REVIEW: UNLEASHED – “No Sign Of Life”
Unleashed are one of those bands that have shifted their early sound into something less brutal and raw, cleaner and some would even say more “professional”. While this often turns acts into train-wrecks, the Swedish extreme metal royalty have managed to complete this transition without completely losing essence and personality – even though they also had a death ‘n’ roll nonsense moment – and new endeavor ‘No Sign of Life’ is yet another statement of that.
Credited as one of the first death metal bands to use Viking/Scandinavian-theme lyrics instead of just singing about…well, death, Unleashed had been maturing their sound since 2004’s ‘Sworn Allegiance’ which was a return to a ballsier form, and following records saw them slowly ascending back to the towering halls of Valhalla, finally achieving what we see today on the excellent 2012’s ‘Odalheim’. As for 2021’s output, Johnny Hedlund, Anders Schultz, and the company continue to deliver slabs of extreme music allied with characteristic low riffs à la Dismember and Bolt Thrower with glimpses of panache to add flavor.
Even so, death metal’s visceral aura is visible as light, especially so in the riffs and kitchen work. Tracks like opener “The King Lost His Crown”, “No Sign of Life” and “It Is Finished” are stalwarts of the unique sound Unleashed has crafted over the years and will reminisce the best moments of records such as ‘Dawn of the Nine’ (2015) and the aforementioned ‘Odalheim’. Other passages like “The Shepherd Has Left the Flock” and “Midgard Warriors for Life” bring a more prolific approach and will transport you to the band’s own style with fewer death elements, as we have seen in their latest album ‘The Hunt for White Christ’ (2018) for instance.
Truth be told, Unleashed writes some pretty good metal. Musically, the Swedish horde produces a melodic form of death metal that has been associated with Sweden since the early 1990s. The tracks here are powerful, pummeling and thrashy enough to make the listener want to headbang their heads off like Ragnarök is coming. Like their Swedish brethren Amon Amarth, for instance, Unleashed likes trem-picked melodic passages that are littered with a good groove and plenty of chances to headbang manically.
But with all the goodness this album comes with, there is also one substantial problem: the lyrics. This is not the first time, or definitely, the last time for that matter, that Unleashed will be cursed with lyrical issues that stand out and make the listener a little bit embarrassed. This sort of idea that one can write about the meta-aspect of heavy metal is one of the reasons that power metal, for instance, is considered to be so cheesy. All in all, this becomes a minor nuisance if you think about the whole picture, so it turns out just fine.
While ‘No Sign of Life’ is not the kick in the nuts that ‘Odalheim’ was, for example, it’s what a veteran band with over 30 years under its belt should sound like – refined and confident; brutal yet sophisticated. It is surely a par for the Unleashed course, littered with great songs and solid riffs. If you can bring yourself past the often mediocre lyrics, and you’re a fan of death and Viking metal, you’ll probably really enjoy this record. At the end of the day, this is an Unleashed album, so how can it go wrong?