The abyss stares back.
Every movement has a forerunner, an influential figure of sorts that isn’t necessarily part of what comes later, but provides the framework by which it comes to develop. Though the concept of merging metal music with the subject of Norse history and mythology predates the advent of death metal, there is a fitting character of the two coming into contact with each other, and Stockholm-based pioneers Unleashed were among the earliest entries to explore the results. Though later this coupling of Viking exploits and extreme metal would become more readily associated with the melodic death metal scene and a number of derivations of it, Unleashed themselves remained mostly tied to the more dissonant and brutal trappings of Sweden’s old school death prodigies, specifically that of early 90s Entombed and Dismember, the former being all but bassist and front man Johnny Hedlund’s former band through its association with Nihilist, and the passage of 30 years since their 1991 debut “Where No Life Dwells” hitting the shelves has seen little change.
With 14 albums now under their belts, this berserker quartet has staked out territory all too familiar on their latest entry, which is aptly dubbed “No Sign Of Life.” Still drawing heavily from the rustic, thrash-based, and simplified songwriting approach that defined their sound from the beginning, with maybe some occasional echoes of their brief flirtation with a more hardcore/death ‘n’ roll sound in the later 90s, the resulting sound has all the makings of an overt throwback. However, in contrast to a number of retro-old school bands after the mold of Gruesome and Skeletal Remains, the production quality does not seek to revert back into a lower-fidelity character indicative of the early 90s, and the riffing approach brought to the table by guitarists Tomas Olsson and Fredrik Folkare often exhibits a shimmering melo-death quality, though the tonality of the note-groupings is more dissonant and chaotic. Likewise, the fierce kit work of co-founder Anders Schultz proves a bit flashier and more versatile than a typical Gothenburg entry, while Hedlund’s mid-ranged barks and shouts have a clear late 80s Florida tinge to them, almost like a slightly deeper rendition of John Tardy.
Charging at full force, this album flies like an iron gauntlet-adorned fist to the gut, forgoing much of the nuance and delayed gratification for a straight up sonic assault. The opening crusher “The King Lost His Crown” wastes no word in delivering the old school battering ram, possessing more of a thrashing drive with some occasional bursts of frenzied blast beats and chaotic riffing, all the while featuring a principle riff that is infectious and rock-tinged enough to have been found on one of Six Feet Under’s better showings. Nipping close on its heels is the similarly fast and ferocious “The Shepherd Has Left The Flock”, which occasionally veers into a dank, mid-paced stomp that one might normally be associated with one of Bolt Thrower’s middle era albums. Other standout showings in the older, death-thrashing category include the riveting title anthem “No Sign Of Life” and the runaway train of biting riffs and occasional Near-East sounds that is “The Highest Ideal”.
Naturally an album that is this stripped down in its arrangement doesn’t function on speed alone, and occasionally some atmospheric nuance enters into the equation. Arguably the most blatant deviation from the traditional death metal trappings of this band’s extensive history is the melodeath-tinged and flashy “Midgard Warriors For Life”, which also features a highly impressive guitar solo break that any fan of the good old days of death metal hegemony when James Murphy was at his peak will enjoy. The more blackened foray into chaos “Tyr Wields The Sword” carries some occasional similarities to classic Necrophobic, while the older heavy metal shuffling stylings of “It Is Finished” and the slightly more noodling thrash sound of “Did You Struggle With God?” remind heavily of the death ‘n’ roll flirtations heard on Carcass’ “Swansong.” But what ultimately steals the show is the longer and more mystical aggression of closer “Here At The End Of The World”, which ups the density factor with some occasional keyboard parts and almost sounds like it could have appeared on a recent Nile release.
At the end of the day, while this album doesn’t wholly tow the old school line, the lion’s share of this auditory excursion echoes the nature of the last couple albums and listens like it came out of the formative years that saw the rise of death metal in Sweden. As said era was prior to the excesses of the later brutal and tech death sounds, but was pushing towards the same melodic and smoother sound that would define the Gothenburg Three, it sounds quite different from the gore-obsessed mainline bands of today and most of the recent yesterdays. Nevertheless, it wants for very little in the intensity department, and the flashy guitar work of Olsson and Folkare could quite easily rival the most insane presentations put forth by the duos of Schuldiner and Rozz or possibly even the Hoffman brothers. Though the imagery of dried out piles of bones with arrows and axes embedded into them would seem to be the visual to put to a battlefield that has been active for over 30 years, there is definitely fresh blood in the snow on account of this album, and those who enjoyed “The Hunt For White Christ” and “Dawn Of The Nine” will not be disappointed.
Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: November 12th, 2021
Genre: Death Metal
- Johnny Hedlund / Bass, vocals
- Anders Schultz / Drums
- Tomas Måsgard / Rhythm guitar
- Fredrik Folkare / Lead guitar
“No Sign Of Life” track listing:
1. The King Lost His Crown
2. The Shepherd Has Left the Flock
3. Where Can You Flee?
4. You Are the Warrior!
5. No Sign of Life
6. The Highest Ideal
7. Midgard Warriors for Life
8. Did You Struggle with God?
9. Tyr Wields the Sword
10. It is Finished
11. Here at the End of the World
Pre-order your copy of “No Sign of Life” HERE
Pioneering craftsmen of Viking themed death metal and purveyors of qualitative consistency Unleashed score another frostbitten berserker of an opus with all the usual stylistic trappings, reminding the tech-obsessed world of the present that simplicity can be the most lethal of weapons