To any fan of Swedish death metal, or death metal in general, Unleashed need no introduction, but I’ll give a quick one nonetheless: Considered one of the ‘big four’ of Swedish death metal, along with Entombed, Dismember, and Grave, the Stockholm institution, led by founding bassist/vocalist Johnny Hedlund, since their formation in 1989, Unleashed have been releasing quality material since their legendary debut album Where No Life Dwellsway back in 1991.
Through the years, the band hasn’t strayed too far from what’s made them icons in their genre, but they don’t need to. Fans have come to expect solid releases, some legendary, but all good-to-great, delivered by the same lineup since 1995: Hedlund, Anders Schultz on drums, Fredrik Folkare on lead guitar, and Tomas Olsson on rhythm guitar. Unleashed were one of the very first bands to embrace Viking culture, and that’s exactly where we find them on this, their fourteenth full-length.
No Sign Of Life is the fifth chapter in Hedlund’s Odalheim saga, and Unleashed wastes no time, storming the castle with scorching opener The King Lost His Crown. The cohesiveness of playing together for 26 years is on vivid display here, as with the next track, a favorite of mine, The Shepherd Has Left The Flock. Hedlund sounds as menacing as ever, the band pummeling the listener, and to say the riffs and lead work of Folkare and Olsson are dizzying would be an understatement.
Not to be outdone, Schultz shines throughout No Sign Of Life as his blast beats and fills are simultaneously all over the place, yet holding the beat down as tight as one would expect from a drummer that’s been playing this type of music for as long as he has. Tracks like Where Can You Flee and You Are The Warrior are clinics in dynamics in death metal drumming.
Viking-flavored Swedish death metal, served up by legends of the genre…
The title track, excellently sequenced in the middle of the album, No Sign Of Life is another highlight, tech-death riffs galore, blast beats in abundance, as the aforementioned Schultz dynamics are on impressive display. Midgard Warriors For Life provides a mild reprieve with a slightly slower tempo, and I suppose what one could describe as the ‘catchiest chorus’ on the record. Tyr Wields The Sword on the other hand, brings the intensity right back up, with a blazing, blast beat-filled verse, while closer Here At The End Of The World brings everything Unleashed introduced throughout No Sign Of Life to a monster conclusion.
Lyrically, Hedlund sticks to his script. Viking battles galore, and Norse culture abound, as he continues his saga, his voice is no less menacing than it was two decades ago. Forgoing the guttural growl, so prevalent in death metal, Hedlund’s delivery is more of an aggro-bark, but man does it go well with the pummeling. This is an aggressive, take-no-prisoners album, at times conjuring up an early-’00’s, Inferno-era Motörhead vibe, but run through the Swedish death metal portal. In addition, No Sign Of Life sounds excellent. It’s well-recorded, modern sounding, but there’s an aggressiveness to it, that makes it more raw sounding than some of their uber-crispy, tech-death contemporaries.
While not necessarily breaking any new ground, No Sign Of Life is still another, solid, well-executed, well-produced slab of no-nonsense, Viking-flavored Swedish death metal, served up by legends of the genre. The listener doesn’t need to know the whole backstory with Hedlund’s Odalheim saga to enjoy the album, as it is an excellent, stand-alone metal album. Just hit play and let the headbanging commence.
Scribed by: Martin Williams