Soilwork have, like all of us, persevered, weathered…no, survived 2020. The group came out of the Verkligheten cycle victorious but undeniably scathed. Frontman Björn “Speed” Strid caught COVID-19 while on tour. The singer experienced minimal symptoms, but guitarist/songwriter David Andersson was out of commission for the better part of a month. COVID-19 has affected 66 million (and counting) folk worldwide as of this writing, and it’s no stranger our corner of the universe. Nevertheless, Soilwork, powered by Andersson’s tireless work ethic and endless well of inspiration, followed-up the excellent Verkligheten effort with a 37-minute EP titled, A Whisp of the Atlantic (Nuclear Blast). While the rest of the band were in self-recover/preservation mode (in addition to fighting off COVID-19) from year-over-year tour abuse, Andersson was holed up writing not just the music for A Whisp of the Atlantic but the lyrics and concept as well. To say this is Andersson’s third child is no understatement. That he married all this while also serving as doctor of internal medicine at the Danderyds Sjukhus in Stockholm is seriously extreme multi-duty effort.
Musically, A Whisp of the Atlantic continues–moored in darkness–where Verkligheten left off. The trinity of songs–“Desperado,” “Feverish,” and “Death Diviner”–are classic “new era” Soilwork, where big, catchy riffs carry huge vocal lines over wicked-sick rhythms. They tell a brutal tale of the Babylonian death goddesses–you know, Ereshkigal, Inanna, and Manungal–against some of the finest Soilwork material to date. Indeed, just spin “Death Diviner” once. The terrible troika are supported by the EP’s title track, a 16-minute masterstroke of progressive/melodic death metal. On par with some of genre’s best–think Opeth and Ne Obliviscaris, for example–“A Whisp Of The Atlantic” spans across and extends beyond the Soilwork realm. If Soilwork needed their own version of “Achilles Last Stand,” “Heart of the Sunrise,” or “Child in Time,” then they got it in “A Whisp Of The Atlantic.”
Decibel syncs up with Soilwork frontman Björn “Speed” Strid to learn about A Whisp Of The Atlantic‘s origins, Andersson’s endless songwriting abilities, and the next steps he and Soilwork will take in 2021.
You teased A Whisp of the Atlantic with videos for “Feverish,” “Desperado,” “Death Diviner,” and then with “The Nothingness and the Devil.” Was that the intent to hint at an inevitable EP or did the idea for the EP come later? The quality is, of course, on par with recent Soilwork music.
Björn “Speed” Strid: There was no masterplan as far as I know. After Verkligheten, we toured a lot, and personally, my mindset was not to start writing right away. David, however, always manages to find so much inspiration all the time. It’s really impressive. He’s a super-busy man. He’s a father of two, doctor, and is a songwriter in two bands. I wasn’t really feeling any inspiration, at the time, but he was on fire. He had a lot of things that needed to come out musically and lyrically. When he approached me with his ideas, I said, yes of course. Let’s go for it! That’s when those songs started to pop out. The songs themselves are in the style of Verkligheten, but they stick out a bit more. There’s a blackened, darker theme to them. So, I saw this EP as an experiment. After a while, we started talking about putting them together—they’re a trinity of songs—on an exclusive EP. We ended up adding the title track, “A Whisp of the Atlantic,” this majestic 16-minute piece to make the whole thing extra special.
I was going to ask you about “A Whisp of the Atlantic.” How in the hell did you end up with a 16-minute song?
Björn “Speed” Strid: Before Peter left the band, we did The Panic Broadcast, which was very much verse-chorus-bridge-verse. So, when he left we started to think, “What if we were to do a double album?” That was crazy thinking. I mean, here we are without our main songwriter and we’re thinking of not just one album but two! [Laughs] The Living Infinite is a journey, man. There’s epic songs, unexpected stuff, progressive songs, aggressive songs, the whole thing—The Living Infinite is very unexpected, I think. So, when we’re allowed to experiment we evolve. I think that’s been one of things that’s been part of this band for a while now. We’re experimental, we try new things, and we make them work. We’re always searching for new levels of sound. The next album might not sound like this EP. Who knows?! Experimentation broadens our horizons as songwriters, which is why, I think, we always surprise ourselves in the end. “A Whisp of the Atlantic” is all of that, really. It was important for us to try this out to see what would come out of a truly epic Soilwork song.
Björn “Speed” Strid: That’s a question for David. I think he had in mind this epic beast though. He’s done that with The Nightflight Orchestra as well. Maybe not to the extent of “A Whisp of the Atlantic,” but there is usually a song or two that stretch the limits of what the band are usually doing musically. So, I think the idea—or spark—came from The Nightflight Orchestra, but with Soilwork he can be really over-the-top with it. He mentioned in the press release that he has always thought Soilwork were underrated—he was a fan of the band before he joined—and that most people never knew what the band was capable of. He’s felt that for a while now. So, I think a song like “A Whisp of the Atlantic” was designed around the idea that we, collectively, needed to show what Soilwork were capable of. It’s not a show-off song. OK, it’s a show-off song, but it’s not written with that purpose. There’s so much emotion in it, and there’s a lot of tricks and turns. It’s the first time we had a trumpet in a Soilwork song, there’s blastbeats it, a lot of dark elements running through it. I really like the song.
