It’s been four long years since the last time fans have had some new material from N.W.O.T.H.M. titans Enforcer. There’s since been some changes in band personal since 2019’s Zenith album, with Garth Conduit now taking over for longtime bassist Tobias Lindqvist, yet that hasn’t slowed them down one bit.
The instrumental “Armageddon” opens Nostalgia up with hauntingly beautiful dueling guitars that segue directly into “Unshackle Me,” and from then on listeners are demanded to come take a ride of epic proportions with the band, with “Coming Alive” quickly following and launching one brutal attack of the senses after another.
“At the End of the Rainbow,” “Metal Supremacia,” “Keep the Flame Alive,” and “When the Thunder Roars (Crossfire)” are all more examples of what the band is capable of. The only time listeners are really even given a chance to catch their breath at all is during the title track, a ballad of sorts that finds frontman Olof Wikstrand pouring his heart out (curiously he is the only member of the band featured in the song’s video).
All in all, Nostalgia is thirteen tracks of pure metal at its finest. Make no mistakes about it, Enforcer are at the top of their game (and genre), and surely to remain there for a long time coming.
While I’ve said this many times already in the past, allow me to go completely ‘fan boy’ here again for just a second; I cannot stress it enough how Sweden’s Enforcer are the real deal, and possibly the best, true heavy metal band to emerge in the past two decades. It was an absolute blast to finally catch them live and review one of their shows for Rewind It Magazine back in 2019 (see attached photo above), and even more of a thrill meeting frontman Olof Wikstrand (among others) shortly after the show. It was just as much of an honor getting a chance to pick Wikstrand’s brain recently about the band’s latest release, Live By Fire II, which was actually recorded on the same 2019 North American tour in Mexico City.
One of the first things I asked him about was why the band choose Mexico City to record a live album, and he explained; “I think Mexico City is one of the greatest places in the entire world to play traditional metal. It has a great scene for it, and the people are incredibly enthusiastic about music in general, so I’m very grateful to go there as an artist. We also had the full lineup for it – we’ve been touring a little bit with session musicians lately – so this was a good chance to capture a show that we had the entire lineup of the band together for once. We also had good ticket sales for this one, so we knew that it was going to be something special.”
He continued; “Another reason was we had a good venue that we could set up exactly how we wanted, both in terms of sound, as well as stage. And we had a full headline slot to preform, so we could basically do anything we wanted with this show, and it was a great opportunity not to miss. I think we decided that same week that we were going to record the show, and we flew in our Swedish light guy about five days prior, just to do the show. So it was a spontaneous decision, but it worked out really well. When you get so much back from the audience and you really get the energy flowing, it makes you play so much better. I think we did a pretty good show, I think it was the second out of fifty-eight shows that we did in North America in 2019.”
Something about Enforcer’s style, and Wikstrand’s songwriting, has always struck me as uniquely authentic. So I wanted to know just where some of that inspiration came from. He told me; “I’ve been into heavy metal for the majority of my life. I think when I was like three or four I started to get into The Rolling Stones because of my dad. And then a year or two after I was introduced to Metallica by an older cousin, and that must have been around ’91 because it was right around the time of The Black Album. My parents come from a very musical background, so I had the interest for music already, and when that interest met with heavy metal, I thought that that was the coolest thing in the universe; it was like this mixture had set something special on fire.
He explained a bit further; “It started with a little bit of a thrash wave in the beginning (Megadeth, Slayer, etc…), and then I got more into death metal for awhile, and then I wandered out into Scandinavian black metal when I was a mid-teenager, before going back to thrash, heavy metal and classic rock more recently. So it’s been a lot of different phases throughout my entire life, and I’d say that I’m inspired by pretty much everything that’s ever touched me musically.”
I was curious what some of the tracks Wikstrand enjoyed performing live the most were. He stated; “I think the best songs to perform live are the ones where you get the most instant feedback from the crowd. Usually songs like “Destroyer,” “From Beyond,” or “Die For the Devil” create so much movement from the crowd, and you can feel so much energy coming back from them to you on stage.” I was also wondering if there were any forgotten songs in the band’s catalog that the band might consider resurrecting someday. He said; “I used to really liked “Roll the Dice” from our second album – that’s one that I would personally like to get back. But it’s also a little hard to bring them back if the crowd doesn’t want to hear them. So if it’s songs that haven’t really made an impact on people, then it’s hard to play them live because it will kind of kill the vibe. I think the track list that we have right now is the product of years of trial and error to find the right songs that work the best live.”
I couldn’t help but notice how the piano-driven ballad “Regrets” from their last studio album, Zenith, had not made it into said live sets, and inquired why this was. He replied; “We tried to it with the piano backtracked first, but it didn’t really feel genuine. Then we tried to do a guitar version in place of the piano, but it didn’t feel the same, really. So we have not yet been able to find a way to perform that live in a genuine way. We might still play it in the future , but it also depends on the demand of the song. And with a song seemingly so deep, I wanted to know if there was any meaning behind the lyrics. He stated; “The lyrics weren’t really inspired by anything in particular, but the original idea was to make it as dark as possible, with the thought of the love for something being beyond reach.”
With concerts slowly creeping in again, yet still up in the air for nearly any band on the planet, I of course had to ask what the band’s future live agenda looked like. He informed me; “We’ve had a European tour scheduled that has moved forward twice now. I think I’m in a state where I don’t want to book anything right now because it just feels so frustrating to keep having to move it forward and forward. I guess we have to wait this out and keep trying to come up with other creative ways of putting exposure towards the band. I think this year has shown that you don’t necessarily have to be touring on such a high level to create exposure for your band, and you can do that on social media instead. But we’ve had great responses from almost everything we’ve been doing on social media, and the contact with the fans has been the greatest thing. That’s something we’re definitely going to focus on in the future.”
