Interview with Johnny Hedlund of Unleashed
Questions by Arto Lehtinen and MetalGeorge
Swedish death metal pioneers Unleashed unleashed one hell of a brutal delivery of the utter death metal on the Black Stage at Wacken 2004. Even though the band had been booked in the last minute to the bill, they came and they conquored.
Anyway it was about time to have a chat with the band?s leader and frontman Johnny Hedlund to talk about their brand new ass kicking album SWORN ALLEGIANCE as well as other issues dealing with the five year break in the band?s career?. It is time for the DEATH METAL victory!!
Good day Sir Hedlund how is it going there in the horde of Unleashed ? Just partying, drinking the beer, going to gigs as usual ?!
Hell yeah?.Hickinen hirvin vitto you know we do nothing else! The band is all well and ready for the wintertour of Europe.
HELL?S UNLEASHED AT WACKEN
Let?s start the whole interview session by asking about the Wacken gig, as you were kinda booked in the last minute sort of to replace Deicide, but the gig was more than just replacing one certain band.. But but you firstly turned down the offer to play at Wacken in the first place, however you changed your mind…. Could you shed a little bit light on how everything turned out after all ?!
Well I told our management it was a little to short notice and an hour or so later after a number of phonecalls we said yes. I was actually at the beach with a cold beer in my hand when they called. But it was all worth the effort of course. Wacken rules!
Last time Unleashed played at Wacken a couple of years ago on the smaller Party stage in the night time as I recall? Do or did you prefer more playing in the day time to the night time and was it now more pleasant to play on a bigger stage or would you have wanted to be on the smaller stage however ?!
I don?t care much about the size of the stage but playing night time is more evil?and not as hot?
There was definitely the damn huge crowd following your set now, did you get surprised that there were a damn lot of people following your set or were you already aware of getting such a good respond at Wacken ?!
Of course we are happy about it but not so surprised. Last time at Wacken was also amazing and a huge crowd to watch the show.
Even though the album Sworn Allegiance has been out for a while, but the only one track ?Winterland? off from the album got played, why didn?t you play anything else from the album by the way ?! Did you rather wanna stick to doing these older Unleashed battle hymns, which are more recognizable for the audience ?!
Basically because we knew the album hadn?t been out for such along time when we played the festivals. And also ?cos we?ll be backing November to play Europe again and then we?ll do some more off the new album for sure.
In the mid of the set you dedicaded one track to the late Chuck Schuldiner by doing ?Evil Dead?, as a matter of fact I did expect some Bathory tune because of Quorthon was a Swede as well, how did you end up picking up Death instead of Bathory ?!
We?ll we could have done a Bathory song but we agreed to play just one cover?.and I guess we all just voted for Death since it?s a band we listened to just a little more.
Hmm via the awkward transition referring to the previous question in a way or another we could discuss a little bit about the new opus SWORN ALLEGIANCE. Obviously you weren?t responsible for the writing of every track for the album this time as the other guys of the band took part in the writing and composing process of the material, to be honest was it hard on you to lure other guys to write the stuff for the new album ?!?
Fredrik is always very creative. The other guys are a little more lazy?..
Did the band go out of their way to do anything particularly different on this release, recording or songwriting-wise this time? The songs here sound a lot catchier and more memorable to these ears. Was this something you particularly set out to do?
We deffinatelly try to make stronger songs all the time and also make a better production. I think we?ve gotten better over the years in both respects.
There exists on “SWORN ALLEGIANCE” the traditional galloping brutal death we’ve come to know and love from Unleashed, but at the same time there also seems to be a greater emphasis on melody (the chorus in “To Miklagard”) and killer guitar solos on this record. You’ve really outdone yourself with these! Was this also something that was intentional, or did or sort of just happen?
Thank you!, Yeah we really planned it all to happen. We had about 30 songs to choose from and spent lots of time in the studio compared to the other albums so it?s definitely no mistake we made the songs this way. And it?s good to hear you notice. We will always develop within the Death metal style that?s for sure.
