Reviews : Albums : Unleashed, "Hammer Battalion"

Unleashed, "Hammer Battalion"
Hammer Battalion
2008, SPV
Unleashed, "Hammer Battalion"

In the old school of Swedish death metal, most of our favorite icons can be separated into convenient sub-genres such as the Gothenburg melodic death and Stockholm rough 'n' tumble. In the midst of these figures stands an uncompromising abberation--Unleashed--led by the incomparably boisterous archetype of the blond Viking metal bloke, Johnny Hedlund. His is a name no less iconic than, say, Mikael Stanne's or Tomas Lindberg's, but is probably less world-renowned. This is perhaps due in part to a particular uniqueness of Unleashed's that endures to this day, drawing from the macabre visuals and gainy production of one one school and the melodic savvy of the other. The lyrics further complicated their identity, since Unleashed are also widely considered as one of the first death metal bands to draw upon their Norse heritage for inspiration. Nowadays this approach is commonplace, with Amon Amarth being the foremost name to mention, but Unleashed's sound remains unmistakable and singular. Too, it seems unlikely that Johan Hegg and company would have enjoyed such success without Unleashed blazing a trail ahead of them.

And quite a trail it is, reaching remarkable proportions for a death metal band with nine LP's dating back to 1991. Over the years Hedlund's approach hasn't changed much--quick-hitting and catchy tracks with little fluff and not much room for developments--which does count against him in that the songwriting is unapologetically formulaic (although all Unleashed fans should have come to grips with this by now). Hedlund opens many tracks with a fearsome, typically four-second ejaculative howl, the band blasts away for a bit, then slips into a bouncy verse riff, a slightly more groovy chorus, repeat, a lively solo, verse, chorus, repeat, and it wraps up in about three-and-a-half minutes.

Fans may also notice the continuation of the Mjölner cover art theme that Unleashed have held to for the past few albums, but this time with an especially sensationalized twist that defies aesthetics and tradition. Indeed, if Thor were to lay eyes upon this specimen, chances are he would spit in distaste. Fortunately, though, the music itself is thoroughly in the Unleashed traditions; Norse lore and Viking ideology abound, framed in simplistic rhyme schemes and delivered by Hedlund's weathered bark. These themes are of course familiar, but on 'Hammer Battalion' Hedlund intended to champion a lifestyle and ideology of independence--and perchance rebellion--more explicitly than ever before.

In most other respects, 'Hammer Battalion' is hardly different from recent Unleashed efforts, particularly the invigorating 'Midvinterblot', but it shows Hedlund to have honed his approach to a sharply efficient edge. With this release, Unleashed remain a standout voice in the metal world, steadfast and continually as fresh as a mead horn of plenty.