Sweden’s UNLEASHED have a very cool new album out, called "Sworn Allegiance", their second after the returned to the scene, and nothing really has changed (luckily). It’s still 100% pure UNLEASHED Metal, the way you either love or hate it! We hooked up with frontman Johnny Hedlund to get all the latest information first hand…
Greetings Johnny and congratulations to a really impressive new album… What do you think makes "Sworn Allegiance" superior to your "comeback" album "Hell’s Unleashed"?
"Thanks for your words on the new album! I think the overall production is the main difference since it’s a little nastier and stands out a little bit more than our previous one. We’ve gotten better at production and Fredrik is a very skilled producer these days for sure. I also like to think that the songs are just a little bit stronger…"
Would you agree that the material on "Sworn Allegiance" pretty much benefits from all the live shows that you played around the release of "Hell’s Unleashed" and that you managed to regain your old strength a lot more through that again?
"Well Unleashed is definetely a “live” band and we get influenced from that as well as from other sources I guess."
There’s a lot of Black Metal acts in the scene that are not willing to play live at all… Could you imagine to continue on with UNLEASHED just by writing and recording music, not being able to play it to the masses afterwards?
"No. We are a live band so I hope we can play live for many many more decades!!!"
UNLEASHED has always been a band that was sticking to a rather simple yet effective form of songwriting and your fans obviously love you for that… But I always wondered how you keep yourselves motivated in the songwriting process after so many years in the underground? I could imagine that it must be even more difficult to write fresh sounding material again and again being a member of UNLEASHED as opposed to being a member of a band that tries to explore new horizons by incorporating new / different influences in each new song…
"Well, Death Metal in itself is extremely vast… there’s lots yet to explore… just watch us! We have just begun! I think what our fans appreciate is that we make music for fans… like ourselves and not just for musicians… the songs need to memorable and catchy as well as dark and brutal."
UNLEASHED took quite a long break when Death Metal in general was pretty much down and returned to the scene exactly around the time when this form of music had regained big interest again… So, I suppose you are aware of the fact that people might accuse you of being in it just for the money, aren’t you? Was it just bad timing or is there even some truth in it?
"I have never heard that from anyone. Unleashed took a break back in 1997 after 7-8 years of hard touring and recording. We needed some serious distance to the whole scene in order to come back and be hungry again. Death Metal is the type of music you can’t just go out and do as a job. It’s in your soul… you got to live it out… on stage in particular. And yes the scene was really low back in 1997 and the timing was “right” for a break. Money is a factor but has nothing to do with the soul and survival of Unleashed. We are what we are… now and forever! There will always be ups and downs in the scene. Unleashed is timeless and never ending… as is Death Metal as a style. In 15 years from now… you and I can have this conversation again and look both back… and forward…"
What have you exactly done in those years of silence? Have you still played any music just on your own or have you locked away your instruments in those days completely?
"I played another kind of music within the Metal industry mostly for joy. I also spent much time outside of the music industry which was the whole idea with taking a break from it all. I studied business economy as well, and got me a title."
Would you mind telling us what kind of other music you exactly played while UNLEASHED was on hold? And what kind of title you got after studying?
"I am a financial director. And about the music I played it was lots of Metal… nothing worthwile promoting… and was meant more as sideprojects."
When you decided to give it another go, was it a problem to convince your old management and record label to work with you again? Did you have any other options already?
"That was never a problem… both management and label wanted us to go forward as soon as possible."
Did you still follow the happenings within the Metal scene in those years or was it a "non Metal at all" period for you all?
"We all worked with music but on a different level. And not as frequent I guess."
How come that none of you guys cut off his hair in those days? I mean it was become pretty trendy these days and nowadays there’s almost more bold heads in Death Metal than longhaired guys, hahaha
"Haha… yeah well, I think it doesn’t matter if you’re long-haired or bold. I guess the Unleashed members just feel comfortable with all the hair bashin’ like hell!!!!"
In retrospect, would you do an album like "Warrior" again or would you already have taken your long break before that?
"Hard to say. I still think it’s a great album. If it was released today it’d sell lots more I think. So in that respect the timing was bad. But who could have known the scene would go down so fast…" (well, honestly spoken I doubt that it would sell so much more these days as the competition has become even bigger within the scene and "Warrior" is without a doubt UNLEASHED’s weakest offering to date – Frank)
The Death Metal scene has changed quite drastically over the years and nowadays we even have to deal with several different subgenres… From the very brutal and often rather technical US style, to the melodic Scandinavian movement, the simple oldschool Death Metal and highly satanic Black Metal influenced Death Metal… Somehow it seems to me that people are still looking for the most extreme type stuff, which results in the fact that the more "ordinary" Death Metal acts more or less have to suffer from that evolution… Are you guys also facing those problems in any way, which is reflected in poorer record sales or not that crowded shows that you play?
"I really don’t care too much about all the different labels. Unleashed is a Death Metal band. Period. Always have been and always will be. We set the standards for what it will sound like. Now and always."
How important has the internet, mp3s and webzines become for UNLEASHED these days? I mean, when you originally started out, writing ordinary letters, running xeroxed fanzines and being involved in the worldwide tapetrading network was still considered "underground"… So, does something like the underground still exist for you these days?
"It sure does, but in a different way I guess. I kind of miss the old days but… then I don’t. The internet means a million opportunities and is here to stay. I really appreciate all the positive things it brings. I wouldn’t wanna go back even if the old days like you mention were really worth remembering."
