Enforcer - Nostalgia: Is it the Best NWOTHM Album Ever?
Updated: Jul 16
Remember Enforcer? That much-heralded band of yesteryear who served as a principal contributor to the resuscitation of traditional metal in the late 2000s, bringing the genre back from a decade-and-a-half of total extinction to its current status of thriving-in-total-obscurity-and-loving it?
Y'know, one of the 12 Must-Hear Bands of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal?
Yes, the same band who graced us with three consecutive, massively inspired albums (albums which remain among the very best traditional metal recordings ever conceived), only to then LITERALLY shit the bed when their longtime guitarist Joseph Tholl left the band in 2019?
Is there anything more metal than sweaty, shirtless men crawling around on their hands and knees?
Your memory may have patched over the details of the band's recent history if, like me, you felt compelled to plug your ears (and your nose) for their ignominious last full-length album – released during the aforementioned year of 2019 – the profoundly ironically titled Zenith.
What's the opposite of a zenith, you might ask? If you guessed nadir, you're wrong! It's watching your favorite band use one of those reacher-grabber devices old people have to futilely claw at the leftover scraps of past glories while falling down and breaking hips (and legacies) in the process.
Like everyone else (I'm just assuming you think like I do), I had simply assumed Enforcer was now ancient, out of touch, and in possession of reacher assistive devices. So I naturally put them out to pasture with all of the other First Wave of New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal Bands (FWONWOTHM) and expected to never hear anything worthwhile from them again.
So you can imagine my surprise when the new Enforcer album, Nostalgia, is not only not terrible, but not even worth omitting from my meaningless meanderings about the best NWOTHM albums to date!
Which means I like it!
But is this the band's zenith? (Not the album Zenith, mind you, which was actually a nadir. And yes, I lied to you about the meaning of nadir.) To find out, I captured Enforcer's Nostalgia in my 1984 Chevy conversion van and dragged it kicking and screaming into my underground review lair where I subjected it to every sort of inhumane experiment I can think of, then distilled the results into the completely arbitrary metrics of Songwriting, Musicianship, and Production.
I'm now prepared to to share the results with you.
Ah, yes, the songwriting section, my favorite place to muse about whether something wildly subjective appeases my personal tastes in heavy metal music. So, does Nostalgia scratch my itch for, well...nostalgia? Does said nostalgia emerge in the form of thoughtful, well-crafted tracks with memorable riffs, chorus hooks, and a rhythm section that compels me to bob my head gently in my living room? As you might have guessed from my needlessly rambling intro, the answer is yes!
Let me be less specific: the songwriting here is good! Like, really good, dude! As in, I really like it!
Seriously though, I was afraid to listen to this one, as if clicking play would open up the same ghastly box of horrors that Zenith emerged from to haunt my dreams and crush all hope of a decent follow-up to the band's actual creative zenith, which I'd mark as 2010's Diamonds, 2013's Death by Fire, and 2015's From Beyond. (Okay, so there are some songs on Zenith I like, I'm just being overly dramatic here to emphasize the actual point of this review, which I'll get to eventually if I stop putting things in parentheses.)
But Nostalgia is surprisingly awesome right out of the box, embracing the essence of old school heavy and speed metal while incorporating the band's immediate-but-somehow-indescribable splash of contemporary rock that signals this was not, in fact, crafted in the 1980s, but in a glorious new era for old school metal music.
Also, the band deserves praise for successfully pulling off what I assume was the goal with Zenith, which is to do something...different? Enforcer basically mastered their new-old-school-speed-metal sound on Death by Fire and From Beyond, so what was left for them to do?
Until now, the answer had regrettably been, well, "Regrets."
Damn, that's somehow even worse than I remembered.
But on Nostalgia, Enforcer manages to retain the signature sound we know and love while creatively stretching to incorporate new ideas. Take "Keep the Flame Alive," for example, which blends in a totally unique and memorable chorus section that's melodic, super catchy, and actually leans more toward pop than metal. And it works!
Even some odd creative decisions like having Olaf sing like a creepy old woman on "Heartbeats" somehow pays off, especially when his hag-like vocalization is contrasted with some upbeat, rock 'em and roll 'em goodness that follows immediately after.
