The Unguided – Piercing Through ShadowSunday, 4th October 2020
Fans of catchy, melodic death metal with an ear for big hooks should always been pleased at the sign of new material from The Unguided. With four previous albums under their belt, and a successful clean vocalist switch up with And The Battle Royale, the upcoming Father Shadow (releasing on Napalm Records – preorder HERE) sees them still embracing their strongest suits. Glorious choruses, energetic riffs, and a continuation of their conceptual storyline as well. We chatted with vocalist Richard Sjunnesson about his take on the new material, what he remembers from the beginnings of the band (and departure from Sonic Syndicate), big hooks, and much more.
Dead Rhetoric: You are parting ways with bassist Henric [Liljesand]. Any prospects or is it too early still?
Richard Sjunnesson: It’s been going on for quite some time. He’s a very busy man! He’s got four kids, a full-time job, and a lot of different bands he’s involved with. He hasn’t been able to do any touring with us since around 2015. It felt a bit unfair to be out there and pushing the band while he couldn’t contribute as much as the rest of us – I think he felt that way as well. We had been talking about it for a few years now but it came to a point last year where we said that it would be better to leave it to him being a session player. In the music video for “Seth,” which released last year, you could see that he was moving away from the scene in the end of it. That was already done at that point, for the music video. We tried to wrap it up with the new video for “Crown Prince Syndrome,” where it starts off with him and Roland playing around a bit. The music video starts with just the four of us basically.
We are very sensitive about the chemistry and bringing a new person into the band. For this cycle, we are just going to continue as the four of us and figure it out as we go. We’ll have some session members for the live shows – I would love to have a live bassist and not back-track the whole thing. I love bass and I play some bass myself and it would be a missed opportunity not to have that. I also respect the fanbase. When someone leaves, there’s one hit and when you introduce a new person that’s another hit, in a way. We figured that we would just try to leave it to one hit with Henric leaving now and save the rest for the upcoming album or the next cycle to nail it down. We’ll see how we feel about it after we’ve done some touring for this album. That’s the idea right now.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s memorable about Father Shadow to you, as The Unguided’s fifth release?
Sjunnesson: We tried those two songs with the EP release last year and we wanted to figure out who we wanted to work with for the album. We ended up recording it in Studio Fredman with this Canadian guy, Robert Kukla. He actually had his own control room, which is called Obsidian Recordings. We had our eyes on Impact Studios [for mastering], which has been doing a lot of heavier stuff like grindcore. We wanted to go for a heavier sound with this one, and we felt that when those songs were recorded and mixed, it was love at first sight.
So that’s when we booked everything for the album. We actually never recorded an Unguided album with the same people. We love to move around and keep it that way so that we have an open mind, so we don’t get stuck in the same things. All recording producers have their own tips and tricks and stuff like that. It’s fun to move around and get these new impressions, and keep you out of your comfort zone too [laughs]. It’s always refreshing to try something new each time.
Dead Rhetoric: Was this second time with Jonathan [Thorpenberg] a more comfortable fit?
Sjunnesson: Yeah. He stepped in for Roland as a live musician back in 2015 for the first time. Roland couldn’t attend as much as we had booked with the shows. It was a bit of the same situation as Henric. It became more of a thing for Jonathan where he was a more permanent stand-in. That didn’t feel fair to the fanbase either. If you buy tickets and expect someone to be there and there is a different singer or guitarist. We had a talk about doing things in a different way, as we were doing an entire tour with a stand-in singer. So in summer 2016, we decided that we would go with Jonathan and Roland stepped down.
Roland, Roger [Sjunnesson], and I have done like eight albums together, so it was a terrifying experience at first, to figure things out. And the Battle Royale was a bit of trial and error with our process and how we would continue writing music together. Especially with me being 100% involved in the lyrics and vocal arrangements – Roland and I had done our process since 2005. To have someone new to do that with was different. But he’s down to earth, with no prestige. It was a walk in the park once we figured out the process. We set up the boundaries for the band, and the responsibilities, so it wasn’t that hard. But I do think we needed that first album to hammer out the details in our process. Now with Father Shadow, we have tried to refine it as much as possible. It’s different, but this is the new way. I think we needed a bit of new blood in the band. It was a good thing to bring someone new in that aspect.
Dead Rhetoric: Did having him on vocals prompt doing some Sonic Syndicate covers? Being that with Jonathan it would sound a bit different?
Sjunnesson: Not necessarily. We started to play some of those tracks live in 2018 and I think that was when we felt that we were now ready, and we will not be viewed as a Sonic Syndicate cover band. If we had played material from the start, and not much of our own music it would have been pretty clownish [laughs]. It just felt like a good moment to do it. There was talks about the contract, where Roland was not able to play those songs, but we knew back in 2011 that he was able to play them – it was not a legally binding contract but we still chose not to do it because we wanted to have our own batch of strong songs before we bled any Sonic material in live.
The discussion came up for the album as we were playing these tracks live and they were really appreciated by the fans. So we decided to record them. We started off with “Denied” and for the [next] tour we did “Jack of Diamonds” and then for the album we did “Jailbreak” too. It’s three different eras of Sonic Syndicate – a single from each of the first three albums. Some people just like Eden Fire, some people just like Only Inhuman, and so forth. We didn’t want to disappoint anyone so we took the main singles from each and recorded them.
Dead Rhetoric: How important are the lyrical aspects as I know the band often takes concepts from previous albums and continues them?