Even though you emerged out of the Death Metal underground and are still associated with that genre these days, I never really considered UNLEASHED a true Death Metal band (apart from your very early days maybe), but more of an extreme Metal band in the tradition of VENOM and MOTÖRHEAD… Is that something you had in mind, something you wanted to achieve yourselves or did that evolution slowly but surely come "by accident"? Or do you maybe even totally disagree with me here?!
"Do I disagree? Oh, boy…Unleashed sets the standard for what Death Metal is all about. Together with a few other bands of course. I think what you refer to as Motörhead-ish and such is the fact that our “songstructure” is very traditional in a way that you can easily remember the songs… just like the great Motörhead (exactly! – Frank). But as a style… our riffing and music is “horror”-based, violent, aggressive and dark. Therefore Death Metal. Nothing else. If you on the other hand put the riffings and music / lyrics sounding like Iron Maiden or Motörhead…then it’s not Death Metal anymore but a breed into Heavy Metal. Many bands do this today. Unleashed never will."
I still think that UNLEASHED has a lot more in common with VENOM (in particular) than let’s say CANNIBAL CORPSE and the likes… And VENOM have certainly never been nor considered "Death Metal"…
"Well I agree when it comes to the structures… VENOM are early influences so I take that as a compliment. When it comes to the music and riffing… VENOM is Black Metal and close to (like a cousin) to Death Metal so fine with me… (well, others even label them "Thrash" and I remember back then they often were described as "Punk" or "pure noise", haha – Frank). Motörhead I like a lot but their music and riffing has nothing to do with Unleashed ‘s music. Nope… but hey… you’re right to your opinion!!"
What is the story behind the song ‘Death Metal’, which still appeared on the promo CD for "Hell’s Unleashed", but in the end didn’t make it on the final album version? Did you get legal problems with it, because it was basically VENOM’s ‘Black Metal’ with changed lyrics?
"It is ‘Black Metal’ with changed lyrics but it took forever to get the permission and we needed to get the album released in time. Nothing else really was the case here."
Did you ever get that permission to release the song? Will you do so sometime in the future or will it end up becoming a "collector’s item" for the UNLEASHED diehards?
"I think Century Media have to decide that. We won’t try ourselves it’s too much paperwork."
Not too long ago UNLEASHED have been accused of having a right-wing / fascist type attitude… Do you have any explanations where those accusations originally came from? How much did they hurt the band’s reputation?
"Nazis and fascists can go fuck themselves. Some people mix Viking mythology with Hitler. Nothing could be more wrong. They just need education or take history classes… that’s all. Or… make an interview with me and find out the truth… like you just did here. Some magazines and people in the past preferred to sell copies on scandals instead of asking me what’s really happening. One thing lead to another and kept on growing… pathetic!"
So, did those rumors hurt the band in one way or another?
"I think you should ask others… I don’t feel it that way but I guess anybody who gets called a Nazi or similar would be hurt in someway. Don’t know if our true fans ever even considered it. They normally try to find out the truth… just like I would myself if it was my favourite band. "
Unlike many other extreme Metal acts, who are loved mainly for their really fast songs, UNLEASHED’s strength definitely can be found in the midpaced, more groovy tunes… ‘Before The Creation Of Time’ or on the new album ‘The Longships Are Coming’ are perfect examples of that. Do you have any explanation why those songs always turn out so much more impressive than your faster stuff?
"Oh, I’m glad you like them. Well, I get the impression that our fans wants Unleashed to keep being a band with both mid-paced, slow and fast songs. We enjoy it that way ourselves as well. I think everybody has different favourites… some like our fast more… some like our slower ones."
Please comment on these following couple of keywords, that are connected to the lyrics on the new album, a bit more detailed: ‘CEO’, ‘longships’, ‘Miklagård’ and ‘Metalheads’…
"’CEO’ means "chief executive officer“… ‘longships’ are the ships or boats that the vikings used on their expeditions long ago… ‘Miklagård’ is the viking name for todays Istanbul in Turkey… ‘Metalheads’ is a song about the most faithful fans in the world… the Metal fans. Here… the Death Metal fans…"
What was the intention behind the "…And We Shall Triumph In Victory" picture vinyl boxset, which got released last year and where is that ‘Ace Of Spades’ cover coming from? Was that previously already released somewhere else or supposed to?
"The picture disc boxset was an idea from our record label. The ‘Ace Of Spades’ was just a coversong we did in the practice room and said hey… let’s put it on tape. I don’t know what’ll happen to it. Maybe nothing."
So, is it simply a rehearsal recording then?
"No it’s recorded in a professional way. Perhaps it’ll be released by the record label somehow. "
You are ready to go to play this year’s Wacken Festival and I suppose you’re really looking forward to that. Will you check out some of the other bands on the bill yourself? Any particular favorites?!
"Well… I’m gonna see Cannibal corpse and motörhead if I get the chance. And hopefully Doro, satyricon and Dio as well."
Will there actually be a full UNLEASHED tour in support of "Sworn Allegiance" or do you stick to those bigger festival events exclusively?
"We’ll make a European tour in October I think. Our agency is working on it right now. Don’t know how vast though. Check in on our website from time to time." (www.unleashed.nu that is – Frank)
Ok Johnny, that’s about it for now. Thanx for taking the time to do this interview. If there’s any other important news that you’d like to inform us about, feel free to do so now… Cheers and all the best!
"Thank you Frank for this interview and looking forward to meeting you on tour if possible. Hail Odin! Prost!"
Interview: Frank Stöver
Live pics: Martin Wickler (1)
Markus Veyhle (last 2) / www.vampster.com