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Niet minder dan twintig jaar geleden alweer, werd de Zweedse death metalreus Unleashed “ontketend”. Ik herinner me ze vooral als één van de eerste bands die onomwonden het woord “death metal” gebruikte om zichzelf te afficheren. Dat was in een tijd dat death metal nog als subgenre van thrash metal gold. In de schaduw van de allergrootsten heeft de band met uitsluitend invloeden uit de Noordse mythologie een cultstatus opgebouwd om “U” tegen te zeggen. Bij ieder afzonderlijk album merk je een subtiele verandering, maar tegelijk hoor je meteen dat het Unleashed is. Dat en de stiekem hevig onderschatte tekstuele inhoud van zanger Johny Hedlund, hebben er meer dan eens voor gezorgd dat ze het stempel “de Motörhead van de death metal” opgedrukt hebben gekregen. De release van hun nieuwste album, 'As Yggdrasil Trembles', was een mooie gelegenheid om wat lijken uit de kast te halen en Johny te vragen hoe hij één en ander beleefd heeft.

Door: Ramon | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

Hey man, a double congratulation to you. You made it passed your twentieth anniversary and you've got a new landmark album out. There's enough to be proud of at te moment, wouldn't you say?
Thank you! And of course I totally agree. We are very fortunate to be doing this still, our warriors are very dedicated to say the least.

I will talk about the album later on. But I want to dig in the past a little, if you don't mind. Did you ever think you would make it to twenty years with Unleashed when you left Nihilist?
Absolutely. I would say it's half time now. We are writing material as we speak for the next twenty years. Just hop on the ship and cruise on brother….!

Have there been any times where you thought “fuck it all”, it's impossible to maintain a life in metal music, I'm gonna find myself another occupation”, or “I'm going to be home in the weekend more and be a family man”?
I already work as an Accounting manager day time, but Unleashed will always be there. It is here to stay. They will have to work side by side... just like it always has for the past twenty years. It will do in the coming twenty years.

Lots of band that last long enough, have horror stories about food, custom services or accommodations out on the road. What are yours? And would your career be the same without those memories?
No, I guess we all have those stories. It's what makes it fun as shit to tell back home afterwards though hahaha… Shit, some of the things we've done is almost too crazy to speak about. I once sat my ass down in an American bomber, inside of an American Airforce base, drinking a beer. Fuck, if they caught us there, I would have been fucked over by military police… Oh well, I won't tell that old story on a long text here, but it sure is nice to see the pictures nowadays hahaha….

I remember you guys would come over here a couple of years ago, but the whole tour was cancelled. It had something to do with a financial struggle of Metalysee, right?
Yes, but that very seldom happens, really. We made another one six months after instead. Together with Marduk, great tour! We had a great time with them. And the number of times we played in Holland is huge, so it's all good still.

It sure is, man. The first time I got to know Unleashed was with the album 'Across The Open Sea'. A friend of mine wore a shirt of yours and it explicitly said: “death metal”. You come from an era where death metal was still breaking free from being a sub genre for thrash. Did you know by that time that death metal would break free eventually?
I think it all kind of exploded back in 1991. We were on tour with Morbid Angel and our album 'Where No Life Dwells' sold like crazy. We drunk all the booze and the record company took all our money… Oh well, same old story, I guess.

Yup. You're not the first, nor the last one to tell it, I'm afraid. The last twenty years have been quite wild for you guys. Yet, you've only lost one member in the fight, which I think is an amazing and noteworthy achievement. How did you do that?
We have always had a good band democracy. Everyone has a equal say in the band and helps out with things. We also never changed our style. We develop from album to album but never compromise our style. We are a death metal band. Viking death metal if you will. It will never change.

That's strange, usually bands that last have a guy with the final saying. Great to see it can indeed work ou. One of the biggest struggles you had to face, I'll give you the space to clear things out for our readers for once and for all, is the accusation of having Nazi-sympathies. I know from my own experiences that most guys I meet are pretty critical towards the troubles surrounding integration. But they don't want any of that out in the open. On the other hand, there is this great antipathy against any form of Abrahamistic religion in metal, which is way more accepted. You once had the line “for they shall be slain” in the booklet of 'Live In Vienna '93'. So, what do you think caused it all and how do you think about this all, be my guest and spit at anyone you like here!
I am a little surprised you bring this up. But really, if people can't tell the difference between the Thor's Hammer and a Waffen SS mark, then they either need glasses, education or better yet: A NEW BRAIN! Unleashed stood up for the Thor's hammer from day one back in 1989, when we introduced the Viking traditions and values into death metal. Some people on the left and right wing scale wanted to take our symbols away from us, and use them for their own cause. But we never backed down. Not for anyone. Especially not Nazis.

That is the exact reason I brought this up, I wanted your side of the story for our readers. Kill assumptions and get the right story first hand. Thanks for answering, I can imagine it must have been quite tiring to explain that one, once more. What do you think of Second World War symbolisms that some (black) metal bands use, often just to shock?
Some of the Second World War symbols like the sun wheel for example didn't belong to the Second World War, and especially not the Third Reich. We will take them back eventually. All of them. Whether or not some black metal bands do this, I don't know. I can't comment generally on this, I will have to see which band and why.

