Sunday, October 24, 2010

Unleashed (pt. 1)

Swedish death metal figures pretty heavily into my listening habits; the first three Entombed albums landed on my teenage consciousness like Clive Barker's Cenobites, twisting and deforming my musical taste around them. And while the melodic Gothenberg sound became an all-consuming influence in the world of metal, my preference was always the down-and dirty sound of Stockholm's death metal... my cd collection soon ran like an everflowing stream with the discographies of Dismember, Grave, and Edge of Sanity. I even found love for the mostly forgotten likes of Dellamorte, Daemon, and Comecon.

But one band was conspicuously ignored: Unleashed. Still a teenager at the time I was immersing myself in everything Swedish and heavy, Unleashed felt old fashioned and uncool; their plodding rhythms, Viking schtick and monotone vocals were out of touch with the increasingly more experimental death metal scene. Well, as anyone older than 18 has seen, whatever is uncool now need only wait 5 years to be appreciably camp before becoming retro chic. And there's nothing more retro and chic in the metal scene now than old school Sunlight Studios-styled death metal: not only have the old masters all launched comebacks, there's a new generation of bands marching down that Left Hand Path, Boss distortion pedals armed and ready to fire.

In their latest podcast, the Requiem Metal guys raved about Unleashed's recent work, so I felt duty-bound to check the band out again, as well as re-appraise the older albums that I originally shrugged off.

It turns out their latest album, As Yggdrassil Trembles, is the perfect rebuke to a naysayer like myself. A dozen airtight SDM songs, plus one turbocharged Death cover ("EVIL! DEAD!") prove that Unleashed are ready to take on the big leagues. Powered by a crystal clear production (courtesy of guitarist Fredrik Folkare), the band have never sounded tighter or filled with more conviction. Johnny Hedlund's vocals, previously the weakest link, are now an infectious snarl; he may lack the raw power of Mikael Åkerfeldt or Jörgen Sandström, but the man knows how to craft a catchy chorus.

It's impossible to listen to this thrashing tribute to Odin and Thor and not think of those other Viking metal overlords, Amon Amarth. In truth, AA have stolen most of Unleashed's thunder over the years through force of will and epic choruses. In that light, most of AYT sounds like Unleashed's attempt to reclaim the Viking metal crown, and I'd be hard-pressed to find a reason why they shouldn't hold it. It proves that old capitalist aphorism: the consumer benefits from competition.

: I turn my jaundiced eye to the first three Unleashed albums, and try to figure out if my 18 year old self was an idiot or just a cynic before his time.