UNLEASHED - HELL'S UNLEASHED - CENTURY MEDIA
First sign that Unleashed is still out of fresh ideas, despite a five-year absence, came via the announcement that the album will bear the Hell's Unleashed title. Still, one can not judge an album exclusively by its title and so upon its arrival the serfs were given leave to admit the album into Metallian Towers. It is no secret that in the mid-nineties and just prior to its hiatus, Unleashed was suffering from a lack of sales and interest and wisely decided to disappear from the scene for a while. Furthermore guitarist Fredrik Eugene's leaving the band for his blues-oriented outfit had many believing Unleashed to be history. Even the band's absence from the scene failed to elicit a reaction from anyone. Years later little has changed. There is no demand for Unleashed; no out-cry from fans seeking new Unleashed material.
Hell's Unleashed is trite. There really is no reason for it to exist. Anticipating this the biography begins with a line from the lyrics, 'Like it or not but we're back again...' Abysmal grammar aside, the band is right. Like it or not they are back, but that doesn't change the reality of the band's musical state of affairs. Lest there be any doubt that Century Media understands this as well, after months of not giving the album a Canadian release (the album was released in Europe in April), the label finally sends this out... wait for it... in a Nuclear Blast envelope. I kid you not.
It's not all bad though. Johnny Hedlund makes a concerted effort to, well, unleash a couple of screams like the good old Before The Creation Of Time days. The vocals are very easy to understand and clear. Musically it's Unleashed alright. The vintage Swedish riffing is nostalgic fun, but it's fair to say too that it sounds a whole lot like Kreator's Extreme Aggression. In fact, several riffs from the band's debut are borrowed in order to give this a semblance of legitimacy. Listen to Demoneater for example. Still that, in itself, says quite a bit. Apparently the Viking motif has been given a funeral at sea and the lyrics cover a wider range this time around. Fredrik is back from Loudpipes and Terra Firma, having left Unleashed once, and tries a couple of different things here and there . Fly Raven Fly, for instance, mixes Unleashed riffing with AOR leads. Then there is the oddly-titled Mrs. Minister and the Cathedral-resembling Joy In The Sun, the latter apparently about Hedlund's dream of cruising around in a convertible Volvo. Finally no confirmation as of press time regarding the authenticity of the material on Dissection Leftovers. Despite our best effort, Dissection main man Jon Nodtveidt was not available for comment. It's a wonder that given fourteen songs and five years to compose Unleashed could not come up with something better. Songs like Demons Rejoice, Burnt Alive and Triggerman are positively throw-away. My last memories of Unleashed are from the band's tour with Broken Hope and Demented Ted circa 1994 where the front row was mobbed by a gang of sieg-heiling White Supremacists. I wish they had just left that memory be. It was more fun that way. The biography mentions fifteen songs, whereas the album features fourteen. Fans should check to see whether there is more than one version floating around.
UNLEASHED - SWORN ALLEGIANCE - CENTURY MEDIA
Sworn Allegiance is an anthropologist's wet dream. Unleashed always performs exactly to specification and completely and utterly as predicted. This is the epitome of banality. Sworn Allegiance is undynamic, unconvincing, uninteresting and ultimately unwanted. Singer and bassist Johnny Hedlund and company record and release albums not because there is demand for the band's efforts out there, but rather because - very much like the band itself - certain automaton segment of the market likes to cling to the same warmed-over CD over and over again. In fact, the band itself has long realized that its puddle of creativity has run dry and tries to compensate and maintain some kind of a relevance by invoking insincere concepts like battle, Vikings and lore to sell albums. Otherwise, listening to Sworn Allegiance one gets the distinct feeling that the band could write dozens of songs like these on a weekly basis (and so could you!) if demand warranted it. Don't take my word for it though. Want proof this album sucks? Kerrang just gave it a great review - enough said really. - Ali "The Metallian"
UNLEASHED - MIDVINTERBLOT - SPV
Unleashed is back and at first glance not much has changed. The monochromatic cover, the depiction of horns, urns and other Viking paraphernalia, titles like Blood Of Lies, In Victory Or Defeat, Valhalla Awaits and Age Of The Warrior signal the band’s consistent approach and steadfast adherence to what Unleashed has always done. Now, while that usually is a good thing and certainly the metal scene does not need another wimp-out specimen like Entombed, the problem is that frankly the band’s last few albums have been rubbish. The Swedish death metallers have been like the AC/DC of death metal, Motörhead of Viking metal and Manowar of Sweden, but when song after song after song resembles other band’s refuse one begins to see the situation in a less than complimentary light.
Fast forward to 2006 and the band’s album on new label SPV and inexplicably Midvinterblot is actually good. It might be the accumulation of the bad reviews finally resonating at Unleashed central, a rejuvenation speared by a new record company or the addition of guitarist Fredrik Folklare who has joined the band from Siebenbürgen, for Midvinterblot is good enough to fall somewhere between the band’s strongest release, the 1991 debut Where No Life Dwells and its follow-up, Shadows In The Deep. Indeed it is clear that the band has purposefully attempted to rekindle the power and enthusiasm demonstrated on those early albums here. The new guitarist actually attempts and executes several respectable leads, the vocals mean business, the band has reintroduced speed and power here on songs like Triumph Of Genocide, The Avenger and I Have Sworn Allegiance and together with unexpectedly strong riffs made Midvinterblot what no one would have expected, a good album from Unleashed.
These short tracks stand out due to the lowered expectations, yet Unleashed might just have signalled that it is not a finished entity and can still present a hard-hitting album full of quality death metal, spirit and real and tangible heaviness. - Ali “The Metallian”
UNLEASHED - HAMMER BATTALION - SPV
The usual refrain in metal circles usually has it that band x “is back.” Wimping out or yielding to the forces of commercialism being a time-honoured heavy metal tradition it has become the norm for fans to credit a metal band that has smartened up and become fast and heavy again after a slump of several years.
In the case of Swedish death metallers Unleashed the phrase does not apply. Unleashed has never been this good. While the band had collapsed into a mire of sludgy bore and repetition in the mid '90s with slow and tepid albums Hammer Battalion truly surprises the listener by furthering the massive boost the band delivered on 2006’s Midvinterblot. In fact, much to this writer’s surprise and delight, Unleashed has, er, unleashed a hell of a storm here with songs like The Greatest Of All Lies (another tribute to Jesus), Hammer Battalion, Black Horizon and Warriors of Midgard. Two of these songs begin with Johnny Hedlund’s chanting command to “die” and the magic is that it is all so believable. While the band’s Viking themes are intact, the addition of genuinely powerful blasts of death metal, surprisingly excellent and abundant solos courtesy of Fredrik Folkare, grunts of death and loads of energy make Hammer Battalion stand true to its name. In fact, it is the speed and the fury that add to the solos and power to make this a blizzard of metal. Hammer Battalion is the band’s fastest album.
Whatever the band has been ingesting has worked. Unleashed’s 1991 debut Where No Life Dwells remains the band’s classic work, Hammer Battalion will probably go down as the band’s definitive release. - Ali “The Metallian”