The Unguided – Emerging Victorious from Battle

Tuesday, 14th November 2017

With the unceremonious split with Sonic Syndicate further and further in the rear-view mirror, The Unguided has had little difficulty making their own name for themselves. Essentially a modern melodic death metal foundation at this point, few acts can blend melody and aggression that they managed to do with three previous releases in a span of five years. In 2016, the band announced that clean vocalist Roland Johansson was departing the band, which undoubtedly led some fans to worry, due to his unique and emotive voice.

But a few listens to the band’s fourth effort, And the Battle Royale, should make fans feel quite at ease. New vocalist Jonathan Thropenberg doesn’t try to imitate Johansson’s style, instead providing the band with a fresh palette to expand upon. This is The Unguided at the most creative they’ve been in years, yet still continuing to forge ahead on their initial path. The door has been opened for future exploration and there’s some excitement in thinking about the band’s future. A week ahead of the album’s release, we were able to chat with harsh vocalist Richard Sjunnesson, who gave some honest answers to our inquiries about the line-up changes, new album, as well as video games and blogging.

Dead Rhetoric: How tough was it to deal with Roland [Johansson] stepping down from the band?

Richard Sjunnesson: It was tough because we hated losing him once again. Last time, in Sonic Syndicate, it was more like ‘lightning from a clear sky.’ It was during our most successfully period and we were on tour – one day he gave us the message that he was going to leave. Everyone’s finances were based on having those members in the band. That was a slightly bigger hit for everyone because it was such a shock. This time, it was something that happened progressively over time. He got more and more involved with his normal job. He became a project manager and his situation changed drastically over a few years. We understood that he would have less and less time for the band. It was happening in steps rather than happening overnight. We were all a bit used to the idea that it might not work in the long-run.

When Jonathan [Thorpenberg] came along, and he started to replace Roland on more and more shows, it seemed natural that maybe it should be the other way around – instead of us showing up to gigs with a replacement singer every night. Fans want to see the full band and Roland was never there. We don’t want people having expectations that we could not live up to. It was a bit awkward and weird for everyone involved for someone to replace someone else almost constantly. It was sad to see Roland go again, but it was a very mutual decision between everyone. Everyone is still great friends and in good condition. That wasn’t really the case last time with Sonic Syndicate. It was always good for me, Roger [Sjunnesson], and Roland when he left, but other areas were infected and still are, to some extent. It was nice to see how it could be done in a grown-up, good fashion [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: Did you look at bringing in a new vocalist/guitarist with Jonathan as a chance to rejuvenate the band?

Sjunnesson: I think after Lust & Loathing we all agreed that something needed to happen. It felt like we were doing the same thing, at least to myself, Roger, and Roland. We had our formula and a way that we wrote music and made songs. We had our way and had done at least five albums at that time. We wanted to infuse some new blood into the band and into the songwriting to make it interesting for everyone, including ourselves. It was a good opportunity that we stumbled across a guy like Jonathan. We never once took him for granted. We were initially speculating about taking in one singer and one guitarist. To find someone who can do both, and do them really well isn’t easy to find. If they are around, they are involved with other professional bands. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we had two of these super good guys involved in the band.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that Jonathan [Thorpenberg] brings to The Unguided?

Sjunnesson: Jonathan is about 10 years younger than most of us [laughs]; at least myself, Henric [Carlsson], and Roger. Our drummer is a bit younger as well, but Jonathan is 25. I’m 33. It’s fun to have someone that brings some new blood into the mix. It’s a bit of a generational thing. It’s nice to see a fresh perspective. For us, sometimes he [Jonathan] can appear a bit naïve, and it’s fun because we can see ourselves in him when we first started. He’s super eager and is super involved in everything. We have gotten a bit older and tend to take things in a more relaxed and chill way. But we went through that phase at one point in our lives and it’s fun to experience that again through him, in a way. He’s a very skilled guitarist. His guitar skills are extraordinary and he worked really hard on academic levels to achieve the guitar style he has, and on top of that, he’s a brilliant singer as well.

He’s got an awesome voice and a great personality. That’s what we worried about the most – when you have someone new in the band, there’s a question about how the chemistry will work. He can be a professional musician and be as good as anyone in the craft, but it they are not a good soul, it will not work in the long-run. It was tested by having him on tour with us and doing a lot of shows before we made the decision that it was a good choice for the band. He’s been writing – a few songs on the new album he wrote melodies for and it’s some good work. He’s a producer as well. So we have that aspect as well with him. We can use his producing perspective. He’s a good resource for the band.

Have you been able to hear the new album?

Dead Rhetoric: Yeah – admittedly, since I’ve followed along since Sonic Syndicate first started and jumped over to The Unguided, it took me a little bit to get used to having a new clean singer in the mix, but it’s quite good.

Sjunnesson: That’s cool. With Roland, he has a unique voice and he’s a very talented singer. We discussed a bit, in similar ways, to when he left Sonic Syndicate. No one can really match him with his voice and that uniqueness in his sound. To try to have someone in the band that sounds like him, but worse [laughs] is not a good option. We wanted to explore other possibilities – the new singer having a different character to his voice but still brings uniqueness to the band. That’s what we wanted to achieve with Jonathan. We were aware that they don’t have a similar singing style and understood it might take the fans a little while to adapt.

Dead Rhetoric: I think that they should come around – personally, it took a few listens through. It has a fresh feel with him there. It seems like you can go into some different directions while keeping The Unguided sound intact.