Sjunnesson: The Unguided has a semi-conceptual thing going. All of the artwork connects together too. But there are also songs that are more down to earth and life-related, it’s not all high fantasy stuff. I like to write both. I like to write fantasy lyrics, and the stuff we did in Sonic, which was more down to earth stuff and day to day business. So I do both with The Unguided. The concept story, before each album I sort of write down a story and we have an editor in England who helps write his version of it. Key moments in the story I turn into the lyrics. The beginning and closing of the album is always related to the beginning and end of the story, for example.
It started off, because we try to plan ahead as a band – me, Roger, and Roland, for the first three albums I wanted a story to lean on and I wanted to tell my story. When you start a demo band, ours was called Fallen Angels back then – which became Sonic Syndicate and we got signed. Eventually that led to The Unguided. I wanted that story written in a more fantasy setting, with some vague metaphors in that situation. The organic versus the mechanic – the evil mechanic being the music business and the organic being your passion for creating music. So that was to vent the story in a creative format and that was done in the first three albums.
It took 6 years to release those, and then it was like ‘where do we go from here’ [laughs]? That was when I detached it from the whole Sonic story and just wrote a story, but reused the characters that I built up in the first three albums. It’s the same for Father Shadow. It’s the same characters, and it’s in the same world, but has nothing to do with the original since that was a more metaphoric take on it. This is just fiction.
Dead Rhetoric: How important has the consistent artwork been since the beginning of the band?
Sjunnesson: I think what we aimed for, was instead of just releasing albums with a different concept and random songs, we wanted a thread going through all of the material – the lyrics, the artwork – for the entire duration of the band. We wanted to be true to the entire concept, now for an entire decade. We are still planning ahead. I just got pictures for the next album from our artist. It takes a lot of planning to do it.
It’s a lot of extra work for the band, but I think it’s rewarding when the fans figure out the connections and they read the story and appreciate it. There’s another dimension to the band than just having music released. If you want to just listen to music, that’s fine and they are free to do that. Then there’s the hardcore fans that want to dig a bit more. There’s an entire universe there for them to go all nerdy about. I think it’s a fun aspect to The Unguided that I didn’t have in previous bands.
Dead Rhetoric: Something that has always struck me, with both Sonic Syndicate and The Unguided is that there’s a lot of really good catchy hooks. Do you feel that in metal, a good hook is often underappreciated?
Sjunnesson: I think we are all on the same page in the band with the hookiness of things. Whether it’s big melodies, guitar hooks, or screaming rhythm hooks. For us, we listen to so much different music. Everyone is really open about things. We are a metal band and we write metal music, but we take inspiration from all sorts of genres. What it comes down to is that hooky stuff gets stuck in people’s brains and I think they appreciate that. I can listen to a band like Dark Funeral and find something super hooky in their music [laughs].
It’s not about how heavy, but how smart your work is. We have always been passionate about that, so we spend a lot of time on the choruses to get them as hooky as possible. Then we work it out from there. I guess Sonic had the same kind of mindset with that. It was something we brought over to The Unguided. With new members, they have the same mindset and listen to all kinds of music – it just ends up like this I guess [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What do you recall about the early days of The Unguided around Hell Frost?
Sjunnesson: It seems like we were pretty naive about how limiting we wanted it to be. When me, Roger, and Roland talked, we said that we wanted to do a studio project since we loved writing music together. We were going to just release some albums and that was it. But since the interest became bigger than we thought – we had live shows booked before we even released material and people had tattoos before we had a song out. It was very inspiring to have that to carry us through Hell Frost. We had some tours going after that, and we added members to the band. Hell Frost was just released by the three of us, and then for Fragile Immortality we had a whole band. It was mindblowing.
What I regret from that moment was that I was very vocal about the whole Sonic thing. I should have kept my mouth shut [laughs]. But I was ten years younger and frustrated to have the band that you formed as your hobby get completely out of hand with contracts and all of that. We just wanted to get out and play some rock and roll. We had to sign all these weird contracts, and I felt like the band was a bit stolen from our vision. I just needed to rebuild a bit with The Unguided to make things right. To use the experience from Sonic. I think the biggest experience was that when your passionate hobby becomes a full-time job, it’s not that fun anymore. That kind of happened with Sonic in a lot of ways.
So in The Unguided that’s a limit we have. We try to keep it fun, creative, and we write when we have something to say. We don’t force ourselves out just because it’s in the album cycle. It’s like all the pitfalls in Sonic were completely erased with this band. It’s just a happy environment when we write music together, when we see each other and go out on tour – it’s so much more pleasant. We aren’t forcing out an album on tour while we should be focusing on shows. There’s no ‘having X number of songs done while you are out touring’ or whatever. It wasn’t a very creative atmosphere and I appreciate it now with The Unguided. We do things in our own time, and when we have something to say instead of it being a commercial machine.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s upcoming for the band for the rest of the year/next year?
Sjunnesson: I think touring in spring is a bit optimistic. I’m not sure how fast the world will recover and how scared people are to get out to live shows. Personally, I’d love to get out to some shows both on the audience side and the itch to play live, of course. But I think, to be reasonable fall 2021 will be the touring time for Father Shadow. We had this talk with Napalm about delaying the album and we figured that if we could contribute with some music and some happiness in this situation we were going to go for it. That’s why it’s coming out in October. We have been using this time to sit and write for the next album cycle and writing new music. So hopefully it won’t take three years until we have a new album.
We still want to do a tour for Father Shadow of course, but it’s probably a year away. That’s the best guess I have. Usually it would be a great time to book festivals, releasing in October because you are in that cycle. But now, the festival package from 2020 has been moved to 2021 so it’s already super booked. That’s inconvenient but we’ll see [laughs]. Hopefully we’ll get out on the live stage again – we’ll take one problem at a time. Humanity has a lot to deal with currently with Coronavirus. We’ll try to work that out first and foremost.