Latest release: The Panic Broadcast (Nuclear Blast)
Back in 2002, Soilwork broke out of the Swedish underground with their fourth album Natural Born Chaos. By 2005 they were one of the fastest-rising acts around with two albums hitting the Billboard Heatseeker charts and an apparently un-ending touring schedule. It all seemed too much for founding guitarist and chief songwriter Peter “Vicious” Wichers and midway through touring for Stabbing the Drama he quit. Only three years later, however, Wichers came back to the fold, in time to work on Soilwork’s eighth album, The Panic Broadcast.
From his new home in North Carolina, Wichers explains why he came back to the band he formed in 1995.
“I suppose that when I left, I didn’t really know what direction I wanted Soilwork to go in,” he says, in an accent picked up from his time living in America. “I’d been doing Soilwork for so long — I’d never done anything else — that I needed to focus on something different, and get a different outlook. I also wanted to focus on music production. Which I did. I wanted to better myself in production and song-writing, and by the time I got an offer to come back I thought I knew what direction I wanted the music to go in. So together with the other guys we talked about it, and the rest is history.”
Soilwork’s musical direction has been a contentious issue for many long-time fans since at least Natural Born Chaos, but especially from Stabbing the Drama onwards. Wichers admits that he finds himself in agreement with some of it.
“It’s hard when you do albums non-stop all the time and you don’t really think about them,” he says. “I’m not saying that those records are bad, but I think that now with me having that break, and us thinking about what direction we were going to take, it was kind of obvious for us. We needed to bring back some of the older stuff, and bring back some of the guitar solos which we had — quite a bit of it — before. That kind of faded away a little bit. And not stick to the same mould when we’re songwriting. On this one, we honestly tried to do that. A lot of the songs are spontaneous.”
In saying the albums were non-stop, the guitarist isn’t kidding. Beginning with The Chainheart Machine, the band released four albums in four years, with recording for the next beginning almost as soon as touring for the previous one had ended. Wichers rejects the idea that this somehow affected the band’s creativity however.
“Not really man, because we were so hungry. We had so much music in ourselves and we loved… we still love what we do, but it’s different now because we’re older now and we have lives outside of the band. Obviously that has some effect on how continuous our releases are. I don’t think any of those records were forced. I think we just had so much inspiration back then. We still do now, but touring has taken over a lot more. We didn’t tour as much as we do now.”
It’s been almost three half years since Sworn to a Great Divide, the longest gap between releases in the history of the band. The break has given them time to reassess their craft and allow the music to breathe without concentrating so much on more commercial elements.
“Soilwork in the past has always tried to concentrate on that one song that maybe might get played on the radio,” Wichers admits, “but on this one we really wanted to do what was fun and what felt right and not worry about song length. We think that every part of every song on this record needs to be on the record. That’s why we made the effort to write material that wasn’t intentionally longer, but not cut them short, and evolve certain parts a bit more on this one.”
Wichers is at pains to point out that The Panic Broadcast is Soilwork’s most diverse album and contains more experimentation and technical playing than the band has previously displayed. While in no way a concept album, the guitarist suggests that the title is a reflection of the nature of its material.
“I think The Panic Broadcast is a good description of what this album is kind of like,” he offers. “All of the songs have a kind of different element to them, which is nice because a lot of records that are put out now are written with a lot of short songs. If we had recorded this five years ago, we would have thought, ‘Maybe this won’t fit, it’s too different’. But this time, that’s we are were going for. We really wanted to have variety in the material. It’s kind of like a schizophrenic album in that way. The meaning behind the title… there’s obviously room for interpretation, but it’s about the illusion of creating something that happened to you that’s not real. As far as the songs go, I just wrote them with Björn and they are mostly a lot of inspirational stuff that’s going on in his life.”
Vocalist Björn Strid – the one permanet fixture in the band’s seemingly ever-changing line-up – has burdened himself with a formidable workload over the years, having appeared on close to 20 albums. Along with the eight Soilwork releases, he’s also recorded with Coldseed, Terror 2000 and Disarmonia Mundi and made guest appearances on several other albums. But rather than negatively affect his contributions to his main band, Wichers reckons Strid’s voluminous extra-curricular resume has only helped.
“I know for a fact with Björn that he did a lot of that stuff to evolve as a singer,” Wichers says. “He still very much enjoys doing that. He’s still got a couple of projects on the side and they have been very helpful in shaping him into the singer he is today. I know he’s really put his heart and soul into this record.”
Peter Wichers is hardly an idle man himself. Even during his time away from Soilwork he couldn’t stop being busy. He spent a few months as Killswitch Engage’s touring guitarist when Adam Dutkiewicz was injured in 2007 and worked on Warrel Dane’s Praises to the War Machine. Despite at first doubting he would have the time to write a whole album, he eventually not only did so but produced it and played on eight of its 13 tracks.
“I think we were doing Ozzfest with Soilwork, and Warrel — we’ve been friends for a long time — he contacted me and said he was trying to put together a solo record and asked if I wanted to write some songs,” he says. “So I sent him two songs and he wrote back and said, ‘I want you to write the whole record!’ It was flattering, because I really admire him. I felt like it was a challenge, because the music is different and I had to write more with the singer in mind rather than the guitar riff and he also gave me the opportunity to mix and produce it too. I’m very happy with that record.”
Writing with the singer in mind was one of the criticisms many had with the last brace of Soilwork albums. Wichers says he became keenly aware of fan concerns the band was moving too far from its guitar-driven roots and re-iterates this was something he was determined to address this time.
“You know, I read what people write on online forums and stuff like that, and one thing I noticed was that people were commenting on the riffing back in the day with Soilwork and so I thought I would talk about that with the guys. So with this record we just tried to write what comes to mind. We came up with some intricate stuff which, before, people would say was a little bit too technical. I think if it’s got a good flow to it, there really isn’t a problem.”
If there was one advantage of Soilwork’s less-extreme approach to the last few albums, it was in terms of sales, sales reflected in strong chart positions. Drama and Sworn cracked both the Swedish top 30 and the top end of the US Heatseeker chart, with the latter eventually making the Billboard Top 200. Peter Wichers admits that there will be some pressure on his band to maintain that level of commercial success.
“That’s always something that a musician strives for,” he says. “To do well. You can kid yourself when you’re younger and survive on bread and butter and share a room with four other guys. But you get older and you get married and things change a little bit. So of course. It’s the wrong music to make a lot of money if you want to do metal. It really is. And it doesn’t hurt when you’re making a couple extra bucks. So to answer your question: Yes. We want the record to do well.”
The feedback from the track ‘Two Lives Worth Reckoning’ that was released to MySpace has been strong, and Wichers has little doubt that The Panic Broadcast will continue Soilwork’s run of success.
“’Two Lives Worth Reckoning’ is a very riffy song and it kind of had elements that we’re known for.I think it’s misleading because you can’t judge Soilwork from just one song from this record: every song is so different. But the response [to the song] has been fantastic. Of course there are people who still think we should do Chainheart Machine, but overall man, people are digging it.”