There’s a theme running through the trilogy. The concept of a Babylonian death goddess metaphorically or philosophically being part of modern times and that there’s a divine feminine behind it all is, to me, very David. David and I have chatted before about the power of femininity.
Björn “Speed” Strid: Right, David is responsible for all the lyrics on this EP, so it’s hard to answer specifically what he’s expressing. But, I will say, that you’ve reminded me of the themes he was exploring in the lyrics. He loves to talk about female heroines and goddesses. That goes along very well with what he’s usually thinking about. He’s just taking it to a new level with A Whisp of the Atlantic. I wish David were here to talk more deeply about the lyrics. But I will say you get to know him through the lyrics.
The title, A Whisp of the Atlantic, is very whimsical, but there’s a dark theme behind it. I gather since you didn’t write the lyrics, the title is also a bit abstract.
Björn “Speed” Strid: Yes and no. As far as I know, A Whisp of the Atlantic has been the title all along. It is a different title for us. I think you called it ‘whimsical.’ There’s a lot of depth to the title. It’s been very important for David to get all these things out.
Björn “Speed” Strid: [Laughs] I get it. David likes to talk about the Elements. I know he’s of the idea that fire is the element that fuels us today but water is the element that we all came from. That puts a bit of a spin to it. So, the word Atlantic sounds good, but it’s also been important for Soilwork for some time now. Water has been, actually. I grew up by the ocean, so it’s important to me. When I wrote a lot of the material for The Living Infinite, I rented a house by water. Water has been and will continue to be an important theme for Soilwork.
I guess it sounds better than A Whisp of the Gulf of Bothnia though.
Björn “Speed” Strid: Yes, it does! [Laughs]
Since The Living Infinite you’ve been able to nail these really fine choruses. They’re different from the earlier albums. They have this melancholy to them. Catchy but somehow with a lot of import. When you’re getting the lyrics from David, do you have specific structures you go to?
Björn “Speed” Strid: Well, with this EP, he already had the melodies already written. From scratch, he already had the melodies, the structures, and the lyrics. He’s very good. We do collaborate though. Like on Verkligheten, I was very involved in the structure and the melodies. I will say when we do work together (or when he presents his ideas) we have a mutual vision with music. We share the same melodic language. We inspire one another. We feed off each other.
I know folks are trying to connect the new Soilwork “sound,” as it were, to The Nightflight Orchestra. That somehow—by way of the songwriters—that one is now cross-pollinating into the other. I don’t hear it, but it’s out there.
Björn “Speed” Strid: Yeah, no, no. The approaches are totally different. We have a certain melodic sense, and that will sometimes carry over, but the vibe is different, and therefore so too is the expression. Soilwork is very different from The Nightflight Orchestra. Maybe they’re hearing the guitar sound is not as distorted in Soilwork than it was in the past. I don’t get the comparison. People shouldn’t be that worried that the two bands will merge into one.
OK, the format is vinyl only. CD was the preferred format for many decades, but the label is ignoring the format for A Whisp of the Atlantic. Know what’s going on there?
Björn “Speed” Strid: There’s still people buying CDs. It’s a shame it’s not on CD. I don’t know where the idea came from—I wasn’t involved in it—but I will say I don’t understand it.
Björn “Speed” Strid: We have some stuff lined up for the spring. In February and March, we were supposed to do some Swedish shows, which I doubt will happen. They’re still not canceled, but I don’t think we’ll do those shows. I’m not optimistic. Next are the summer festivals. I have no idea what’s going to happen to them. Uncertainty drives us crazy, in the end. We can’t plan anything. The only thing we can do in this situation is to cherish the break, to take care of ourselves. Let the liver rest. Get some exercise. For me, it’s been pretty good. It’s not like I wished for all this to happen—you know, tours getting canceled and people dying—but health-wise and mentally it’s been good for me. Maybe I needed the break, but under a pandemic, it’s probably not the best environment for it. I’m slowly getting back to music. I’m working on new The Nightflight Orchestra material—we have about 25 songs already—and, believe it or not, new Soilwork material. There will be something coming out at the end of summer 2021.
And your predictions for COVID-19 and how it will impact 2021?
Björn “Speed” Strid: I think it will be very tough. The middle-sized bands will be hit the hardest. They’ve already been hit very hard by it. I’m talking about the bands that didn’t have day jobs. They will be forced to make a decision, and when things get back to normal, they won’t be able to come back. I think the little bands with day jobs will survive. I think the very big bands will also survive. But I do expect a very serious impact to music—a lot of bands will die out. I hope that doesn’t happen. All signs are pointing to that happening, which is just terrible. Hopefully, the vaccine will do the trick, but I expect everybody going out at the same time, and it will just start all over again. I don’t even want to think about that right now.
** Check out David Andersson’s Five Heavy Albums that Changed His Life for more context on A Whisp of the Atlantic. Click HERE.
** Soilwork’s new super-long EP, A Whisp of the Atlantic, is out now on vinyl only via Nuclear Blast Records. If vinyl is final and Soilwork are faves, then head over to Nuclear Blast’s US store (HERE).