Soilwork vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid posesses an unusual name. You’d think it’s pronounced “Stridd” but it actually rhymes with his nickname, “Speed Streed.” In high school during the tape trading days he became enamored with Meshuggah, Slayer and Carcass. Quickly discarding the down-tempo styles for aggressive thrash and death metal, he confidently asked for “The speedy stuff” exclusively and the nickname stuck. Though, it could easily have been for his prowess on the ice hockey rink, as Strid explains.
“I was a very promising [ice] hockey player. I was almost in the junior national [Swedish] team. I got my first guitar when I was fourteen. The hockey, for me, just became a little bit too serious. It wasn’t fun any more. People would come to games, stand around the rink and make notes about my playing. So during that time I really got into the metal and punk scene and started a punk band. After a while I quit hockey and decided to play in the punk band. My Dad wasn’t too happy about that,” he laughs.
Luckily for the Helsingborg melodic death combo Soilwork (first called Inferior Breed) he did quit hockey and changed stripes from punk to metal. The acceptance of his dream finally coming from his parents about four years into his professional career.
“They still kept the dream alive, but it took some time for my mum and dad [to accept it.] When I went to Japan in 1999 did they really realize ‘wow, this is really serious now'. Even so, they have been great supporters of [my music career] ever since then for sure. It was hard for them in the beginning – I mean, I used to play hockey with a lot of guys who are now in the [US/Canadian National Hockey League.]
“I haven’t been on the ice for five years now but it would be really fun to play some hockey for sure.”
Making the transition from the rink to the stage was accompanied by some very diverse and rather curious influences for a metal vocalist, Strid explains.
“I listen to all types of music. From Motown to Slayer. Everything in between – Devin Townsend – Just classic singers. Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale, Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio; everything that has a presence, you know? That’s what really speaks to me.”
This year, long-time Soilwork fans rejoiced as founding guitarist Peter Wichers returned to the fold after a three-year absence to concentrate on other projects. During that time he co-wrote the Nuclear Blast 20 Year Anniversary record and Warrel Dane’s solo album, Praises to the War Machine. Even though his name wasn’t on the roster, he was still a very good friend; a proposed side-project with Strid eventually turned into a full-blown reunion.
“Well, we never lost contact with him. We had plans for a non-touring studio band with Peter. We started doing some songs and after a while I said ‘You know what? This kind of sounds like Soilwork!’ and he said ‘Yeah, I know!’ We talked for a while – but he definitely needed a break. I asked him if he wanted to come back and after a while he just got inspired – and his wife really really pushed him as well."
(A wife asking her husband to go off to be a gallivanting rock star? Absolutely unheard of!)
“After a while we talked about it and he was really psyched to come back. I mean, I hadn’t seen him that inspired since we made Natural Born Chaos.”
This break obviously did the band some good with their newest record The Panic Broadcast released to critical claim and chart success, even debuting at #88 on the Billboard 200 chart; the highest charting album of their career in a major market (it also debuted at #24 on the German album charts.) Mixed by producer Jens Bogren and introducing new guitarist Sylvain Coudret, some reviews even called it the antidote to “cheap, trendy trash.” Why?
“Well, having Peter back really inspired the band – that’s probably why the album turned out so good,” Bjorn admits. “Having him on board with band jamming things out we got some really amazing songs happening. I mean the intro to Enter the Dog of Pavlov is bigger than life itself.”
Hungarian Bartosz “Bartek” Nalezinski was chosen to create the scene of “Panic” for the album cover and booklet – it riffs off the dark and sinister art of Tim Burton or Todd McFarlane featuring a necrolord that sits atop a psychotic throne surrounded by demonic dragons, as Strid explains.
“He is a very good friend of Sven [Karlsson], our keyboard player and I’ve seen his work before and he’s done some really really trippy stuff. We wanted to give him a shot and – wow man, he succeeded in making the best booklet ever for us. It was really amazing – usually you have an amazing cover and the booklet is nothing special. But for this album, it was really amazing. I love it.”
Soilwork return to Australia this month after only a two year absence – another oddity for bands that promise to return but often never do (for decades!). Soilwork have shaken up their touring routine and applied the brakes to an otherwise non-stop schedule, taking care of themselves properly – well, as much as rock stars are able to on the road.
“Well,” Strid sheepishly confesses, “there’s not much partying any more – but I’m enjoying [touring] a lot more too. On our last American tour I pretty much worked out every day. I couldn’t believe it. I mean Peter would come back to my bunk and ask ‘We’re not being too loud, are we?’ I was like, ‘What is this!’ we were trading places. I’m in the middle of a [workout program] called P90X – it’s the most intense workout you can do from home.”
The most significant change of the ‘new’ and ‘healthy’ Soilwork, according to Bjorn?
“I cut down a lot on the drinking. I feel a lot better since I did that.”