by Niklas Göransson
Bardo Methodology keeps up the tradition of heralding returns of underrated nineties bands. Hereby presented; Stockholm death metal royalty Richard Cabeza of Unanimated, consider this is a resurrection notice as well candid insight into a life led with chaos and metal.
– The UNANIMATED of today consists of three members from the classic line-up, says Richard; I play bass, Johan (Bohlin) is the guitarist and Micke (Broberg) on vocals. On top of that we have two new recruits, both of them people I’ve known since we were all in our early teens.
Notably absent is Peter Stjärnvind (BLACK TRIP, ex-NIFELHEIM), who was the drummer since day one until 2011.
– There was a lot of hassle that ended with a year and a half being completely wasted, a fucked up situation for everyone involved. We’d played together for more than twenty years and were close friends prior to this, so I’m not going to sit here and throw him under the bus. It was a really painful decision but today it’s all good – no hard feelings.
They agreed that it would be in their best interest if UNANIMATED started looking for a new drummer, advice Richard heeded right away.
– I called Johan later that day, he was drinking in bar and after I told him the news he said he’d get back to me. I got a call from him shortly afterwards – ‘I’m having a beer with Anders Schultz (UNLEASHED), I told him we’d lost our drummer and he offered to do it’. This was obviously quite practical, finding a replacement within a matter of hours.
The last known second guitar player was Set Teitan from DISSECTION.
– That worked great but it was difficult to find time to rehearse due to his busy schedule as a live member of WATAIN. Our new guitarist is an old friend of mine; Jonas Deroueche from FACE OF EVIL. We also played in CARBONIZED together in 1990.
Richard reveals that UNANIMATED in its current manifestation has been rehearsing on a weekly basis for more than a year now – concocting their fourth album. My pulse remains unchanged however, as this record was announced with impending status over four years ago.
– Ah, yes. Well, we’re not really working with a deadline – nor do we have a label that pushes us. We’re on our own timetable.
Do you and Johan still rehearse over the telephone loudspeaker?
– Yep, that’s the way we do it. It’s a shame that I can’t join them in person; I haven’t been back to Sweden in two years now. Johan sends me material from every rehearsal, we then go through the songs and see what’s good and what could be improved. It’s the same with Micke – he lives in Sundsvall (380 kilometres from Stockholm) so he’s not always present either, despite this he’s a driving force in the band.
Once they deem the material ripe, the as of yet unnamed new album will be recorded in Sweden.
– I’ll fly back and get a few rehearsals in before we enter the studio. In my opinion, you can’t call yourself a real band unless you record as one. I’m aware that it might sound as if UNANIMATED is only a project, with the members geographically spread out but that’s not how we see it. It is what it is and we can only strive to make the best of the situation.
Richard says the distance that lies between them matters not, they will always play together.
– You must understand that Johan and I have known each other since we were eight years old. We grew up together – calling him friend is insufficient, he’s more of a brother than anyone could be merely by bloodlines. UNANIMATED is a big and important part of who we are. It’s so much more than a band; it’s an institution, a temple – a living manifesto that’s part of our souls.
In the year 2002, Richard Cabeza left his home of Sweden and relocated to the United States.
– I’ve lived here in Dallas, Texas for 14 years now and I love it, really different from what I was used to from home. Stockholm will always remain closest to my heart though, I miss both the city and my friends.
Do you still go shows?
– Absolutely, especially when there’s a Swedish band in town. It’s great to catch up with old friends and speak my native tongue for a change. WATAIN have been here several times now, I always go to see them whenever they pass through.
If I recall correctly he also got to meet Selim Lemouchi from THE DEVIL’S BLOOD, who toured the US as a live member of WATAIN.
– Indeed, Richard says laughing, he decked some guy that was acting too familiar for comfort. Not a good idea – this is Texas. It’s not like back home; if you punch someone in the face there will be serious consequences – you will go to jail.
I’d wager that few Europeans would enjoy the Texan penitentiary system. Fortunately, they had someone who realised the potential gravity of the situation.
– I was outside smoking when two bouncers walked by, I overheard one of them saying that the police were on their way. I ditched my cigarette and ran in to tell Selim – the guy he beat up wanted to press charges so he would have been arrested. We jumped into my car and drove to my place to lay low for a few hours. At last we got the call that the coast was clear so I took him back to the tour bus. My BMW still had blood and corpse paint on the seats six months afterwards, it would remind me of the kinship that was formed that day.
This should be pretty much business as usual for Richard, who used to be known as a bit of a ruffian himself.
– Can’t say I’m raging around town like I used to back home, at least not very often. I go much easier on the booze here as well. I’d definitely have been labelled a hooligan and a criminal back in the day, living life with a total fuck-the-world mentality. Yet this is what happens with advancing age, you calm down. Fucking hell, listen to me – sounding like an old man.