How did the actual recording process go this time around in Chrome Studios? How long were you there, and did they go smoothly? How would you compare it to previous experiences in the studio?
Since Fredrik has his own studio these days we could spend about 2 months in the studio for the same cost as normal 2-4 weeks. That?s a major change right there.
Lyrically, “SWORN ALLEGIANCE” varies from classic Viking topics (“The Longships Are Coming”), Tolkien (“Destruction (Of the Race of Men), and more modern topics (“CEO”). Is it difficult to keep a fresh perspective lyrically, and would you say they are as important as the music when it comes to songwriting? Do lyrics and titles come before or after the music is written?
Music comes first, then the lyrics since we want the vocal melody to fit with the song. And also the lyrical content need to fit with the song. And yeah we think they are equally important. I also don?t have a problem finding new topics to write about. Life is extremely vast and contains millions of sources for inspiration.
?SWORN ALLEGIANCE? has received a bunch of positive reviews in several magazines which has got you really surprised indeed.. Apparently you didn?t expect to have such strong positive respond ?!?
The beauty of the music industry is that you never really know what?s gonna happen when you come out with a new album. We are of course extremely happy with the responce both from fans and media.
How about yourself personally? Are you satisfied with the final way “SWORN ALLEGIANCE” turned out? To be honest, I feel this album really solidifies the “return” of Unleashed, so to speak. While I thought that “Hell’s Unleashed” had it’s moments
I am naturally very happy with the outcome. We all are.
On the subject of influence, I’ve noticed a steadily increasing Venom-esque influence to Unleashed’s music as of late, especially in songs like “Metalheads”, “One Night in Nazareth”, and on your last album as well. Is keeping this loose, rock and roll feel important to Unleashed as a band these days?
Well, eh we play exactly the kind of death metal we always did. The songs develop and the production gets better but I think we?re basically the same. Venom is one of the earliest influences for the band. So I guess it?s fair to say it?s still there?
But when speaking of the Unleashed albums in general, it is more obvious that the first albums are always named and considered as the best releases in the band?s discography, does it bug you in way or another whenever releasing a new album people start automatically comparing the new material to the stuff of the first two albulms ?!
Actually this is the first album most people say it?s our best one to date! And very few bands get to hear that after 15 years and 7 albums. I also think it?s cool that they still appreciate our older stuff.
VIKINGS AND METAL HEADS
Speaking of which, when Unleashed first came upon the scene, singing about your Viking heritage was something that was still very new and something that was unique to very few bands. Nowadays you have band after band playing “Viking Metal”, some who aren’t even Scandinavian. You also have bands such as Amon Amarth, who I feel are holding up your legacy quite well. What do you think of this new wave of Viking Metal acts ?!
I think it?s cool that others are keeping the tradition as well. All fine with me.
The northern mythology has been dominating role in the lyricwise in the history of Unleashed since the early days. But nowadays Unleashed ain?t the one and the only band in the metal genre exploring the Viking and Northern European mythologies in the lyrics nowadays as stated above. Does that bug other extreme metal bands have found this Northern European mythologies as one of the main themas in lyrics !?
I think that?s way cool. It?s always interesting to read and learn about other countries history and culture.
At the same time, Bathory also created the template for “Viking Metal” with his/their brilliant releases. Was Quorthon a big influence to you and Unleashed growing up, and would you like to say anything about his unfortunate passing? The scene certainly has lost someone special, I feel…
Yeah, we all lost an Icon of brutal music as Quorthon passed away. See you in Valhalla!
Personally I liked Bathory but it was never a heavy influence for Unleashed. But the greatest of respect to Quorthon and his music/lyrics.
Besides the viking and northern mythologies, Unleashed is known for having the black humour in the lyrics, especially on the new album there are quite black humouristic tunes like Only The Dead and the metal ode to all the head bangers MetalHeads, it is obvious the humour side is damn important for Unleashed as well ?!
