Anthems sung to a faltering legacy.
The story of The Unguided is, if nothing else, and ongoing one when one considers not only the conceptual series that has dominated their lyrics, but in how just about everything about the band has changed apart from their core style. Having originally branded themselves as a late entry into the Swedish melodic death metal scene under the moniker of Fallen Angels and drawing inspiration from the likes of The Haunted and Dark Tranquillity, they would end up adopting the newer stylistic paradigm established by In Flames on their 2002 pivot album “Reroute To Remain,” thus giving birth to a new band dubbed Sonic Syndicate. After having a successful three album stint, the band would split over disagreement with the musical direction that their label Nuclear Blast wanted them to adopt (according to front man Richard Sjunnesson) and thus this outfit was born at the dawn of the 2010s, continuing the same stylistic blend of melodic death and quasi-pop infused groove metal essentially under a different name.
Though a lot like the official name of this band, the lineup has seen some consequential changes, this band has raised the concept of stylistic consistency to an art form. The loss of original clean vocalist and lead guitarist Roland Johansson just prior to 2017’s “And The Battle Royale” was a consequential one given the prominent part he played in shaping the band’s smoother moments, but the acquisition of Ruined Soul guitarist Jonathan Thorpenberg proved advantageous given his technical abilities and his even more polished vocal timbre. It is with this renewed and arguably stronger sound that The Unguided not only reprises the strength of the aforementioned album, but actually improves upon it considerably with the creation of their fifth studio LP “Father Shadow.” Drawing a bit further back into the dense, keyboard-drenched character of their Dark Tranquillity influences and upping the energy level into their admittedly streamlined and hook-driven songwriting, it proves to be among their strongest works to date.
Entering after a brief spoken intro depicting a dying king giving a final blessing to his son and heir, a notably darker and more kinetic chord is struck with the thrashing beast that is “Childhood’s End”, ushering in a bit more influence from The Crown to go along with their post-2001 In Flames template. This more speed-dominated approach is not a mere opening song fluke, but sees a number of successors as the album unfolds, often blurring the lines between melodic death and power metal in a more overt fashion than even the likes of Kalmah and Children Of Bodom. The swift yet ultra-melodic romp “Fate’s Hand” and the rapid fire thrills of “Seth” occasionally veer out of the percussive groove zone for a triumphant blaze that almost sounds like a nod to Helloween when put against Thorpenberg’s lofty and harmonized vocal hooks. Even the more rocking nod to Dark Tranquillity’s “Damage Done” in “Gaia” kicks up the afterburners and brings the power in an overtly heroic fashion.
Even when this album is taking things at a more moderated pace and resembling prior studio outings since 2011’s “Hell Frost,” things are buttressed heavily by an overall heavier production and more energized performance, resulting in a sound that’s actually more youthful and vital. Generally mid-paced and by-the-numbers anthems such as “War Of Oceans” and “Crown Prince Syndrome” just seem to have a bit more oomph to them, in no small part due to the riffs being a bit more busy and inventive. Even the sappy balladry with a clearly pop-infused gloss of “Where Love Comes To Die” comes off as more charming than it does awkward, and could easily function as a token mainstream banger with a few harsh barks and pounding riffs on the side to a metal head once the windows in the car are up. No song on here necessarily comes off as ground-breaking in the originality department, but the execution is so seamless that the whole package feels like it’s blazing a brand new trail.
Perhaps this revitalized sound owes partially to the band including three reclaimed Sonic Syndicate songs as bonus offerings, because said songs are recreated in a manner highly conducive to the band’s hi-fi production standards at present while also providing a marker towards the nostalgia for better days functioning on the rest of the album. But whatever may have been the catalyst for this noticeable uptick in this band’s studio game, this is an exemplary case of how the more audience-friendly brand of melodeath known as melodic groove metal can work, as it avoids the flaws and general flatness that has dogged In Flames in recent years and offers a more engaging and fun example of the dreary coldness of the old Gothenburg sound. Though this is something that will likely appeal the most to fans of more keyboard-oriented power metal and the softer side of metalcore, this is also the album that any prospective newcomers to the band should hear first.
Released by: Napalm Records
Released Date: October 9th, 2020
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
- Richard Sjunnesson / vocals
- Jonathan Thorpenberg / guitar, vocals
- Roger Sjunnesson / guitar, keyboard
- Richard Schill / drums
“Father Shadow” track-listing
- Childhood’s End
- Never Yield
- War of Oceans
- Where Love Comes to Die
- Crown Prince Syndrome
- Fate’s Hand
- Stand Alone Complex
- Lance of Longinus
- Gaia (feat. Erik Engstrand)
- Jailbreak (Bonus Track)
- Denied (Bonus Track)
- Jack of Diamonds (Bonus Track)
The tightrope that some choose to walk between the border of extreme metal and pop-infused mainstream rock is a treacherous one, but this Swedish act born from the latter days of the Gothenburg craze continues to walk it successfully.