Wednesday 19 July 2023

Enforcer - Nostalgia (2023)

Country: Sweden
Style: Heavy/Speed Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 5 May 2023
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Enforcer are Swedish, where they're currentliy based in Stockholm. They've been around most of a couple of decades now, since 2004, but were originally a one man project built around the multi-instrumental talents of Olof Wikstrand, who's still their lead vocalist and one of two guitarists. He gradually gave up his instrumental reponsibilities until Enforcer became an actual band and there are now four members, with Garth Condit the new fish on bass, having joined last year. They seem to be typically regarded as heavy/speed metal, which appeals to me. There are far too few speed metal bands nowadays, in my opinion.

Well, half of their sound is definitely heavy/speed metal. Unshackle Me feels like quintessentially eighties heavy metal, so much so that a few lines could easily have been translated into jingles for the Friday Rock Show. Coming Alive is the same thing but faster, with the guitars outstripping the drums and the energy simply leaping out of the speakers. It's still heavy metal rather than speed metal per se, but it's a notably frenetic song, one that's so highly pitched that it almost feels like it was recorded slower but then sped up digitally. It has an energy right out of early Iron Maiden and Raven, maybe a little Tank too, especially in the riffing on songs like Kiss of Death.

I'd call this eighties British heavy metal mindset their default sound and that higher pitch is what shapes it the most. I mentioned Garth Condit on bass, but I had to fiddle with my graphic equaliser to see if I could actually hear him. I'm sure he's on the album, but the mix seems to be allergic to bass, so this ends up as a very clean sound, as if it's somehow afraid of getting dirty. Maybe it does make it feel more authentically eighties, because recording technology was very different then, but it seems weird in 2023. It makes Enforcer seem like the anti-Venom, a band who want some of their songs to be fast and heavy, but also germophobically clean, every note carefully wiped down before it makes it to our speakers.

There's another aspect to their sound that perhaps naturally emerges from this and that's a hair metal power ballad sound. Some songs go there more than others, but it's there to a degree on all but the fastest songs, like Coming Alive. Heartbeats is where it initially becomes obvious, starting out like a power ballad with what I took to be female vocals—they're not, they're Olf Wikstrand, as on every other song—and evolving into an arena rock song with a metallic edge. Nostalgia is a full on ballad, kicking off wistfully with almost Spanish guitar. I imagined waiters bringing roses to my table in their restaurant for that special moment, but having to turn around and vanish when she says no. It's always a power ballad, but halfway through it evoles into a power metal ballad.

Perhaps understandably, given its title, Keep the Flame Alive is the most obvious power ballad. It begins with pop hooks and oohs from Wikstrand and, after a side trip into eighties metal mode, it goes back to that again. It's a schizophrenic song that epitomises what Enforcer do on this album. Half the time, it and they are reminiscent of the endless stream of bands who grew in the shadow of Iron Maiden's success, bands like Elixir, merely with the bass turned down. The other half, they get poppy and Wikstrand sweetens up into a female sounding voice and they're like Vixen turning into the Bangles.

It's fair to say that I like both modes, whether this Swedish vocalist is singing in English, as on most of the album, or Spanish, as he does fluently on Metal Supremacia, but it's never not offputting. I find myself in the odd position of rather enjoying this band and their songs, but not this album. It's unfair to slate it based entirely on the production but I want to hear this with some dirt in the mix and some rawness to its energy. I can deal with Wikstrom's voice soaring like Klaus Meine's, even if the band could benefit from a backing vocalist in a lower register, but blistering songs like Coming Alive deserve to have some real crunch to them and that means turning up the bass seriously up.

I actually checked out versions of that song on YouTube that were recorded live and, even though YouTube is hardly a place to go for quality sound, every version has better sound than this one. It's a better song at Rockpalast and I'd actually suggest that it's a better song in the small club version where the cameraman is so close to the speaker stack that it seems like the main microphone isn't switched on and all we get is the lower end. This band seriously rocks. Let's actually hear that next time. This ought to be a 7/10 album, with energy going to 8/10 and originality dropping to 6/10. I'm dropping a point for the production though because I can't not.

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