Oh yeah it sure is?.brutality with some irony is just an amazing combination I think. We?ll keep doing that forever and those who can?t stand it don?t really need to listen to it. I am right now thinking about how to get even worse on the next album?not too easy?
FIVE YEAR BREAK
After the ?WARRIOR? album had seen the light of day in 1997 Unleashed did a few tours and then disappeared? It has been widely written the band either split up, took the mandatory break to charge the batteries.. As far as I know you didn?t break up instead you just hung up your gloves for a while. But what made you do that decision after all ?! Were you entirely disillusioned about the downhill of the whole death metal scene or.. ?!
I think it?s two things that happened on the same timeframe. Firste off we had been on tour for about 7-8 years and really needed a break from the industry. Second it was a very low scene at the time back in 1997. A good time for a break. Unleashed never will split up. But we?ll sure have a break once in a while also in the future.
Was it essential for you and the whole Unleashed crew to spend a 5 five year sabbat, I mean by that didn?t you have any interest to get back to the action a year or two earlier, or did you just put piece by piece things together during these five years ?
Well, the band was only away for about 3 years. We started planning the future and writing songs for ?HELL?S UNLEASHED? in the year 2000. But for most people it felt like 5 years I?m sure.
When Unleashed kinda resurrected from the hiatus, how did the staff at the headquarters of Century Media react in the first place ?!
They wanted us back out there as very soon as possible.
Hmm I can?t help asking regarding this five year break yet? Other old school death metal bands like Grave took a few years off as well and they happen to be in the same label as you are.. Did some political issues ( for example a lack of promotion due to low sales of death metal albums) between you and Century Media drive you to have this break ?!?
The entire scene was extremely low and I?m sure the label itself didn?t want to put money into something that wouldn?t pay back. This is normal business stuff for any band.
But in general what was it like initially returning to the scene with “HELL’S UNLEASHED”? Were you nervous after being on hiatus for a while, and how do you think the scene has changed since you last hit us with the “WARRIOR” album? What are your feelings on how the “HELL’S UNLEASHED” period went?
I was very glad everybody was still there. Our fans were all still there and even some new kids started to pic up our records which is way cool of course. The fact of the matter is: Unleashed has some of the most dedicated fans in the world! That is ?SWORN ALLEGIANCE? for you right there!
How do you look back on your old albums like “SHADOWS IN THE DEEP” and “WHERE NO LIFE DWELLS”? Are you still satisfied with them or do you find some release as the weakets one in the Unleashed discography !?
I?m still happy with all our older releases. Naturally things have improved in the past couple of years. Technicians have improved, the engineers have certainly improved. The production techniques are way bette than in the early 90?s. But I wouldn?t wanna re-do the older stuff. They are good as they are.
I can?t help asking about the reason for why a couple of lives albums were put out in a row ?ALIVE IN VIENNA? and ?HAIL TO POLAND?, hmm was it some kind of attempt to get rid of a deal with the label back then ?
No, actually they were the record labels idea. They are not included in the recording contract so that has nothing to do with it.
The Unleashed demo tapes used to be the hot stuff in the early 90?s, circuling thru several traders and got spread them widely around the world. Nowadays those demos are hardly available unless some old school maniac would open his demo jewely. At Wacken we discussed possibilities about putting those rare demos out, Does it any sense for you to put those demos out to be available thru your website ?!
I think it?s cool to just leave them at a tape trading level?.that?s how it all started way back then.
THE SWEDISH METAL – STOCKHOLM VS GOTEBORG
You yourself have had a large hand in creating what is now known as the traditional sound of old school Swedish Death Metal with your previous band Nihilist. What are your thoughts on those old Stockholm/Sunlight studios daze and your initial rise alongside bands like Grave, Entombed, Dismember, Carnage, and God Macabre? Have you heard from many new bands coming up now, such as Kaamos or Paganizer, who hold high your influence?
Oh I sure remember the good old days with pleasure. We had lots of fun back then together with the bands you mention here. Lots of parties and deadly metal?.but there are more gigs these days so I think the present time is better?.and Unleashed is better today, both studio and live.
