In Flames, Soilwork, At the Gates, Arch Enemy—the list of Swedish metal bands achieving global acclaim and popularity is long indeed. Could the next one to join their esteemed ranks be Eyes Wide Open? Ten years into its career, the band clearly is hitting its stride creatively. Its latest release, “Through Life and Death” (Arising Empire, Nov. 12, 2021), proudly bears the influence of the bands of its homeland while also adding a more modern edge reminiscent of bands such as Bring Me the Horizon or Killswitch Engage. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with vocalist Erik Engstrand to discuss the new record and more.
LIVE METAL: Eyes Wide Open is from Sweden and part of a long tradition of great metal bands from there. What do you think it is about Sweden that makes it such a good place for metal?
ERIK ENGSTRAND: Well, I don’t know. Something in the water, perhaps. (laughs) But I guess all the Scandinavian countries are really into metal, and we have a really good foundation from the government. They also help us to have rehearsal rooms, get special meetings and help with fundraising and stuff. So it’s a pretty good community to start your band, and you get a lot of help from the government. So I think that is basically why so many bands have prospered, because they get a lot of help from the beginning to start the band and evolve it.
Among the bands, is it a close-knit scene? Were there bands that took you under their wing when you were starting out?
Yeah. The most famous bands are always in Gothenburg and Stockholm, and we’re based in Karlstad, in the middle of Gothenburg and Stockholm. But we had a really good band in our town that also grew pretty big, and the bass player helped us a lot. We helped his band out, being stagehands at the start. He helps a lot of local bands out here in Karlstad. It’s a really big community, especially for the metal scene, specifically here.
What band was that?
He is playing in Sparzanza. I don’t think it’s big in the U.S., though. They’ve been touring Europe for a while. Really, really big in Finland, so they basically tour in Finland all the time.
Listening to Eyes Wide Open, it’s clear you have influences that are beyond just the Swedish metal bands. Metalcore comes up, for example. Is that part of not wanting to be pigeonholed into that specific kind of sound, or just what you guys like and listen to and it all comes together?
Yeah, I think it just happens. We have our influences. Of course, many comparisons with In Flames and At the Gates and Soilwork. Our roots, I think, lie in that genre. But we have so many influences from Architects and Bring Me the Horizon and Killswitch Engage, and when everything combines, it’s just how it is. We don’t aim for anything specific. We just mainly write music we like.
The new album, “Through Life and Death,” came out on Nov. 12. Going into it, did you have any goals, specific things you wanted to accomplish with this album?
I think the last record, “The Upside Down,” was a really big stepping stone for us. I think that was the album that cemented our foundation. We’ve been doing this for 10 years now, even though the last album was the one that took off, if you know what I mean. I think we kind of felt during that recording that we cemented our sound. We found ourselves basically, and we tried to develop that even further with the new album. But no specific things to aim for more than doing good songs.
As you said, you’ve been doing this for 10 years. This is your fourth album, so you’re not new at this. Has your approach to writing and creating music changed or evolved over the years?
Yeah, we changed band members in 2016. Our singer left the band. I was the rhythm guitarist back then. Me and Kristofer (Strandberg) have always been the instrumental songwriters, but when I took over the singing, it became even clearer how we could walk the line. While writing the music, we could also write lyrics and vocal lines and melodies all at the same time. And with that, we also started our own studio. So now we produce everything ourselves, basically from “The Upside Down.” I think that is what helped us the most, because we could really invest time, change things we didn’t like and really evolve the songs even further.
The album has a title track, “Through Life and Death.” Why did you decide to make that the album title?
The title says it all, I think. We had a thought of naming it “A World on Fire,” but I think “Through Life and Death” meant more. It completed the album. It has something of everything. The thing about the whole record is about going through life and death. You lose friends, family, and you have struggles you go through. Everyone does. And that just felt like the big theme for the whole album.
How much was that theme influenced by the pandemic?
We started writing before the pandemic, so some of the lyrics were during the start of the pandemic. I think if you listen to “Devastation” right now, you’d probably think right away that it’s a pandemic song, because it has the theme of it and certainly fits with me singing about isolation and stuff. But that was not the intention from the start. But it makes a lot of sense—devastation is coming and the pandemic broke out.
You have a very eye-catching album cover featuring a character we’ve seen before a couple albums ago. Why did you decide to bring him back?
Yeah, we had him from the first EP, on the two first albums. Then we decided to leave that, because the first EP and the two albums were like a trilogy. So we had a theme and a thought about those three records, and then we felt like we had to move on from this. So when we did “The Upside Down,” we took some other influences, started making something, and when we were going for the artwork for this album, we contacted Blake Armstrong. He’s a really good artist. If you haven’t seen him, check him out, because he’s bloody amazing. I had a talk with him, much like this over Zoom, and we discussed the theme of the album, how the artwork should look, and he was insisting we should bring back the guy because “Come on, that’s your mascot, dudes. You’ve gotta have your superhero or supervillain, and your mascot for the band is gonna help you a lot.” And he started to bring this guy into the Eyes Wide Open world of the lyrics we had, over the singles and stuff. So it was really amazing to see him so engaged with this, and also, the final result is amazing.
Does the character have a name?
No, he doesn’t. We’re still looking for a name. That would be really cool to have one, but we feel a little bit like that should be the fans to say. That would be a way cooler way to get around this.
You’ve made a bunch of videos already for the new album. I think there are four out, four singles. Do you enjoy that process, and how involved do you get in developing the ideas and concepts for the videos?
Very much indeed, because I’m the director and filmmaker and actor (laughs), so I guess I do it all. I also edit all the videos. It’s been a hobby of mine for a long time. I started the studio company with Kristofer. We also started video production, so I do video production for other bands and companies and stuff on the side, as well. It was really fun to indulge in our music videos and try to make up cool concepts and stuff.
During the pandemic, aside from working on the album and videos, what else have you been up to just to stay sane?
The thing is in Sweden we didn’t have lockdowns, and I think that this is really weird, but in a sense, I worked more than I’ve ever done in my whole life. I’m an alarm technician as a day job, and I had to work overtime times three or something. (laughs) It was super hectic. It didn’t slow down anything for us. So working, music and a lot of PlayStation.
This new album is your first one on a label. Maybe it’s that we’re just starting to hear about them over here in North America, but it seems like Arising Empire is an up and coming label. Why did you decide to go with a label after being independent, and what has that experience been like so far?
We’ve been looking for a label, of course, like any band would do. But we didn’t get the feeling that we were in a position where we could get the attention we wanted from the labels. We didn’t get the deals we wanted, so we turned them down every time. When we got to this album, we started to have some other people working with us, and getting in contact with Arising Empire was really cool. They were always super cool, and we took out a great deal for us that really works. They’re really supportive. They’ve been doing a lot for us with this release, and I’m really happy to be a part of that roster of good bands.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty, and there might be even more as we go into the winter, but are there touring plans in the works?
Yeah, there is. We have a small Sweden tour coming up in the beginning of next year. We also have some festivals, and we’re right now working on a bigger tour for fall next year. Nothing to announce, though.
Is it a goal to come to North America to tour?
Oh yeah, sure. That’s been one of our biggest dreams, I guess, touring the U.S. and Canada. That would be super fun. Hopefully, we can do that in the near future, looking for supporting some other bands going overseas. That would be cool.
If you could pick any bands, what would be your dream tour to be a part of?
Right now, I would really want to play, of course, with In Flames, Killswitch and Trivium. That would be a really cool lineup.
I’d definitely go to that. Is there anything else you’d like to say right now before we go?
Buy the CDs and vinyls and merch if you haven’t, and stream the new record.