Latest release: The Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)
Website: www.soilwork.org

Australia has always been good to Soilwork. Since their first visit to these shores twelve years ago, the Swedish six piece have been regular tourists and February will see them returning once more in support of their tenth album, The Ride Majestic.

“I feel we have a really loyal fanbase in Australia, and that’s a really cool feeling,” says vocalist and sole remaining founding member Björn ‘Speed’ Strid on the phone from his home. “I feel very honoured. We even toured there twice on one album. I think it was Figure Number Five back in 2003. I think we toured there twice. I think that’s pretty cool, because that was back in the early days before bands toured more frequently in Australia.”

The Ride Majestic is the direct follow-up, both chronologically and conceptually, to 2013’s double set The Living Infinite, widely viewed as a career benchmark after the directional and creative confusion of albums like Sworn to a Great Divide and The Panic Broadcast. The current album revisits The Living Infinite’s exploration of the human condition, but was also touched with genuine personal tragedy.

“Lyrically, I definitely picked up where I left (off) with The Living Infinite,” Strid explains, “which was very existential, a lot of philosophical questions and once you’re in that loop of a lot of questions that you’ll never get the answers to you tend to keep thinking about those things. So I picked up there lyrically. There was a lot of tragic events that took place  as well. During the recording we had four family members pass away during one month while we were in the studio, so that affected the result as well. I think it would have turned out dark regardless. It’s very melancholic.”

The previous effort featured song writing contributions from the entire band for the first time. It was a step that Strid felt was necessary with the second and final departure of his main writing partner, guitarist Peter Wichers. Now based in North Carolina, Wichers is involved primarily in production these days, with an occasional foray into song writing. His more prominent contributions since his back-and-forth association with Soilwork include Warrel Dane’s Praises to the War Machine and James LaBrie’s 2013 solo album Impermanent Resonance.

“Because Peter left, came back to the band and then decided to leave again, I think we came to a point in the band where we had to have a new challenge,” the vocalist says. “It wasn’t just, ‘OK, let’s just continue and throw out another album’. It had to be something bigger than that. I think it was important to us to prove to each other that we could pull this off and we didn’t really talk about who was going to write songs for this album.”

The RIde Majestic’s songs were mainly composed by Strid and guitarist David Andersson, who also shared bass duties with Soilwork’s other guitarist Sylvain Coudret due to the departure of Ola Flink earlier in 2015.  With him gone, Strid is the only one of 17 members of the band to have appeared on every album from a wildly diverse catalogue. The band’s 20-year career has seen some radical creative shifts to the consternation of some fans and the delight of others. The first change came with the injection of cleaner vocals on A Predator’s Portrait, followed by deeper melodies and more prominent synths on the Devin Townsend-produced Natural Born Chaos. On Figure Number Five, their transition to a more melodic band was complete, much to the chagrin of followers of their earlier sound.

“It’s hard to look back and see the exact point where that happened, but it all felt natural,” Speed says of Soilwork’s metamorphosis. “It really did. It also came from me starting as a screamer on the first two or three albums and then adding more clean vocals and (I) wanted to experiment and develop as a singer, and so did everyone else.”

The vocalist is candid in his assessment of that era of the band: “We just wanted to experiment with how to mix melodies with intensity, but for a while there I think that’s exactly what we lost: intensity. On Figure Number Five, while I like that album, looking back it’s like we lost that intensity that we had in the first place. But it has some really good melodies and some really good lyrics as well.”

Since then, Soilwork has gradually brought back the dual guitar harmonies and crunching, speedy riffs of their Gothenburg-inspired beginnings. The heavy melodies have been retained without being allowed to compromise the intensity the band is aiming for.

“I think I can relate more to what we’re doing now, because I’m 37 now… I don’t know, but it was all a really natural development for me. We needed to take that route to be where we are today.”

That route has led to a ten-album deep catalogue with a wealth of stylistic deviations that Speed Strid admits can prove to be a headache when putting together a live set that shows a complete picture of the band. One thing is for sure, however –  a Soilwork show is guaranteed to be dynamic.

“All the songs mean something and building a set list that represents Soilwork as a whole career can be hard but we usually make it happen. We just did a North American tour together with Soulfly where we had 45 minutes and that made it even harder so we decided to concentrate on the new album because we wanted to try them out, but we try to mix it up. It can be interesting because a lot of the material from the mid-2000s like Figure Number Five is fairly straight forward, almost poppy, so it makes for an interesting dynamic, but we haven’t slowed down. When you compare the new album to a lot of the mid-2000 stuff, this is way more intense and there’s a different level of energy as well.”

Soilwork is touring Australia in February:
10/2: Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
12/2: The Gov, Adelaide SA
13/2: The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
15/2: Max Watts, Sydney NSW
16/2: 170 Russell, Melbourne VIC