Snatching back their bloody crown from deathly pretenders and black metal johnny-come-latelies, Swedish metal icons Unleashed remain resolute and all Dorian-Gray. Fucking seriously, Johnny Hedlund and company attack the material on Hammer Battalion with the vicious verve and fury of a much younger band. It’s unfettered power from the word go; a few seconds into the sawing “The Greatest of All Lies,” heralded by a bloody scream and slashing riffs.
Lyrically and thematically, the album starts on a standard anti-Christian note with “Greatest of All Lies” and then “Long Before Winter’s Call” seems to recount the whole story of Jesus, but from there things really start cooking as the band delves headfirst into Norse iconography. This is more like it! Death/black metal shouldn’t just be a negation of Christianity, but a creation of a new way. So whereas a lot of bands just go on and on about how God sucks and churchgoers are sheep (zzzzz), Unleashed are busy smashing their enemies and sundry Frost giants with hammers, surrendering to their warlust, going on grand quests with their brethren and raising a flagon of mead in remembrance to dead comrades. Sounds fucking awesome. And the head-trauma bludgeon of their music provides the ideal accompaniment. This subject matter really revs Unleashed up to new heights — shifting the music into almost a more heroic and epic reverie. They wear it well as “Warriors of Midgard,” “Black Horizon” and “Entering the Hall of the Slain” attest.
Hedlund’s vocals sound like Gothmog from the third Lord of the Rings film, the guitars are like a compact history of heavy metal, veering from tearing thrash movements to immovable columns of crackling deth-distortion, clean, harmonic soloing and attention-deficit-disorder rhythms that shift and mutate into unpredictable charges and martial bludgeoning. You’ve gotta understand, they’ve somehow figured out how to have their (deathly) cake and eat it too. Hammer Battalion is a record that revels in both the heavy, primitive bashing of their death (and black) metal roots, while being technical, confident and well-assured enough to take on the likes of Slayer. This is the kind of thing that Manowar and Hammerfall and so many others have been trying to pull off for years now!
So much more than just a mere return to form, Hammer Battalion is a serious contender for metal album of the year. There, I said it.
SPV Records: www.spv.de