After hearing JUDAS PRIEST and SLAYER, among others, pull this trick recently, a friend and I decided that there was one way to tell when a band officially had become old — not bad, or useless, just preaching to the converted and officially locked into their signature style. Listen to the words — as soon as a band starts dropping references to their past album and song titles into current lyrics, put 'em on the nostalgia circuit. If there was a Branson, Missouri for metal bands, they'd have a theater and a heavy metal revue four times a day, complete with gift shop.
Well, UNLEASHED is officially out to that pasture, based on their talk here of "Shadows in the Deep", "Sworn Allegiance", and a whole lotta mentions of victory, warriors, and immortals. It's not like anyone has ever accused these nutty Swedes of blatant originality anyway — they nailed down their take on Swedish death metal back in 1991, and have made minor adjustments since. 2004's "Sworn Allegiance" was a certified ass-kicker, though, bringing them into the new millennium with style after tepid 2002 comeback "Hell's Unleashed". So why not stop there and keep the hits a-comin'?
For their first-ever record not on the Century Media label (and that's kinda weird in itself — come on, who drops UNLEASHED??), the band does just that. You get fast-paced, energetic, rocked-out death metal with ferocious, well-enunciated vocals and awesomely catchy riffs, simple workingman's death metal with ludicrous Viking themes you can't help but get behind. Whether making the case for hooking up with Sauron (apparently, Vikings can go to Middle-Earth) in "We Must Join With Him", or raising a toast to the hope of a prosperous new season in the title track (sort of the Viking equivalent to a corporate annual report, I guess), mainman Johnny Hedlund delivers the goods with so much gusto, and the band is hammering on these death metal anthems with such conviction and prowess, it's hard to imagine any metalhead not being moved.
UNLEASHED is a friggin' treasure, and we're lucky they got back together for another swing of the axe (or of Thor's hammer, as the case may be). "Midvinterblot" isn't that much different than "Sworn Allegiance" — a little faster and more blast-y overall, maybe – but it's an infectiously enjoyable album of revved-up death metal delivered in the old-school way. And really, would you want — or expect — anything else? Raise the horns!