I remember arriving to a pub many years ago; just in time to witness a rather sturdy gentleman receive medical attention. Next to him on the floor I spotted what turned out to be a substantial part of Richard’s hair, which was subsequently utilised decoratively behind the bar.
– Mm, I recall that all too well – it fucking hurt losing so much hair. There was this big tough-guy mouthing off to my friend, it pissed me off so I put him down. I’ve done so many stupid things like this, it’s honestly the only thing I was ever good at. Well, that and playing bass I suppose – an excellent combination you must admit.
As his peers started becoming domesticated, the late nineties saw a younger generation of metalhead mischief-makers emerge.
– I remember bands like MALIGN, it was good to see the new blood – in Stockholm everything went in full speed, one hundred percent. This type of metal is so much more than music and it was pleasing to see a fresh breed that understood this, and tried to embody it. Many from my generation had started drifting at that point so I was happy to see that metal could still be extreme.
Today, shouldering many of adulthood’s responsibilities, he tries to lead a somewhat more responsible existence.
– My heart still burns as bright as ever, it’s my body that can’t quite keep up to speed these days.
UNANIMATED came into this world in 1989, when four childhood friends in their early teens founded a metal band.
– It was meant to be fast and satanic, Richard reminisces.
Their first studio demo was recorded in 1991 – the now legendary “Fire Storm” that sold a respectable 3000 copies. The music on this tape unveils the genesis of UNANIMATED’s unique fusion of melodic death and atmospheric black metal.
– Two of the guys we started out with disappeared, at the time I was only the vocalist but assumed bass duties too. I invited an old friend of mine, Jonas Mellberg, to join the band. He was a far superior musician but mostly listened to stuff like WHITESNAKE and PINK FLOYD, so that’s where a lot of these melodic riffs came from.
The atmospheric parts were a likely result of main composer Johan coming across the second PARADISE LOST demo, “Frozen Illusion”. Additional influence came from a now classic album, one that the young Richard was initially aghast to discover.
– One day in 1989 we met Quorthon’s younger sister at the central station, we used to hang out and drink beer there when we were 15. She told us that her brother had just recorded another BATHORY album. We went absolutely wild and asked her to tell us about it. ‘It starts off with the sound of oars in the water, then come the acoustic guitars’, naturally – we thought she was making fun of us.
Alas, as we all know this was not the case.
– I got hold of a test press of “Hammerheart” before it was released; I come home, put on the new BATHORY album and I’m greeted by rowboats and Viking choirs. ‘Surely, this must be a mistake’ I thought, ‘something is amiss here, this is shit’. Obviously, once I’d fully processed it; one of the greatest albums of all time. That one and TIAMAT’s “Sumerian Cry” were very influential when it came to the melodies and acoustic guitars.
You must have been very early in using keyboards in this type of music?
– When we started using them I don’t think there was a single other extreme metal band that did, the only one I can think of is perhaps the NOCTURNUS demo (“The Science of Horror”, 1988).
While this innovation might be something they take pride in now, this was not the case at the time. When UNANIMATED played live in the early nineties their keyboard player would be hidden to the side or back of the stage, often behind a big sheet.
– Of course, despite having a keyboardist it was of utmost importance that he was hidden from sight.
When the debut “In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead” was recorded in 1992, Richard was no longer in the band. Instead, he lent his reverberating faculties to another, slightly more prolific Stockholm band.
– I had to choose, if you were in DISMEMBER you weren’t allowed to play in any other bands – it demanded one hundred percent dedication and investment. As a 17-year old, this was an easy choice to make; I got to record an album for a real label and then go on tour with bands I would sit at home banging my head to. I did however keep writing lyrics for UNANIMATED and we never stopped hanging out.
Richard was replaced by current-day vocalist Micke and Daniel Lofthagen on bass. As second album “Ancient God of Evil” (1995) was composed he was still writing lyrics, and when Daniel jumped ship there was no question who should replace him.
– The dust had settled with DISMEMBER, it was okay to play in other bands.
Not long after its release and after a handful of domestic gigs, UNANIMATED ceased to be. The culmination of a lengthy period of frustration and bickering resulted in fisticuffs, which essentially put an end to it.
– We all disappeared to other bands after that. I joined SATYRICON, Jonas started playing with THERION and Peter went to MERCILESS and that camouflage-pant-band…?
Speculatively, if you’d stuck together and had a more responsive label – don’t you think you could have gone pretty far?
– I don’t know to be honest; it felt like no one cared or even took us seriously. In those days everything was about down-tuned guitars and deep growling about blood, guts and excrement. It’s only now in retrospect that I’ve come to realise that we were important to a lot of people.
Preparing for this interview I came across an old interview with Frost, the drummer of Norwegian ‘black’n’roll’ band SATYRICON that Richard was part of in 1997.
”Richard Daemon did not get to play any live shows with us as intended since he just vanished all of a sudden. He was just going on a short trip back to Sweden after living in my apartment for a while, and he never came back.”
