EC Interview With Johnny Hedlund Of Unleashed

Michael SeifertSo, how was your Summer, Johnny?

Johnny - It was amazing, we played a few festivals and it was just amazing. We were out there and played to all of those people and met a lot of friends that we haven't seen in a while.

So what was the best festival that you played?

Johnny - Wacken is always great. It is the best festival you can play in Europe. Then we played a festival which is on the eastern side of Germany. It's a two day festival and we headlined on that Friday and other bands that played there were Grave, Dark Funeral, and Dismember. The crowd was amazing and it was sort of a family atmosphere so to speak. It was just a lot of fun, we hung out and had a number of beers. It was just great. I'm looking forward to hitting the road again, that's for sure.

Now from a fan standpoint, not a musician, what was your favorite live performance that you saw?

Johnny - I would say two bands that really have been surprising. One would be a band called Grand Magus, which is a Swedish band like Black Sabbath. I like them a lot, that was pretty much a surprise to me. One of the guys is a friend of mine, but I have never heard them play. I've never gotten to see them live and was just really surprised. It was so heavy, solid, and strong. Also, I saw Dismember, which is a good live band. I was really happy to see them because I haven't gotten to see them in like twelve years or something which is ironic because we are from the same city...

...that is surprising.

Johnny - Yeah, everybody thinks that the Swedish bands from Stockholm would go see each other every week. It's like we know each other, but you can't possibly hang out with everybody. So, it was a really good time hanging out with Dismember and finally getting to see them. So, I guess that is the two surprises for me.

Okay, so you have a brand new record out now called "Sworn Allegiance" on Century Media. It is great stuff that I really enjoyed. Let me ask you about the title, what does "Sworn Allegiance" mean?

Johnny - What it comes down to...before we started and completed the record really, while we were still writing the lyrics to the record, we were thinking what would sum up fifteen years of our career, because we have our fifteenth anniversary this year as well. So we said what it has been since 1989, and that's a journey and everyone who has been with us since that time, even since '87, it's just that everybody has been so dedicated. Our fans, the people who work with us, everyone has been extremely dedicated. The band took a break between 1997 and 2001, and they just keep coming back. When we went out on tour and did the festival in 2002, it was just amazing to see how many people are still sworn to it all. And we got to thinking about it, and it is a sworn allegiance and that got us thinking of the title.

That makes sense.

Johnny - Yeah it does. We didn't have a title for the album until late in the recording. We were working on a number of things and we said the most natural thing is "Sworn Allegiance". It has been like that for fifteen years and will continue like that for another fifteen years.

Well, comparing this to the last record, "Hell's Unleashed", personally for me this new album is more traditional Unleashed, it's not as modern. What do you think are the differences between the two records?

Johnny - I would say there are two main differences. The biggest I would say is the production, the overall production. We wanted every instrument including the vocals to stick out more. We also said at the very first band meeting we had before completing the last few songs was to have it a little nastier this time. That went for everything, every single detail including the production. There is really no problem in making the production stick out like hell, the problem is to make it really professional so it doesn't go over the top. Those are the biggest differences.

Everything sounds really up front and crystal clear.

Johnny - That's good to hear. We didn't really want to lose that. It's easy to make a brutal record. You can probably find that everyday now. There is a brutal band coming out everyday with a brutal sound and brutal production. There is nothing new about that. But I think to get it to stick out, and sound aggressive and nasty you have to keep the professional part of it and that is not easy to do. That and the songs are overall just a little stronger than "Hell's Unleashed".

A lot of other bands have a certain theme running through their music. Hypocrisy has an alien theme. Deicide has an anti-religion theme. You guys do a little something different with Viking history running through some of your songs. Do you do a lot of reading on the Viking culture or is this actually from your ancestors?

Johnny - Well, I would like to think it is both. Some of it is fiction and some of it is from history books. From tale to tale that is normally what it is. Unleashed has had the Viking thing from the very first record and the anti-Christ lyrics, which we have probably done two or three times on every record. We have so many different topics though. I know a lot of bands want to have one theme or one topic that they write about all the time, but I personally feel that there is so much to write. I have no problem with it, but I would just get bored doing one particular topic. With Unleashed that is something that won't happen, life is so vast that you want to cover a lot of things but do it in a death metal way of course.

"Unleashed could take any competition. We would challenge anyone for a tour."
Is this new album the best Unleashed release?

Johnny - The new one, yeah I would have to say yes. I know that is a cliche. Any musician would say that. I think it is a level up from the other stuff. I say that because of the production. It is the same kind of death metal, we have developed yes. But the production is better and the songs are stronger. I am confident the band is heading in the right direction.

