UNLEASHED – Death to the Nines
When it comes to the ‘big four’ of Swedish death metal that burst out of the 1990’s scene, you have to include Unleashed in the mix. Their debut album "Where No Life Dwells" in 1991 set the bar high, and their consistency has been a calming influence on a second generation of death metal acts that keep the movement alive. "Dawn of the Nine" is their latest studio album, another crushing record that should keep the hordes satisfied and add a few more head turners to their live set list when the band gets a chance to storm the stage.
Firing off a series of questions to bassist/vocalist Johnny Hedlund, the man is still passionate about the genre as he enters his late 40’s – proving that the energy and vigor necessary to deliver those low-tuned growls and heavy riffs isn’t merely for the young.
What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music as a child, and how did you make the progression from purely enjoying hard rock/ heavy metal to picking up an instrument and finally forming band(s)?
"I think I started with Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry as a young child. My dad was heavily into Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 50’s and 60’s. Heavy Metal came first of course. Then I passed through a lot of punk and hardcore punk along the way as a teenager, bands like Anti-Cimex, Asocial, Totalitär, Dom Där and stuff like that. But I guess when I saw Cronos (Venom) live on a VHS cassette the first time I figured that must have been the most evil stuff alive….(and at the time….it was too) I guess that had a huge impact on me as well as Angus Young (AC/DC) and Celtic Frost and such…"
The new album "Dawn of the Nine" is your 12th studio full-length in 26 years as Unleashed. How were the recording and songwriting sessions for this particular effort, and has the formula for making Unleashed records changed much through the years because of digital technology at your disposal versus analog studios in the early 1990’s?
" "Dawn of the Nine" was made in a pretty much equal process as the previous albums. Well at least the last 5-6 albums. It takes about 2 years to be completely happy enough to enter Fredrik’s studio for the final thing. During this time we send lots of stuff back and forth to each other within the band…..very digital though of course. Unlike the 90’s when we met in the rehearsal room 3 times a week."
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Unleashed is the fact that your vocals while growly still have a clarity that makes things reasonably easy to make out most of the words without the need of consulting a lyric sheet. Has this been a conscious effort from your perspective through the years – and is it a challenge to perform bass and sing live or have you just gotten used to it?
"Thank you very much for that! Yes I have aimed for that specifically through the years. I just like to listen to that type of vocals myself so I guess that’s why I perform the way I do. Too much growling really forces the listener to use the lyric sheet and I just don’t enjoy it that much myself. However, I still listen to a lot of music like that but for my own music I like it to be more distinct so to speak. And as for the live situation….aaa I guess it’s just like riding a bike or so, once you got the hang of it…haha…."
Who designed the cover art this time? How important do you believe proper artwork is to enhance the overall atmosphere and themes for Unleashed?
"It is somewhat important. Can’t say how much though. But our artwork nowadays….especially since we are in the middle of a storyline across albums…it is very important to capture a certain feeling for the observer- to show the mood of the storyline somehow.
The idea comes from the band and we gave it to Pär Oloffson to create something from that idea. Turned out amazing I’d say."
What fuels the lyrical topics of this record – as I would imagine that this deep into your career, it can be a challenge to come up with interesting ways to tackle death, Norse mythology, and dark themes without really repeating yourselves?
"Well, on "As Yggdrasil Trembles" we started on a storyline from a book I have been working on for around 7 years now. Namely: the world of Odalheim. The next album "Odalheim" or I should say the end of that album there is a battle. The great battle of Odalheim. This very battle ends on the first couple of songs on this new album "Dawn of the Nine". It takes over exactly where the previous one left off. So I think following a storyline like this is very inspiring."
You are currently on Nuclear Blast – have you noticed a major difference through the years in terms of support for Unleashed between your Century Media early years, the middle period with SPV, and your time with Nuclear Blast?
"I guess you could say things are more professional these days. At NB they really respect you as a creator of your own music and we have a good dialogue on things. Which really wasn’t the case back in the C.M. days. SPV was great to by the way but they ran out of business. The digital era helps out as well, things go faster and smoother now days. In the 90’s we spoke on the phone or fax to get even the smallest things done."
Touring is in the blood for the best means of keeping Unleashed in the spotlight – what have been some of your favorite tours, festivals and places to play through the years? Are there any particular countries or continents you would like to get to maybe in the next tour or two?
"I think it is too hard to pick what’s good and great through the years. We have played so many shows all around and it’s been many amazing memories I wouldn’t pick one over another. As for future touring we shall see what time allows. We start up first doing the summer festivals…first one in London in May."
You’ve been together with this current incarnation of Unleashed for over 20 years. What aspects are most important do you believe to keep the musical and personal chemistry alive – is it about personal respect as well as understanding the strengths and skill set of each individual member?
"Correct. And also to not over do things. Like touring and recording etc. If you only go out when you actually can….and look forward to it…it will show on stage you have a good time. If you are not hungry enough Death Metal just can’t be performed in a proper way. Plus everyone in a band that aims for a 26 year career needs to contribute to things, especially things that don’t involve money. If you can’t do stuff for fun or just for the heck of it….the music industry isn’t a good place to be in."
How do you feel about the death metal scene at this point in time? Do you think there is a healthy mix of the veterans as well as newcomers who are keeping the scene alive and thriving?
"Yes it seems to be with new bands coming out all the time. And older bands still producing excellent music which is really nice to see. The scene is very potent still."
Can you name the five best albums of all time in your personal opinion – as well as the most memorable concert that you attended purely as a fan through the years?
"The almost impossible question but ok, here are a few milestones:
Morbid Angel – Altars of madness
Motörhead – Bomber
AC/DC – Back in Black
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Accept- Restless and Wild
Concerts….oh well, AC/DC Monsters of Rock….I think in 1984 in Stockholm
Motörhead in was it 1983 in Stockholm too…
Bolt Thrower-tour in -92 with them or so….great live act.
Saxon – Sweden Rock some years ago…
Doro- in Stockholm like 15 years ago perhaps….ehh
Oh well….I could make a long list…
Alestorm, Korpiklaani and also Die Apocalyptishen Reiter some years ago on the Pagan Fest tour….great shows.."
When it comes to your own discography, can you name an album (or couple of albums) that you believe were game changers in terms of establishing Unleashed to the fans in a professional manner, as well as one that may be the most underrated that the fans should dig a little deeper into?
"Hard to say, game changer has to be the very first one….cos it put us on the map. Underrated oh well I can’t say really….sorry."
As you get older, has your perspective on the world changed? What areas do you think the leaders of the world need to focus on to make things better for the younger generation?
"The million dollar question. I could go on for hours I guess since I am interested in politics but it makes little sense these days. It is too complex. I would focus on local issues and not give too much responsibility to a few people over a vast majority of people. Nobody is that competent."
Has your degree in finance aided the band to the good in terms of making sure that bills get paid and you remain fiscally responsible- especially considering a lot of the changes that have taken place in how bands make money in the music industry?
"I guess it has in some ways. At least it helps out understanding both details and the bigger picture of financial issues."
What does the rest of 2015 and this touring cycle look like for Unleashed?
"We shall see, we haven’t booked a tour yet. We start with the summer festivals and then we’ll see. Looking forward to hearing what our warriors say about the album now. Very eager to hear some comments. See you all during the summer! Thanks for the interview! Hail Odin!"