– Long story, let’s just say that it was a personal matter. I stayed at Frost’s place and we were rehearsing for “Rebel Extravaganza” when something happened back home. We were out having a beer when I received a phone call; I emptied my glass, headed straight for the central station and caught the first train to Stockholm. And then once I got back, some crazy shit happened.
I take it this is the unceremonious departure that was referred to in the interview.
– It was entirely my fault, I didn’t even get in touch with them. Time went by and it would have felt ridiculous to suddenly reappear after two months. ‘Sorry guys!’ So yes, as he said – I vanished, and good riddance at that.
How did you find the Norwegian scene compared to the one back home?
– Oslo is only five hours away from Stockholm but there is a vast difference in mentality. Frost is a genuinely solid guy but I found many of the Norwegian metalheads unbearably uptight.
Back home and without a band, the first attempt to resurrect UNANIMATED was made.
– Johan and I gave it a shot but didn’t get very far, we couldn’t quite get past the drinking and drugs part. “Enemy of the Sun” that ended up on “In the Light of Darkness” (third album, 2009) is the only thing we have to show from that time.
UNANIMATED remained on hold for another eight years, until 2007 when all original members except Jonas Mellberg came together.
– All of us were available but most importantly; motivated to create something. Peter had left ENTOMBED and Micke been released from prison.
The first sign of life for the reawakened band was a concert at Kafé 44 in Stockholm – August 5, 2008 with KAAMOS as the supporting act. I recall noting with amusement that the front rows consisted of more or less the same people as at the last UNANIMATED gig, which was in the same venue together with DISSECTION and NECRPHOBIC in 1995.
– Yeah, Richard laughs, we noticed the same thing as soon as we walked out on stage. That’s the moment we knew we were on the right track. For me it was magical, I‘d waited a long time for that day.
While this might have seemed like a dream, the next live appearance was nightmarish. It took place only a few days later at the German open air festival Party San.
– That trip was quite an experience, to say the least; one we’d very much like to forget. We fucked up completely, pure and simple. Alcohol and drugs have always been our biggest problem and proved troublesome once again. The expectations were huge – from us, the promoter and the fans.
The lesson here being that twelve hours of uninterrupted partying before the band’s first ever gig abroad, for its first ever festival, is an unsuitable way to prepare.
– We sounded terrible and thoroughly embarrassed ourselves, unbelievable. Naturally, we were extremely disappointed in ourselves but decided to keep drinking, which in turn led to fighting and a demolished hotel. I sincerely doubt we’ll ever be welcome back; this is a day I desperately wish I could erase from memory. Our second guitarist at the time, Eric Wallin (MERCILESS), left the band after that.
Instead of giving up completely, they managed to rally and strike with a vengeance. In October 2008 they entered Necromorbus Studio in order to record ”In the Light of Darkness”. All members participated in the composing process, sending recordings back and forth and exchanging ideas. Due to Richard‘s living situation they were unable to rehearse with the full line-up before entering the studio.
– That wasn’t a problem since just Peter and I had about 40 recordings between us. The studio visit was turbulent but we were really proud of the end result.
The album was released in April 2009, garnering very favourable reviews among critics but surprisingly little attention from the general public.
– Set joined later that year, bringing with him a most welcome fervour; we rehearsed and felt stronger than ever, eager to play. We returned to Germany in February 2010 and played the best gig of our existence, but the festival was shit. That was the last time we were on stage.
Why is that?
– Things slowly came to a grinding halt; I tried booking gigs and tours, I attempted to plan our future. However, as we touched upon earlier we were once again having problems within the band – namely Peter. It was extremely frustrating.
In 2012, UNANIMATED were announced for American open air Maryland Deathfest but were ultimately forced to cancel.
– Anders had an UNLEASHED gig in Germany and Set couldn’t get a visa. We discussed using session musicians but taking the stage with three out of five members would be ridiculous. We either play with an intact line-up or we don’t play at all.
While riding one himself, Richard is generally not particularly fond of long-buried metal bands embarking on reunions. That is dead should eternal lie, and with strange aeons embarrass themselves no further.
– There might be a handful of decent ones but most are completely unnecessary – generic bands that were never relevant even when they were active. It tends to be guys that are bored from working in the post office for the last ten years; they want travel the world, have a good time in the spotlight and make a buck doing it. Forty year-olds with no heart invested in what they’re doing, living on old merits – utterly pathetic.
So the difference is that there is actual conceptual substance in UNANIMATED?
– Of course there is. This is my soul we’re talking about, my lyrics depict my reality and these are my visions. I’m 43 years old now; if this wasn’t genuine I surely would’ve lost interest a long time ago. I see things more clearly now than I ever have, my convictions in my beliefs have been cemented. Having gone through a lot of hardship over the years, I’m all the stronger for it.