Review Summary: A solid representation of early Swedish death metal.
Unleashed is a Swedish death metal band well-known for being one of the genre’s pioneers, forming in 1989 and playing a large role in the influential early Swedish scene alongside fellow death metal acts Dismember, Entombed, and Grave. Unleashed is especially notable for vocalist/bassist Johnny Hedlund’s involvement in the seminal death metal band Nihilist, essentially the founders of the Swedish scene. After being fired from Nihilist in 1989, Hedlund created Unleashed to start making music on his own, while Nihilist continued making music as Entombed. Unleashed has had a lengthy and surprisingly steady career, releasing eleven studio albums of consistently brutal death metal to date. Excluding a period of hiatus in the late 1990’s, the band has released a new full-length at least once every two years.
Shadows in the Deep, Unleashed’s sophomore effort, is very much a direct sequel to the group’s 1991 debut, Where No Life Dwells. It serves as an excellent demonstration of the early Swedish death metal sound, combining heavily distorted guitars, guttural vocals, and a strong emphasis on tremolo-picked melodies to create a work that is as well-crafted as it is heavy. While the songwriting and performance on Shadows in the Deep is overall not as strong as what was demonstrated on the band’s excellent debut, the album remains an important part of the Unleashed discography and should provide a satisfying listen to any fan of classic death metal.
Like every album in the band’s discography, Shadows in the Deep is an uncompromisingly heavy work, even judging by today’s standards. You will not hear any acoustic interludes or nature samples on this record; Unleashed decided to abandon all ambient elements to create an album with an emphasis on nothing more than sheer brutality. The band even refrains from including any guitar solos on the album, with only two minor exceptions on the tracks “Never Ending Hate” and “Crush the Skull”. Both of these tracks include a solo, although they are both extremely brief and entirely unnecessary. The solos are contribute little to the strength of the tracks or the album at large and could easily have been left off. It should be noted that just because the album eschews ambience and melody for aggression, this in no way means that it lacks diversity. Album opener “The Final Silence” has a distinct trash influence, and the excellent “Onward into Countless Battles” bases its verses on an incredibly catchy up-tempo groove. As a further surprise, one of the album’s best tracks is the included cover of Venom’s “Countess Bathory”. While the Unleashed version is essentially just a heavier version of the original, it is a very fun track that demonstrates that the band is at their best when they are enjoying themselves.
Addressing the band’s performance on the album, there is really not much to criticize. Hedlund’s vocal performance is excellent, and represents the vocalist in his prime. In the band’s early years Hedlund contributed a much more deep and guttural vocalization than what can be found on later albums. While his vocals are still powerful on later recordings, the rough growls found on Shadows in the Deep fit the band’s style better than the more refined vocal performance seen in the band’s later career. Both the percussion and guitar work demonstrate a high level of musicianship, even though they are never really given any time to shine through solos. The album also has surprisingly good production, allowing all instruments and vocals to be heard clearly. The only point of criticism that can be made for the album’s musical performance is that while the bass is clearly audible, it often just mirrors the guitar work in an unimaginative way. While this is typical of early death metal albums, some inventive bass lines would have been a welcome contribution, serving to break up the constant emphasis on guitar riffs.
There are several negative aspects to Shadows in the Deep that must be noted. Perhaps the biggest drawback of the album is the inclusion of several lackluster songs, songs that are largely forgettable and serve no real purpose on the album. Some examples of this are “Never Ending Hate” and “Crush the Skull”, ironically the only two songs on the record that include guitar solos. While these are not necessarily bad songs, they come across as filler and take away from the integrity of the album as a whole. A reason for the inclusion of these filler tracks may be due to the extremely short length of time between studio albums in the band’s early career; Shadows in the Deep was released exactly one year after their debut. Besides lackluster tracks, the album also includes one song that is downright bad. This is the second track, “The Immortals”. The song is marred by an extremely annoying riff that repeats itself frequently throughout the song, and the parts that exclude the riff are simply uninteresting. One last negative point to be made about the album is that many of the tracks overstay their welcome, going on for far too long and repeating segments over and over unnecessarily. This gets tiring after a while, and unfortunately takes away considerably from the album’s replay value.
While there are several negative aspects that combine to detract from the album a fair amount, Shadows in the Deep is by no means a bad record. There are several brilliant tracks present on the album, and Johnny Hedlund delivers what is perhaps the best vocal performance of his career. The album also has historic importance as being one of the early examples of Swedish death metal, which would go on to be incredibly influential for the scene at large. Overall, Shadows in the Deep is a fun listen that deserves to be heard at least once by anyone with interest in the genre.