Unanimated – Victory in Blood Review

Unanimated is a historical oddity of sorts. Emerging from the Swedish death metal scene in the late 80s, they were one of the first bands to play what we now think of melodeath. Their 1993 In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead debut hit the same year as Dark Tranquillity‘s debut and At the Gates sophomore platter, but Unanimated‘s music was darker and creepier with a strong black metal element winding through its twisted core. Though the debut has gone on to become a minor cult classic, the band was quickly left behind as their contemporaries garnered all the fame and attention. There was a gap of some 14 years between their second and third release, and now after 12 years, we get their fourth outing, Victory in Blood. Their approach has evolved a good deal since we last heard them, and now they sound like the halfway point between Gothenburg and Stockholm death metal, with a goodly dose of Dissection added to the mix. With members of Dismember and Unleashed involved, this is heavier than much of what Dark Tranquility and At the Gates have done. It’s bruising stuff, but there’s still melody and a rough polish to it, and it certainly doesn’t sound like it came from a band out of action since 2009.

If you went by cuts like the savage title track and the furious, Dismember-esque “Seven Mouths of Madness,” you would think you fell into a Swedeath septic tank full of bitey waste leeches. Riffs are razor-sharp and come at you from all angles and there’s plenty of raw, ugly aggression to be had. Black metal aesthetics elbow and shove for breeding room against the overwhelming death metal tropes and the songs shake with risibly seething energy. “The Devil Rides Out” however is 100% blasty black metal with more than a little Storm of the Light’s Bane in its unstable DNA, and XIII tries out a more epic approach that sounds like a more completely blackened Amon Amarth crossing swords with Immortal. This is a band with their fingers in several meat pies and it can be a blessing a curse over the course of the album.

While things do jump around from track to track as the band searches for the proper alchemy of death and black metal ingredients, they’re skilled enough to keep things interesting and entertaining for much of the albums 47 minutes. “Demon Pact (Mysterium Tremendum)” is unabashedly second wave in its blackened assault but adds a very effective segment where eerie ritual chants cascade over grinding, doomy riffs and mournful flourishes. Not everything the band attempts comes off, however. “As the Night Takes Us” goes for moody atmosphere but comes off as second-rate Moonspell,  “Scepter of Vengeance” feels generic in its black thrashing approach, and 7-minute closer “The Poetry of the Scared Earth” adopts a slower, grinding style that works at first but grows tiresome.1 Bloat infects several otherwise solid cuts as well. XIII is about a minute too long, and “Demon Pact” could stand some trimming too. There are also two interludes that add little to the overall package, and their inclusion makes the album feel overlong.

Unanimated is full of scene vets, and you hear it in the performances. Johan Bohlin and Jonas Deroueche churn out scads of black metal and Swedeath riffs, piling them on top of each other or pitting them against each other like illegal Pokémon deathmatches. There are some impressive moments of ugliness and polish scattered over the album and they do their level best to keep you on task. Original vocalist Micke Jansson does a very good job throughout, shifting between blackened rasps and more death-appropriate roars as the material demands. I personally prefer the death metal side of his performance, but he’s good across the boards.

I was surprised to see a new Unanimated release in the sump, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but Victory in Blood is a solid, enjoyable, and lively death/black hybrid. If nothing else, it might be a gateway for some to discover or rediscover their excellent debut and explore the history of a band that should have ended up getting much more attention. Give it a spin to drown out all the Mariah Carey Christmas nonsense you’ll be hearing for the next 30 days.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kpbs mp3
Label: Century Media
Website: facebook.com/unanimatedofficial
Releases Worldwide: December 3rd, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. I do however like the way it opens almost exactly like Judas Priest‘s timeless classic, “Victim of Changes.”
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