Steel Druhm and I often yarn about how old we are. To give you an idea just how ancient, I was running a fanzine when Nihilist splintered off into Entombed and Unleashed. I received promos (on cassette!) of the first two Unleashed albums in my P.O. box, NOT my inbox. I interviewed Johnny Hedlund 23 years ago over a land line using a mini cassette recorder. I loved their early works, but lost some of my passion after Across the Open Sea, and Unleashed definitely shed a few teeth in the ensuing years, even briefly succumbing to the death n’ roll craze, but somehow they managed to avoid drifting into irrelevance. 2004’s Sworn Allegiance was a return to a ballsier form and subsequent albums saw them slowly ascending back to the lofty halls of Valhalla, finally perfecting their sound on 2012’s Odalheim; a virtual Ragnarok in Unleashed‘s career. Can they continue on this upwards path with Dawn Of The Nine or do they fall back down in the seemingly Sisyphean task of trying to remain relevant after 25 years in the game?
While Dawn Of The Nine is not the broad axe to the skull that Odalheim was, it’s what a veteran band with over a quarter century under its tunic should sound like – refined and confident; brutal yet sophisticated. Opening track, “A New Day Will Rise” firmly establishes that Unleashed are in fine form, with a marching feel and Hedlund’s distinct vocals as guttural, yet more decipherable than ever. Meanwhile, guitarists Tomas Olsson and Fredrik Folkare layer parts and create an atmosphere so haunting over such brutal music with nary a keyboard anywhere to be heard, and Anders Schultz is a monster behind the kit and knows when to make a flesh wound and when to go for the throat.
“Where Is Your God Now?” opens with the trademark Hedlund scream. If you don’t know what I am writing about, you aren’t an Unleashed fan. Typically Hedlund screams to the rafters and a blast beat immediately ensues. You know it is going to happen, you can feel when it’s about to happen, and like the Fonz going, “Heyyy,” you just can’t wait until it does.
I’m a big sucker for a song that starts with bass, and “Land Of The Thousand Lakes” opens with a monstrously deep, slow, clanging riff before taking a jarring right turn into a double bass gallop. Perhaps their best moment, not only on this album but perhaps their whole career, is the title track, which may be the slowest they’ve ever been, but oh what a menacing, plodding beast it is. Hedlund delivers one of the most emotive vocal performances in all of death metal, and it’s even more impressive because you can understand every word. Never accelerating over the mid-paced chug of the solo break, this is the longest and most repetitious track of the album, but also the most effective.
Unleashed fans of old will raise a chalice in honor of the great Swedish warriors continuing their battle with more ferocity than ever. Those of you not even born when their debut was released, take a page from the history books and learn that Unleashed, despite their elder status, are not resting on their laurels and remain bloodthirsty. With Dawn Of The Nine, they’ve taken the best elements of all they’ve done thus far and blended them into a cohesive whole to produce a career-defining record as good as almost anything they’ve done. With the bevy of death metal bands trying to emulate the Swedish masters of old, it’s refreshing to hear one of the progenitors come along and wipe the floor with the new bloods. Truly one of the best albums of Unleashed‘s career and undoubtedly one of the best death metal albums of the year.