Bringing forth their 12th studio album, Sweden’s Unleashed has, with Dawn of the Nine, successfully continued an aggressive, fairly melodic saga. Their previous release, Odalheim, released in 2012, began this journey.
Let’s pretend you’re a new fan, perhaps just introduced to death metal a little while ago, and your virgin ears have never heard Unleashed. If that’s the case, this disc will tear the seat off your pants and drop your jaw to the floor. From the pummeling, constant double-bass drum sonic pressure, to the low-pitched menacing growled vocals, to the blazing fast guitar solos woven into every song, Dawn of the Nine is a high-speed chase – an adventure in sound and prose through past Norse mythological battles. It is mid-tempo to high speed, fairly melodic and yet fairly dissonant, fairly brutal European death metal done right. Unleashed even borrows from rock and pop music’s dirty little secret to “winning listeners over”: adding subtle nods to their peers or influences (with titles like “The Bolt Thrower”, or making allusions to church burnings, or using the phrase “hammer battalions” repeatedly, and so on).
As for the old-school, somewhat jaded fans who have been following since Swedish death metal became known outside of Scandinavian bars and basements, this is very much, straightforward extreme death metal. It is formulaic, well-composed, and written as a direct appeal to Unleashed’s fanbase – especially fans who came onboard since their previous release. Fans eager to hear a continuation from Odalheim are going to enjoy this tremendously. Dawn of the Nine bears little resemblance to old-school Swedish death metal. The overall mix and master job has a fresh, “digital” presentation, free of the buzzsaw dirt, more barebones, riff-centric warmth of old. Instrumentation and performance are central foci. Guitars are crisp and modern-sounding, downtuned to the point of “djent” in spots. The double-bass drum work sounds quantized, or robotic, in that every beat is perfectly in place and has a similar dynamic: that gives an overall “clicky” undertone to most of the songs. Guitar solos are fast, bordering on shred style, and executed with a high degree of skill: all key in newer releases. The sound mix is good but imperfect: the double-bass drum sounds “clicky” and the snare and some cymbal work can be a bit buried. Raspy, growled, aggressive “typical death metal” vocals are ‘forward’ in the mix.
An interesting feature or hallmark of Dawn of the Nine is that there are several segues or interspersions… where the band goes from a raging, blasting beast to a more morbid, dreary, bleak shadow. Listen to the end of “Where Churches Once Burned” – the song ends, and then a totally different ‘acoustic fade to full band instrumental’ passage begins. Especially prominent also at the end of “Let The Hammer Fly”, these snippets sound very different from the bulk of the album. These passages are so different that they almost sound like “Easter eggs”, or hidden gems within tunes. Sonically, it feels like you’ve wandered into a hidden, unexplored room.
Unusually, “Where Is Your God Now?” lyrically incorporates and calls attention to their band name. Now, if you’re Manowar, that’s labeled “cheesy”, but if you’re Unleashed, it’s okay, as it’s unusual within the genre for a band to be that self-aware. Other lyrical themes focus around war and Norse mythology, but with less of a maritime vein then Odalheim. The title track, “Dawn Of The Nine”, starts off doomy or sludgy, with a minute-long instrumental passage (the most interesting texture being slide on guitar); the remainder becoming music with vocals. “Dawn Of The Nine” goes for some dynamics by quieting down to just vocals and drums, with the other instruments faded very much into the background at points. For a title track on an otherwise mid-tempo to fast record, this is unexpectedly slow and plodding, at least for the first three and a half minutes. Highlights from the disc include “The Bolt Thrower” for it’s mid-tempo raw power, and “Welcome The Son Of Thor!” for invoking some old-school Swedish death metal in the first couple minutes of the song.
Be watchful of your ‘lead foot’: Unleashed’s Dawn of the Nine is fantastic music for highway driving. This is definitely genre-upholding music with little creative strain; Unleashed have accomplished an (unarticulated) goal of presenting and upholding extreme metal to another generation of listeners. As a footnote, the album also features cover art by acclaimed artist Par Oloffson. So, like all music, it’s going to boil down to personal preference: are you aiming for a band with a revivalist bent to capture the buzzsaw, mid-tempo, more simplistic neck-breaking-riff monster material circa 1992? Pass this by. Are you looking for a disc with modern or more layered songwriting, fast enough tempoes to border on black metal at times, blazing guitar solos, with some melody in the tunes? Pick this up at once.
A New Day Will Rise
They Came To Die
Defenders Of Midgard
Where Is Your God Now?
The Bolt Thrower
Let The Hammer Fly
Where Churches Once Burned
Land Of The Thousand Lakes
Dawn Of The Nine
Welcome The Son Of Thor!
JOHNNY: Vocals, Bass Guitar