Review Summary: Swedish death metal vets, Unleashed, have returned in 2008 delivering the year's most straightforward yet consistent metal album. Praise Oden.
The worlds first Viking themed death metal band has returned in 2008 to unleash a behemoth of a metal record upon every short and long haired head banger alike. I say this in full confidence that Hammer Battalion systematically destroys everything else that has been released so far in 2008. Unleashed have proven themselves as one of the most consistent bands in the metal genre, producing one solid record after the other, never once having to rely on cheap gimmicks or new ideas to gather fans with their crushing yet catchy blend of mead drenched death metal. Unfortunately, Unleashed happen to be one of those bands that go by almost completely unappreciated in sputnik except for a low to moderate number. This is unfortunate because their happens to be a lot of Amon Amarth and/or Viking metal fans around the site and looking back at how Unleashed has impacted Amon Amarth’s music it doesn’t make sense to me. Unleashed had formed in Sweden around 1989, just one year after Bathory’s magnum opus and a mere three years before Amon Amarth. Since 1991 the band has recorded nine full length records quickly erasing that five year hiatus from the minds of many. “Hammer Battalion”, the band’s ninth full length album finds the band sticking to their traditional game plan of planting massive Scandinavian grooves and Iron Maiden-esque harmonies with the crushing prowess of Morbid Angel for one more installment in the Viking metal chapters. Oden has returned once more to lay waste to false metal and the loyal masses will not be disappointed with this superb offering.
Now, I got to say that 2008 has been a great year particularly for Swedish metal, with some of the old guard like Dismember and Grave putting out quality new albums out this year. When I found out that Unleashed would be releasing some new material this year I was ecstatic. Possibly the only thing left that could seal 2008 as the year to beat would be a brand new bullshit free Entombed record but it doesn’t seem likely. No matter though, Unleashed have came through, big I might add with one of the catchiest and overall strongest metal records of 2008. If you consider yourself a fan of jaw dropping leads, thundering blast beats, crushing rhythms and guttural vocals, all I need to tell you is this. Pick up Hammer Battalion immediately or you’ll be sorry. There happens to be a reason for why Unleashed have stayed at the top of the metal chain for the past twenty years. Aside from keeping their integrity and ideals close to heart, these guys have an excellent sense of songwriting abilities that so many bands can only dream about. The problem with death metal bands today is that many rely on either speed or brutality or even both to carry the weight but if you don’t know how to write a good song you’ll be lost in the pack. Now Hammer Battalion carries some weight with 13 tracks coming in with just over 40 minutes of villager smashing material but not once do Unleashed unclamp their fists to let up from their Norse assault.
My favorite aspect and what I think is the greatest strength of Unleashed lies in the interaction between lead and rhythm guitar. Fredrik Folkare and Tomas Margard in my opinion form one of modern metals most engaging and dynamic duos. The riffing, straight out of death metal’s golden age brings forth a storm of unapologetic rage, dizzying the listener with speed metal soloing and a flurry of thick, neck snapping rhythms that will have you banging your head in no time. When you listen to Amon Amarth and then put on some Unleashed you can feel where Amon Amarth originally drew inspiration from, starting with the epic riff work. Both bands feature epic grooves as a signature fatality, bringing the Scandinavian punch to full blast as the guitars chug away. Technical guitarists mean nothing to me if you cannot compose several well written songs that are easily distinguishable from other bands. The vocals, complimentary of the bands first and only vocalist Johnny Hedlund, are deep and guttural, filled to the brim with bite and venomous rage as he spouts out lyrical content based on the misconceptions of Christianity, Vikings, and Norse culture. Lyrically nothing new but if you don’t know what to expect from an Unleashed album by now you should go listen to some Abba. It’s quite funny to think that Johnny over here has been dismembering bodies and tearing faces since I was in the womb. Needless to say, two for two so far in the instrumental departments. The drumming performance from Anders is a beastly one at that. Speedy, precise, and intense, once again Anders brings the goods. Tectonic blast beating, hammering double bass, and quick fills feed the hungry war machine with a raw and powerful performance. Jolting bass lines that follow the guitars lead are executed to a sound degree by Johnny himself.
After 19 years of existence, Unleashed have 9 full length albums under their belt and pose no signs of relenting, all the merrier for us rabid metal fans. Hammer Battalion is a monster of a metal album that only a fool would pass up. It’s hard to pick out any real standout tracks on this album because it’s all basic Unleashed. Mind you, every track on here rules and the lack of any real filler gives Unleashed huge bonus points. I didn’t manage to find any cons on Hammer Battalion but the lack of diversity might turn off some new users although Unleashed have specialized in primitive, bone crushing aggression for almost two decades. Fans of At the Gates, Dismember or just extreme metal in general that haven’t heard this album yet would do themselves some good by getting this immediately.