You did some touring over the summer. What is going on for this Fall and Winter, are you going to be doing shows?

Johnny - Oh yeah. The agents are working on that right now. From what I know right now the tour will start the nineteenth of November and will run through the sixth of December. We will play every day, which is like a fourteen show tour. This will be a European tour, but we will probably be doing another tour in April or May of next year. I would guess it is either another European tour or if that doesn't fit we may try to do something in the US and Canada. So, that is what we are working on right now.

You have played the US before haven't you?

Johnny - Yeah, the early 90s. I think it was sometime between '91 and '94 we played full US tours, but that was actually the last time we were there. In '97 the death metal scene in Europe was going down. There was no interest in it and the bands weren't really doing anything new and different and the fans stopped attending the shows. So we stayed away for a couple of years and took a break which was healthy. But now things are going good and it will be fun to get on the road again.

In the United States there has been such a drought for metal and now it has come back in full force. The death metal scene seems to be growing the most. We have bands like Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, and God Forbid and they all seem to be getting huge exposure and playing bigger venues. I was kind of curious about your thoughts on that. You guys were one of the pioneers for Swedish death metal and then all of these new bands are coming in and doing the big shows and you haven't gotten to play here in years. How do you feel about that?

Johnny - Well, there is just one thing to it. Good luck. I don't have a problem with that. Unleashed could take any competition. We would challenge anyone for a tour. We have done that in Europe so many times and have never found ourselves in the position of touring with a band we couldn't handle. So, I welcome that. I think it is that death metal is breaking new ground. It is cool, but it won't stop Unleashed though. We are coming after it.

I know for the longest time the Swedish melodic metal was really booming with bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquility, and later Soilwork and newer bands. Now it has switched over into the US with people taking that and adding clean vocals and keyboards and things of that nature. I was curious about your thoughts on Swedish death metal today....

Johnny - ...to tell you the truth I have not heard all of the bands you mentioned. I know about In Flames of course. I don't have a problem with it. I think the scene in Sweden could be better. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with the scene, but when you compare it to Germany, there they have real metal clubs in every city. There you can go to a metal club and hang out with your friends and listen to good metal music. That doesn't happen in Stockholm. There is one club in Stockholm where you can listen to metal music. You can stay there until you rot to death before they play Slayer. Then again there are a lot of metal fans in Sweden that are starting to pick up death metal. I think it has been here for such a long time that some of the better bands are getting attention. It is growing, and that is good. I still miss the culture of Germany where they have clubs and you can hang out. That is a problem in Sweden.

I'd like to ask you who really sparked the Swedish death metal scene....

Johnny - Do you mean worldwide?

Well...yeah, let's say worldwide.

Johnny - I think what is was in Sweden was a few bands that were there pretty much at the same time. You had Grave of course, Nihlist, Dismember, and Tiamat of course. I guess after Nihlist split it up and became Unleashed and Entombed it was a spark for a lot of bands to get started.

Do you guys have any contact with Entombed?

Johnny - We all know each other, but as far as meeting on a weekly basis that doesn't happen. I would say for me it would be bands like Necrophobic, Grave, Grand Magus, and a couple other ones that I meet a few times a month because we see the same soccer games. We don't have any metal clubs to go to, so we formed other kinds of clubs that see the soccer games. I guess worldwide it would be a good question. For me I know a few early death metal bands that I traded demos with was American bands. You had a lot of bands from all kinds of states. Ravage, Doctor Shrinker, Morbid Angel, a number of bands. Macabre was there pretty early too. It was a number of bands, and I think that is how it started. The US was probably the first.

Well Johnny, does it feel like fifteen years?

Johnny - It is strange, it doesn't. Well when we think back on the early tours and how it all started it is nice to sit down and think about it and look at old pictures. I think I like it more now. The whole reason we started the band was to go on tour and see friends. We liked meeting and talking to people and to meet everyone we traded demo tapes with, and then in the early 90s we were able to do that. I think the band sounds better today, the production is better. If I was to compare the band today to 1993 or something there is no comparison. I like it a whole lot more today, that is for sure.

Does the band have any plans for a DVD in the future?

Johnny - Yes. Probably in early next year we will record something. We don't have a full show with professional cameras and all that. We need one professional show. We have a whole lot of material from previous tours, crazy party material, backstage stuff to put in the DVD. Before summer we should have something done, but that is just my guess.

Well Johnny it has been a great fifteen years and hopefully we will have more stuff in the next fifteen years.

Johnny - Thank you, take care.

--EC 10.05.04

Johnny HedlundEric Compton10/8/2004

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David Loveless3/14/2008
Greg Watson3/28/2012
Sworn Allegiance
Eric Compton8/30/2004

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