And what do you think of religious people? I saw in the promotional material there is a slightly more nuanced Johny about that topic, compared to the early days. Is it a plague that must be eradicated, or just something you take as it is, but don't find fitting for yourself?
I detest all things about religion. I always did. I support traditions and values. Especially the Viking ones of course. But sometimes you have to know your enemy in order to fight him the right way. So speaking to religious people isn't a crime itself, if that's what you mean. Unleashed hasn't softened one bit on the subject. Just see our lyric sheet on the new album.

band image

Shall we burry this topic now and just talk about you again? What I was really curious about for years now, is the inverted cross in your logo. It is no secret you have great affection with some black metal too. But if you would have asked me fifteen years ago, I would have made a bet (and lost money) that the inverted cross by now would have made way for an Odin's hammer. But It didn't. Did you ever take that in consideration?
Hahaha, I know what you mean, but see, it makes perfect sense. The inverted cross stands for total freedom as does the name Unleashed, and the Viking traditions and values. And as I think you know by now, many of our albums have a Thor's hammer on the album cover. Odin? His two ravens are on the new album cover, I think that looks pretty neat too.

I am deeply sorry, indeed, “Thor's Hammer”. Speaking of the ancient Nordic God's, in my review I took the freedom of calling you guys “Týrists”. Obviously because of the war themes that are so frequently found in your lyrics. But what is or are your favourite Nordic Gods? Mine, being 1,94 and frequently getting into trouble because of a misplaced sense of humour, is Loki. Also because he took the freedom to dwell in Arsgaard, while he had the freedom to go to Walhalla. That was before his captivation, of course.
Sounds great to me. I have a friend who is called Loki too. I think I prefer Thor, which is why I wear the Thor's hammer of course. But I have a nice relation to many of the others too, Odin, Freya and Frey, Týr too of course.

The winter Olympics are ahead of us, they even are over by the time this interview is published. What do you think is the coolest sport there is, if there is any?
Well, I really like Ice Hockey, but also skiing. Sweden are pretty good at skiing. Ice Hockey fucked up pretty bad this time, though.

Let's talk about 'As Yggdrasil Trembles'. It is your tenth studio album. I don't know how you do it, but you always find a fresh element to add to your music and yet you always unmistakably sound like Unleashed. Even though your vocals have been subject to some slight changes over the years. So, do you try to maintain this, or does it come naturally?
Thank you very much. We have done this for some time now, and like you said, we try to put some new inspiration to every new album, yet keep to the roots, which is very important. We are in good agreement of this within the band since day one. I think that's the key here. Plus we still love what we do and have ideas for another twenty years…

Some labelled you “the Motörhead of death metal”, due to this. Do you think that's cool, or would you rather have them pick another description?
I think that's an honour. Motörhead is one of my all time favourite bands. What is absolutely amazing with them, is that they still to this day keep doing fantastic albums. Equally good as the ones in the eighties, not too many bands out there can accomplish that. I can probably sing more Motörhead songs that I can Unleashed. I guess you can say I like them a bit haha…

Your lyrics, it is no surprise to your loyal fans, deal with Viking battles and Nordic Gods. 'Wir Kaputilieren Niemals' is an homage to that. I like your lyrics a lot on this album. There seems to be a conceptual element in the first four songs, when you end each song with the announcement of the next one. I really liked that and it made the songs melt together to some extent. Why did you let go of this after the first four songs?
Thanks again. And you are very much right. This well explains itself in the inner convolute of the CD: The first three songs mark the beginning of a story never before told. It will continue on the next album, so I won't talk too much about the details here but it is something I have been working on for five or six years or so. The beginning of the story (three first songs) is a pretty well known beginning you can find in the doctrine of Norse mythology, at least some of its meaning. But from song number one on the next album, things will happen that never have been done before. But you'll see in a few years from now.

Keep us posted, I'd say. Should there ever be a movie made about the Norse Mythology, would you consider claiming a place as one of the screenwriters?
I would love to. Like I said, the next album isn't too far from this.

I think your lyrics pretty much speak for themselves and everyone who's interested should figure them out for themselves. Yet there is one song in particular, with a special source of inspiration, 'Chief Einherjar'. Would you care to share it with us?
Its content is dedicated to my late friend and colleague Martin, who passed away in the summer of 2008. Only 29 years old. I think perhaps Odin needs a chief in command of his army of Einherjar in Valhalla, he would fit so well for the job!

Which songs do you think will last and could still be played the next twenty years?
Hopefully all of them, but time shall tell hehehe.

How many albums do you think you could go on and could you make a promise for a minimum amount?
It is likely half time now. So another twenty years I think, again, if our warriors want us to. We are writing on coming albums as we speak.

So, that's about ten more, I guess. Well, that's about it for this time. I thank you for your time. Goodbye. I hope to see you around this tour. Is there anything I forgot to ask about, or you would like to say to close this interview?
Thanks for the interview and hail Odin!

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