Year after year, Unleashed unsheaths steady Swedish metal
Unleashed bassist/vocalist Johnny Hedlund is a cheerful, friendly guy who happens to play in one of the most ferocious and consistently powerful death-metal bands ever to emerge from Sweden. Since 1991, the act has released nine studio albums full of pummeling drums, grinding guitar riffs and lyrics that excoriate Christianity and extol Viking mythology. Perhaps even more impressive, the group has done it with only one lineup change: In 1996, guitarist Fredrik Lindgren was replaced by Fredrik Folkare. "They look very much alike," says Hedlund with a laugh. "So to be honest with you, a lot of people don't really know we did switch."
Like Motörhead or Slayer, Unleashed just keeps doing its thing. Hedlund makes sure the outfit never sinks into a rut of playing to its existing fan base, though; he's always conscious that this year could be someone's first encounter with his music. "You've gotta make the music and lyrics as if this was the first year of the band's existence," he says. "Of course you don't want to lose the roots, you don't want to lose everything you've done in the past, but you've gotta be on the edge all the time. You've gotta be very energetic all the time. And that's a very inspiring thought." Indeed, the band's latest release, Hammer Battalion, seethes with a raw power and disciplined attack that makes younger acts look like chumps. Commonly cited as the fathers of Viking metal, Unleashed hold onto its throne with furious, anthemic songs like "Entering the Hall of the Slain" and "Warriors of Midgard."
For his part, Hedlund has nothing but respect and affection for those who've come after him. In his view, the recent popularity of Scandinavian folk metal and Viking-themed lyrics (see last year's Paganfest tour) are undeniably good things. "I think it's really nice to see all those different directions — folk and all kinds of styles," he declares. "We headlined a festival called Ragnarok in Germany in the spring, and it was like 5,000 people there for a Viking festival. Folk metal, Viking metal, death metal, all kinds of metal, but it was Viking. It was pretty amazing. And so it's really exploded. You could see the buttons and badges on the fans there — the same people had a [folk band] badge, and they'd have an Unleashed badge on top of it."
Despite the group's veteran status, Hedlund feels like Unleashed's glory days are in the present. "I think our tours are more fun than they have ever been, and writing music and lyrics has never been more fun than it is right now," he enthuses. "If you stop having fun, then you should just go home. It's better to stay home and do something different. Anybody that will come to our show in the United States, in any city — if Unleashed has a good time on stage, they will feel it. And the minute we play a show and it doesn't look like we're having a good time, I will definitely take full responsibility and go home."