Sjunnesson: We were a bit…not worried, but we thought it sounded a bit more towards power metal, with a cleaner singer. Roland never sounded like a power metal singer – he was more of a rock singer with his really manly voice. This is a bit lighter and higher in the register. That was our impression – taking The Unguided sound and adding this singer, it sounds a bit more towards power metal than in previous releases. I have a hard time thinking about what a new album with Roland would sound like. I would be afraid that it would feel like the same thing as the previous three, just with new songs. Now, it was a natural development with a new member entering. It changed our sound so much – we aren’t beating the same bush. It’s something new definitely.

Dead Rhetoric: Looking at it from my perspective, with Lust & Loathing you kind of finished the trilogy to begin with. It’s nice to have a fresh, new look – even if it was just due to the fact that there’s a different singer than there was before.

Sjunnesson: It was never certain – when Roger and I started the band…I left Sonic Syndicate and then Roland got involved as well. Back in 2010, it was only the trilogy. That was the actual band – we would revolve around a trilogy and we had no further plans than that. Those five years, where we actually achieved the trilogy, went really fast [laughs]! Then we were standing there with a trilogy thinking, “Damn, we want to do more! This really fun and we are having a great time with this band!” It was a natural end for something that me, Roger, and Roland started. It’s also a good beginning for what is to come. It couldn’t have happened half-way through. If we had done four albums with Roland and then he left, it would also be weird. If any time was good for this, it was now with the fourth album.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently did a contest with “The Heartbleed Bug” where you asked for listeners’ stories. Do you feel that things like these help strengthen the bond between fans and the band?

Sjunnesson: Yeah, definitely. I think The Unguided used to be a lot more involved in those things when we weren’t as busy in our private lives as we are now. Especially when we first started – there was a lot of interactive things between the fans and the band, and a lot of contests. We want to do it still, but no one really has time to do it, and we don’t really want a third party to do it, because it doesn’t feel natural. We want to do it ourselves. Now we had a window to do it, and these kind of small interactions are always appreciated from both sides. We get to see the fans’ stories, and they naturally get our story every time we write an album. It’s a good symbiosis.

There was some really dark stuff though, in this contest! All of them had pretty happy endings, but it was like, “Damn, these people have been through some pretty horrible stuff.” It was a bit of a reality check for us, because our lives are not nearly as complex as some of these stories are.

Dead Rhetoric: Does it give you a bit of a fresh perspective – that they have been helped through something by a particular song or from previous releases?

Sjunnesson: When fans write that my lyrics, or our music, has helped them with something in their life, I always tend to have some distance to it. I have a hard time taking it personally. I’m the same way as the fans though – the bands that I really adore, they have helped me a lot in my life…I understand it, but it’s hard to relate when it’s something you’ve done yourself. I think everyone in the band is like that – we are just common folks like everyone else. We just happen to write music. Then you get all the posts, or people that show up to our shows. You are always try to find excuses, like “Oh, they’re here for some other reason” [laughs]. I don’t think we take compliments too well – we should be better at it. We need to do some team-building activities and work on that [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: Part of the band also recently did a Destiny live-stream. Is the band big into the video game scene?

Sjunnesson: At least half of the band. My brother and I are into gaming a lot, and have been since we were super small kids. Our drummer Richard [Schill] is super hooked on Ark: Survival Evolved. He talks about it when we are touring and tries to get us involved as well. But I already have some of those multiplayer online games – I can’t get involved in more [laughs]. Roger is super into Destiny 2 now – he was a bit upset we didn’t play that instead of Destiny. I have a PS4 and I play games once in a while, but I’m more into PC gaming. Especially Blizzard games.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about your blog, in which you’ve more or less regularly updated since 2010. Is it a good tool to keep in contact with fans and everyone else?

Sjunnesson: Yeah, unfortunately I spend less and less time with the blog, but I try to do updates now and then. I think the last update was recently, but the one before that was like a year ago. It’s getting less and less compared to when I started it. When I left Sonic Syndicate in 2010, I wrote a lot of entries on that. It was a good way to ventilate for myself, and for the fans to ask questions and me to answer honestly. With Sonic Syndicate, it was a bit different than with The Unguided. We had our managers, and there was a different philosophy in how the media was handled. I felt like there was some filters to what we actually said in interviews. It was told to us by our managers, “This is how you are supposed to act and this is what you say.”

With The Unguided we don’t really care about some high-end end-game, we just want to make good music and have fun. It’s more honest – whatever we write. With the blog, the fans can write anything, and they get answers. I think that’s something I would have appreciated to have with my favorite bands as well. The fans are really curious about our lives in the band and how everything is tied in, and what happened to Sonic Syndicate. It’s been a good format. It was also to avoid getting overwhelmed with private messages. It was easier to relay and tell people that things had been addressed in the blog and they could just look there instead of repeating myself 1000 times [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: So will there be an uptick in touring now that you have Jonathan, or are you planning on sticking to around what you have been doing with small stints here and there?

Sjunnesson: Now we have the possibility to do a lot more touring than we did previously. I currently have a manager position at my job that comes with a lot of responsibilities, but they have a pretty good philosophy toward my touring. I don’t think it would be a problem. Everyone is pretty tied up in their private lives – some members have kids and so on. Everyone could always do a bit more than what Roland was able to do. We are more available now than we have been previously, so that’s a fun and good thing. I don’t think many of us have had a lot of touring in the past, except Jonathan, so we might not look at being out for 7 months a year, but we can do a few weeks here and there, and maybe get to more regions than just Europe. Everything is possible now, and that feels good as well.

The Unguided official website