But that has not slowed down Wikstrand’s creativity much. As far as the band’s future goes, he assured me; “I’ve been writing songs, and I think I’ve been more creative these last twelve months than I’ve been in the past twelve years. So it’s been very nice to have all the pressure off of touring/playing live and that whole aspect of the band, and hopefully we can actually get into the studio soon and record the follow up to Zenith. We have focus on growth almost everyday with every step we do as a band, and I hope to be able to keep taking this concept to the next level and get the music out there. That’s the only focus that I have, and it’s always been.”
I’ve been saying this for years now; Enforcer are hands down one of the best modern metal acts around today, and their live show is comparable to such classic metal titans as Iron Maiden, Megadeth, or Metallica. And like their first live album, Live by Fire II truly captures the band doing what they do best in their own element.
Recorded in Mexico City in 2019, the seventeen track set list is not too far off from what it was when I personally saw the band live in October of that same year. Tracks like “Searching For You,” “From Beyond,” “Zenith of the Black Sun,” “Live for the Night,” and “Take Me Out of This Nightmare” all showcase what these guys do best, and complete with full crowd participation. Concerts like this might still be rare to come by these days, but Live by Fire II perfectly captures everything that Enforcer has to offer.
I can’t stress this enough, Enforcer are the type of band for those – young and old – who still have metal running in their veins. They’re much more deserving to be at the forefront of the scene than what mainstream metal continues to shove down the throats of the masses (I’m looking at you, Godsmack). If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and check these guys out.
I’ve been going to metal and rock shows for nearly a quarter of a century now. In that span of time, I’ve attended as everything from the fan in the crowd, to the musician on stage (and for a brief time, I’ve even been the security behind the barricades). For over a decade now though, my role at shows has largely been that of a music journalist (and when my wife is unavailable, the occasional photographer, too), reporting everything I see and hear in great detail.
But at my age (and with having a bum leg), I tend to experience most shows on the sidelines these days (it makes it a lot easier for jotting down notes, anyhow!). But last Saturday, October 12 at The Haven Lounge in Orlando (or is it Winter Park?), I broke my own rules, and exerted myself right in the middle of all of the action for the first time in I can’t even remember how long…and have zero regrets about it.
Perhaps it had something to do with the initial opening act, Orlando’s own Darkness by Design, whose immediate intensity, reminiscent of old school Slayer, caught the attention of the entire room, and demanded one to listen up instantly. Guitarist Marcos Mercado’s massive riffs were a definite highlight, making them a force to be reckoned with on stage.
Destructonomicon were next on the bill. I’ve caught them a time or two over the years, and judging by their performance this past weekend, they haven’t matured all that much since then (but go figure, with a name like that). Although they did initiate a decent response from the audience, their “tough guy” brand of crossover doesn’t quite do much for me these days.
Another local outfit I’ve seen a time or two over the years, Thicket, were up next. I’m not entirely sure how to place them; part traditional thrash and part progressive metal, their lack of cohesion is somewhat of a strange mixture. Still, there was no denying they had the club amped up and ready for a night of more headbanging by the end of their set.
The band that got me through the door that night, Enforcer, were next to play. I’ve been a fan of theirs since another magazine I’ve often freelanced for asked me to review their 2015 album, From Beyond. With their ability to skillfully mimic the sounds of such beloved ’80s thrash/extreme metal bands such as Megadeth or Venom (though without ripping anyone off), I was instantly hooked on these Swedish metalheads from the start, and have sought their entire catalog out ever since. Prior to last Saturday’s show I had heard that some of the members would not be present for this tour, but had no idea only lead vocalist/guitarist/overall mastermind Olof Wilkstrand would be present from the band’s core lineup, along with touring musicians that included Skull Fist guitarist Jonny Nesta. Warbringer guitarist Chase Becker also filled in on bass, while Hellwitch drummer Brian Wilson rounded things out behind the drumset.
Still, I knew from the moment they hit the stage with “Destroyer” that this particular night would be different, and found myself quickly making my way to the front of the stage to scream along with every lyric (that I could remember anyway). More crushing anthems like “Die For the Devil,” “Searching For You,” “Undying Evil,” “From Beyond,” “Belles of Hades/Death Rides the Night,” “Zenith of the Black Sun,” and “Mesmerized by Fire,” all followed with total fury.
What came as an even bigger shock (other than how hard they played) was the fact they managed to represent every album of their career, including one of my personal favorites from the Diamonds album, “Live For the Night,” as well as “Scream of the Savage” from their lesser- known 2008 debut album, Into the Night. After an epic rendition of “Take Me Out of This Nightmare,” the band came back for two more Diamonds-era tracks, “Katana” and Midnight Vice” before finally calling it a night.
By the time they finished their set, there was no doubt that my wife/photographer and I were both in need of a reprieve before Warbringer hit the stage, and by the time we got back from grabbing some fresh air, the club was already packed again. I have to admit I don’t know Warbringer’s (who were technically the headliner of the night) material as well as Enforcer’s, but I did familiarize myself with some of their music beforehand, and recognized some of the tracks in their set, such as “Remain Violent,” “Firepower Kills,” and “Severed Reality.” Their music is honestly a bit hit or miss for me; at times on the interesting side, while at other times extremely generic sounding. One thing’s for sure, their intensity might have come close to matching Enforcer’s (who no doubt stole the show that night), but were far less superior in comparison.
And the end of the night, we even had the pleasure of meeting some of the members of Enforcer, including said front man Wikstrand, and fill-in guitarist Nesta, who each embodied the living “rock star” image without tarnishing it one bit, both being as down to Earth as possible, and helping to make it one memorably epic night indeed.