8/30/2004 - Review by: Eric Compton
Unleashed - Sworn Allegiance 2004 Century Media reviewed by: EC
Formed in 1991 by the talented Johnny Hedlund (leaving pre-Entombed band Nihilist), Unleashed are, in my humble metalhead opinion, one of the founding pioneers of the Swedish death metal scene. More so a way of life than a musical endeavor, groups like Unleashed, Entombed, and Grave helped solidify a more sound, melodic approach to the Floridian massacre happening across the Atlantic in the late 80s. These angry Swedes were more in touch with their traditional metal souls, not really focusing on all the gory details of groups like Deicide and Cannibal Corpse, instead focusing on a more historic approach at songwriting, with a heavy emphaisis on Viking tradition (much like Finland's Amorphis). The general idea here was to create something different by maintaining a more melodic delivery. The calculated formula worked quite well, with Unleashed gaining notoriety with great studio albums like "Where No Life Dwells", "Across The Open Sea", and "Victory", all courtesy of Century Media, who were doing quite well with these types of bands (Tiamat, Grave, Cemetary, Sentenced).
After a five year absence following their 1997 effort "Warrior", the band regrouped and released "Hell's Unleashed" in 2002. The album showed that the group never missed a step, following up a monumental decade of Unleashed goodies with a well thought out death metal classic that had all of the modern overtones needed to be successful in this day and age. Now, with two years of touring under their belts, and the same lineup (Johnny, Tomas, Fredrik, Anders), these torch-bearers are on another chaotic campaign to reign supreme over the genre they helped originate.
"Sworn Allegiance" is actually a more return to form than it's predecessor. With this new offering, I hear a more traditional approach to their craft, with this record including all of the sword-wielding song writing I have grown to love about this band in the past. Some classic cuts are included with this new venture, with solid tracks like "The Longships Are Coming", "Insane For Blood", and "Winterland" easily some of the best songs of their entire career, lifted from the same identity and persona the band possessed in the early 90s. Some things never change, and that is a motto this band has kept throughout their long and successful career.
A better, tight-knit production job holds everything together, and with the help of famed engineer Peter In de Betou (Amon Amarth, Dimmu Borgir), this album is a far more superior product than "Hell's Unleashed". The drums are less hollow, the riffs are getting more high-end attention, and Johnny's vocals have been mixed perfectly. This is one fantastic display of knobs and dials working to the advantage of an album's mood, and with this production job, the band's signature sound has been amplified a thousand fold.
With the opening track "Winterland", one can feel the mood and atmosphere of the songwriting. You can sense a cold, frozen battlefield scattered with warriors and viking crusaders. Few bands can achieve a sense of atmosphere, few can potray that extra sense of horror and dread. This band does it very well and it is a main reason why, personally, I enjoy their entire discography. They never stray from this type of storytelling for long.
With the signature style of "Winterland", this record also provides more Viking storytelling as well. "The Longships Are Coming" is one of the best songs I've heard this year, and of course it potrays that ever important chaotic, stormy mood. Here we have a splendid tale of villages being ransacked and burned as a result of Viking invasions. I wonder whose side these guys are on? Along with that comes "To Miklagard", another fine historic romp through Sweden's past.
There are even more medieval tracks here, like the Tolkien inspired "Destruction (Of The Race Of Men), with its opening drum sequence that sounds like horse hooves hitting a frozen tundra. Unleashed play this type of metal so well, but they do take some more modern chances as well. With tracks like "Helljoy" and "CEO", the Swedes drift from the mythology to the current state of affairs. With those songs, the band looks to a more thrashy approach, with these songs reminding me of the last record. Fast guitars, quick double bass, and a more streamlined arrangement set the style of newer acts like Lamb Of God and Killswitch Enage (not nearly that restless though).
This album is much like Anvil's new record, "Back To Basics", simply because both releases show a triumphant return to what got them here. With "Sworn Allegiance", Unleashed have returned to their past for inspiration, and by doing so have helped further their careers. Older fans will absolutely love this one, and the newer "extreme" fans out there will get a history lesson on how the current scene was brought up. Cheers to Century Media for still taking chances on their long-time recruits.
Favorite Cuts - "The Longships Are Coming", "Metalheads", "Winterland", "To Miklagard", "Insane For Blood"
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