There are a long list of surefire signs a band has reached the mature, elder-dog stage of their life, and are no longer going to dazzle you with innovation or throw you any curveballs. Dropping references to their classic song titles in their new lyrics is a big one, and UNLEASHED played that card a while back. They evoke a corollary to that rule on "As Yggdrasil Trembles", on arguably the album's best cut, "Wir Kapitulieren Niemals" — perhaps realizing that such a title won't trip off the tongue of sweaty New World audiences, frontman Johnny Hedlund makes every other line of the verses, literally, "Viking death metal! Viking death metal!!!" You know, in case you picked up an album called "As Yggdrasil Trembles" expecting new-age zither with oboe and bird calls.But if UNLEASHED have amiably, firmly settled themselves into a give-the-people-what-they-want rut... who cares? It's been years since they last put out an uneven album, the wobbly post-reunion comeback "Hell's Unleashed". Everything they've released since then, including this album, is solid, satisfying, to the point, precision tooled (wait for it) "Viking death metal"!! Sure, there are subtle shades if you dig -- 2008's "Hammer Batallion" was a little darker and more sinister, while "Sworn Allegiance" was catchier with more moments of upbeat groove. But to most of the world, debating these finer points would seem like pointless wankery. Some things are meant to be enjoyed without a lot of analysis, and latter-day UNLEASHED certainly fits that category. Not that all is beer-drinking "joy in the sun" in the UNLEASHED camp. Tales of battle, destruction, the return of Norse ways and the twilight of the Christian occupation of the Viking lands are, as always, the heady topics up for discussion. But even at their most blast-beat frostbitten and battle-begrimmed, as on "Chief Einherjer", Hedlund and the lads are dishing out relentlessly hooky, ear-friendly death metal, with soloing informed by classic metal and sly, airy guitar melodies that open up a lot of dynamic space in the otherwise-simple arrangements. A song like "Return Fire" is way more dense than anything the band could have pulled off in their original early-1990's heyday, and bits like the sinister, scraping chorus of "Far Beyond Hell" show a comparatively complex, mature band. But above all, UNLEASHED very consciously maintain that thrashy, atavistic, utterly headbangable fury and drive that made the band rise above the hordes the first time around. I think my favorite of the post-comeback albums is still "Midvinterblot", but again, they're four albums into a hellacious winning streak here, and everything they've released since 2004 has been pretty much awesome. If you don't like UNLEASHED, then you don't like "Viking death metal!!" and you may, at your earliest convenience, leave the hall.
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