, it seems, appeared to be on the same page from the very beginning.

“We didn’t really plan anything and say we needed this or that. We just wrote songs. It was all coming together in the studio well. And we felt that it had a really tight flow and it was just a matter of putting the songs in the right order and having some nice transitions,” he says. “You can hear those acoustic parts and things like that, and I think it’s important that a double album should contain parts like that. Looking back to the 70s, picking up a vinyl and opening up the sleeve… even before it comes on you feel like you’re going to be taken on a journey. You know that there’s going to be a lot of trippy transitions and everything like that. That’s how I wanted it to feel. There’s a lot of details and small surprises. We just seemed to have a mutual understanding for what we wanted.”

The Living Infinite
‘s exploration of agnostic and existential themes was inspired by a near-death experience Strid suffered at the hands of a drink-spiking incident in 2009. The trauma it caused him left him consumed with thoughts about his own mortality to the point where it  “almost drove me nuts”, he says. The creative process became cathartic and allowed him to accept that some questions don’t come with easy answers.

“I wanted an album that raises a lot of existential questions and matters because I have been dealing with a lot of thinking about those things like a lot of people in this world. It’s getting hard to ignore thoughts like What happens when  I die? Where do all my feelings go? Where do my thoughts go? Do they just die? It seems a bit hard to accept that sometimes,” he explains. “This is my way of coming of terms with all those thoughts. They don’t really help me in my daily life. It was my way of coming to terms with these things, because I spend so much time thinking about these things. Even going further than that and thinking, What if life is a projection? What if we co-exist somewhere else? Stuff like that. I feel that I’m reaching acceptance that I won’t get answers to those questions that I have.”

He reiterates his belief that The Living Infinite represents a new beginning for Soilwork and even after 18 years the band still has a long journey left ahead of them.

“I do feel really inspired that we’ve been able to break new ground with this album. It feels like a new era. We’re exploring something new and I think we can really take this further, whatever that means. I’m really looking forward to our future albums. Who knows how long we’ll last, but we’re all feeling really inspired at the moment. It’s not over yet.”

Soilwork tours Australia in October:
2/10: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD
3/10: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW
4/10: Billboard, Melbourne VIC
5/10: Gov Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide SA
6/10: Rosemount Tavern, Perth WA