I really enjoy Grand Magus?.kind of Black sabbathish type of music. Very heavy stuff. They?ve been around a while but are perhaps new to some?
Additionally, what are your thoughts on the differing styles that have risen from the two cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg? It seems that while bands from your area had this punk rock/Venom/Motorhead influenced dirty sound, the Gothenburg bands were more classically influenced by bands like Iron Maiden, Kreator, and such. How does living in Sweden and the Swedish heritage inspire your music and way of life anyway?
You might just be right. I spent much time in the punk scene back in the early 80?s and of course Mot?rhead and Venom are amazing bands. The rebellion of the punk scene is something I still get influenced by?the very pure punk of the 80?s?hardcore punk like Anti-cimex, Asocial, DTAL, Otakt, and lots more?..And hell Kreator is fuckin amazing too?not just the Gothenburgers lik ?em?..in the 80?s I always brought Kreator in my taperecorder at parties??Flag of hate, pleasure to kill and such killer albums.
I get influenced but much things around me, as for the Swedish heritage it?s much because of the Viking era that influences us.
You’ve always held classic metal high for years now, showing your influences by covering bands like Judas Priest back in the day on classic albums like “ACROSS THE OPEN SEA”. In these days where every band seems to want to try and be the most technical or brutal, do you feel that somehow the METAL has been lost somewhat in the art of Death Metal? What do you truly defines “true” Death Metal? Do you rather listen to old classic death metal bands ala Death or so on, but do you keep the eye on the current death metal generation ?!
I try and keep up with newer death metal as well as the old stuff. I think death meatl need to be ?horror like? in it?s riffing in order to be called death metal. Then off course the usual aggression, darkness, hatred and other obvious ingredients.
Also I don?t see a problem with Death metal versus Heavy metal or any other style of metal. We are all metalheads if you ask me.
TOURING, GIGS AND LAST WORDS
As the interview was started with Wacken and it is a good way of concluding the interview with giggin. I have noticed you don?t do that much gigs in Sweden, instead the Unleashed artillery roar in Central Europe, I can?t help asking how come, don?t you get gigs enough in Sweden ?!
I could get a million but for a number of reasons we said NO thank you for ages. Biggest reason being we?ve never had a good distribution of our records here in Sweden. So there?s no point in touring. Our fans go to Germany to see us play anyway so I can?t say I lay sleepless over it.
At Wacken you did an equal set consisting of both older and newer stuff, in general how much older material do you still play in your live sets these days? How would you describe a live Unleashed attack to someone who hasn’t seen you? And of course you still have the mead-filled drinking horn on stage like at Wacken hahaha ?!
Yezzz the horn is always with me to greet our fellow warriors with! We always play a mixed set of old and new stuff from all our albums. Our fans want it that way. But it?s getting harder and harder to pic songs for sure. An Unleashed live set is the ultimate aggression in deadly music you can experience! We deliver hell, nothing more, nothing less.
When exactly was the last time Unleashed played in North America? What are your thoughts and memories concerning our scene? How about favorite gig memories from the past tours abroad?
Our last tour of North America was 1993 if I remember correctly. We have many great memories. The shows in Chicago, Albaqurque, LA, San Fransico and much more. Visiting the guys of SADUS and their crew/management was an amazing experience and I remember all of us went bowling and getting real drunk?.fuckin? killer party?.Cheers Sadudes and Rob!! We would love to come back and play America again for sure?..
And when will Unleashed be testified on tours like in Germany and the States ?!
We are right now working on the European tour (the first part of it) for end of November. Hopefully we can hit the states in 2005.
Ok man, we think that’s all we have! Both Arto and George wanna hank you a lot for talking to us! The final words are yours! I hope to see your longships heading to our shores as well Finland sometime soon !
We sure would like to play both North America as well as Soumi! And we will?.check in on our website www.unleashed.se from time to time for the latest updates on touring. And thanks both of you for this cool interview?..see ya on the road! Hell Odin!
The Official Unleashed Site: www.unleashed.se