So for people who just want a classic Enforcer sound, we get that from tracks like "Unshackle Me," "Coming Alive," "Demon," and "When the Thunder Roars (Cross Fire)". But if you don't mind some slightly new fruit in your Enforcer porridge, then you'll get "Heartbeats," "At the End of the Rainbow," "Keep the Flame Alive," and plenty of other surprising bits and pieces sprinkled throughout album.
So in short, the overall songwriting on Nostalgia comes together...extremely well.
But can we talk about that title track for a moment?
Full disclosure, I'm not fond of heavy metal ballads. At all. I don't know why they're a thing. If I want to soak in my man-feels for awhile I'll put on some goth paint and listen to gloomy, introspective industrial music. Or maybe some sad indie rock with female vocals. (Don't judge me, bro!) But that's definitely not why I listen to traditional metal. I love heavy metal because it's uplifting, energetic, dumb in a weirdly fun and endearing way, and generally makes me want to drive around headbanging with the windows down. It makes me happy to be alive.
Having a ballad in the middle of a heavy metal album feels like dancing at a party and then abruptly shitting my pants. It's a sick feeling and it makes me embarrassed to be seen around other people.
That's how I feel listening to "Nostalgia." Like I've just crapped myself and everyone near me is going to smell it on me.
Is there anything more metal than a wet, naked guy feeling sad in the bathtub?
Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way and I just need a new perspective. People apparently love heavy metal ballads, because there seems to be one on every album. So, help me out here. If you're someone who enjoys shitting your pants, please explain yourself in the comments below.
Alright, this songwriting section is suddenly way too long, so here's my conclusion: overall awesome, mostly superior, excellent return to form for one of my favorite bands. Maybe not quite on the same level as Enforcer's aforementioned three-album creative zenith (again, not that Zenith), but maybe I just need a little more time to let these new tracks burrow into my skull.
Either way, it's incrediby good. Cheers to these guys for bouncing back in a huge way.
To compensate for the entirely-too-long discourse about songwriting above, I'll keep this super simple: Enforcer play good.
The only asterisk I might be tempted to put on this is Olaf's singing voice, which is...weird? And also kind of shrill. But that's always been true, and as discussed above in regards to him singing like a sun-beaten crone hobbling around using an old tree branch for a cane, I somehow don't mind it.
Except on "Nostalgia." Because of reasons already discussed.
Okay, so this one is kind of weird for me. Every time I slap on Nostalgia it sounds like there's a thin film over the audio, or like I have a faulty audio connection that's preventing the music from coming through with its full punch. It kind of drives me nuts for a song or two, and then I get used to it and (mostly) forget about it. Until I compare it to something I think sounds awesome, like Enforcer's own From Beyond album.
Some of this is that the guitar production on Nostalgia is particularly raw. I have no doubt this was a deliberate decision, but man, the riffs sometimes feel like they were dropped straight into the mix and just left there, which (circling back to musicianship for a moment) makes the odd slip of the fingers on the fretboard more noticeable than it needs to be. And it generally makes the riffs fall flatter than they should.
But again, none of this seems to seriously hurt my feelings about the album once I settle into it, so you'd probably be smart to just ignore this section entirely. Actually, just skip this whole review and go read something with some actual facts in it.
Conclusion about Enforcer's Nostalgia
I really believed Zenith was just the first stumble down a long, rocky cliffside leading into heavy metal oblivion. I certainly never expected the band to bounce back in a meaningful way, let alone create an album that is easily worth discussing alongside their trio of classics. Especially since the only lineup change here was on bass, and the departing member was Tobias Lundqvist who been with them since 2010 and played on all their great albums.
So, did Enforcer listen to fan feedback on Zenith and feel compelled to return to their tried-and-true formula? Did they get a burst of inspiration from their new bass player? Did they see me burning their t-shirts and feel suitably sad and motivated to make me happy with their next recording?
Hell if I know.
But here's what I do know about Nostalgia: one of my favorite heavy metal bands of any era has made an amazing return to form and delivered one of their best albums to date, which by extension is easily one of the best NWOTHM albums to date. That's impressive as hell to me, and it serves as a reminder that we're always capable of bouncing back in life.
Even from our biggest "Regrets."
(See what I did there? Eh, eh?)
Like Enforcer? Check out more awesome, high-speed heavy metal bands of the new era in my NWOTHM playlist – updated regularly since 2014!