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With all the (justified) tumult over Amon Amarth, it's easy forget about the earlier Swedish Viking death metal act Unleashed. Before the mediocre Victory and the awful Warrior, they had a string of simple and straightforward records worth a damn. Across the Open Sea is the third of these, and in my opinion one of best albums of their career (until the excellent Sworn Allegiance in 2004).
Unleashed were a little simpler and more groove-laden than many other death metal acts during this period. The focus was not on sheer brutality but on making the best use of that classic guitar tone in tunes that rocked. I wouldn't call the band death'n'roll per se, they didn't take this to the extreme of Entombed or Desultory, but there is a little of that vibe present on this album.
"To Asgaard We Fly" opens the record at an eight-legged trot, with some breakdowns. "Open Wide" is slower and groovier, based around a simple chord progression but making good use of the guitar tone. "I Am God" uses a more traditional death metal riff, and "The One Insane" rocks out at a middle pace with some of those Entombed-like chords which hit you like a brick. Other nice touches on the album are the instrumental "Across the Open Sea", the blazing "Forever Goodbye ", and the groovy "Execute Them All". The cover of "Breaking the Law" is mediocre.
Across the Open Sea is dominated by its excellent guitar tone and solid drum battery. The bass is present but never quite enough to matter. Johnny Hedlund's are usually at their gruff best, but at a few points they seem less inspired. I wouldn't call the lyrics good: I am the psychopath/I live in my own world/I'll be the one you fear/...the one insane could hardly be considered poetic, but at least it fits the song. The band wasn't re-inventing the wheel at this point but their simple delivery and occasionally Viking folk-inspired lyrics did set them apart from some of the other Swedish death metal bands emerging at the time. This was their best effort prior to the millennium.
Being one of the earlier bands in the Swedish death metal scene, Unleashed shared the early days with Dismember and Entombed. After releasing two albums in "Where No Life Dwells" and "Shadows in the Deep," both of which are highly regarded by their fanbase, the Swedes turned their attention to Norse glory and warriors on "Across the Open Sea." Unleashed was one of the earlier bands to do this, perhaps even giving some inspiration to Viking warlords Amon Amarth who would make their claim to fame some time later. Yet even with more interesting lyrical topics (as opposed to the usual "death" and "destruction" of the first two albums) "Across the Open Sea" seems to suffer from standard songwriting and generally being less memorable than its predecessors.
Diversity is the name of the game on "Across the Open Sea," and I don't just mean the lyrical focus. I recognize some of these songs run in the vein of traditional death metal, and some I could say even go with something known as "death rock" or "death 'n roll." Fortunately, Unleashed don't break into the realm of Six Feet Under's various covers of rock songs, but for a lack of better terms I see songs like "The One Insane" as following a rock formula. The riffs are catchy and the songs are indeed quite heavy, but they can't stand up to the better moments on this album, which mimic more traditionalized death metal which Unleashed are better known for.
The more traditional death metal arises on tracks such as "The General" and "I Am God," but then move into more melodic territory on "Captured," which was a surprise on this album but a good one at that. One can also pick out the gritty and chunky riffs of "In the Northern Lands," which reminds me some of "Precious Land," a slower number that appeared on the next album "Victory." These heavy, fat riffs remind me some of Crowbar (and vice versa) but this is meant to be compliment to both bands as I hold both groups in high regard. Being a fan of slow, sludge-laden doom metal, "In the Northern Lands" stands as one of my favorite tracks on this record and one of the more memorable ones.
Johnny Hedlund makes head way into the album, giving out his usual gravelly yet intelligent snarls. I enjoy this brand of death metal the most, as the vocals are ferocious yet decipherable, never descending into the realm of ugly, disgusting barks that sound like recorded diarrhea, something that always kept me away from bands like Cannibal Corpse and more "extreme" death metal bands. Hedlund has none of this, and his vocals are well defined not to mention fit the music perfectly. He also stands as the best performance on "Across the Open Sea," due mostly to the production values. The instrumentation is strong in places, but flat in others. This goes drums, who don't carry much of an impact in some sections of the album and the bass is usually inaudible.
Unleashed took a few steps forward and some back here on "Across the Open Sea." I actually really like this album, along with their earlier two and enjoy the lyrical focus, which shifted away from the darkness of earlier albums. Yet on a musical scale it doesn't have the punch nor the memorability of its predecessors, though it is by no means bad. It stands about on par with the next album in "Victory," so if you liked that album you'll surely enjoy this one. Either way, its reliable if rather unremarkable Swedish death metal that any fan of Unleashed can surely get into. While I would recommend "Shadows in the Deep" first, "Across the Open Sea" is no slouch based on its own merit and deserves attention from any fan of the Swedish death metal genre.
With the third album, Across The Open Sea, finally Unleashed started to talk about the Vikings period and battles, leaving a bit behind the classic, a bit too common themes about darkness and death. This is where a new period begins for them even if the music has not changed because it’s always on death metal and that is good. In 37 minutes the same formula is displayed through always essential production and sounds. We can find also the classic mixture of fast paced tracks to more doom and darker sections where the band points everything on the sheer gloominess of the guitars.
“To Asgaard We Fly” is one of the most famous tracks by this band and it’s the first fast one with galloping riffs and the catchy chorus. The darkness and the essentiality of their sound is the most remarkable characteristic. Everything is sharp but also extremely gloom and if you are searching for a full sound, a powerful one you can be disappointed because these are not the most important elements in this sound. By the way, the band plays always quite well and with the right attitude even if the songs acquire more powerful in a live gig. So far, everything is good.
“Open Wide” is massive through mid-paced progression to evocate a sense of epic adventures and it’s not so well developed because has few riffs and few ideas. The general atmosphere is, by the way, quite good and with “I am God” we return to speed with simpler riffs and songwriting. This time the tremolo picking is the most used technique and it’s really dark. The vocals are always very good and suffered in many parts. They are screamed and never too growled or distorted but easily recognizable for their style and tonality.
“The One Insane” is a good example of mid-paced track where the riffs are always present and less derivative, sustaining the structure and catching the attention. The title track is an instrumental one with the arpeggios by an acoustic guitar and the glom/epic atmosphere. It’s a prelude to the monolithic riff to “In The Northern Sea”. The tempo is again not so fast with lots of stop and go parts by the guitars but it’s always quite enjoyable even if not stunning. To increase the speed and the violence we find “Forever Goodbye (2045)” while the return to mid-paced parts has the name of “Execute Them All”. The guitars are good at switching from palm muting to tremolo picking and the chorus is truly screamed and dark.
“Captured” features some clean arpeggios under the slow riffs and the vocals are darker. The restart by the middle is a bit more extreme and intense but we return immediately to the non-exceptional, slower progression. We can find a Judas Priest’s cover, “Breaking The Law”, obviously on speed with the strangely punkish vocals. It’s not bad and with the last “The General” we return to speed but everything seems a bit common and done before. In various parts, seems to me that the band is doing the homework without passion or the right rage and it’s a pity. Some parts also are a bit boring and the mid-paced tunes are not shining in originality.
All in all, this is an album that suffers a bit of the classic “less ideas” fever and it’s not at the same level of the precursors. It’s not bad but it’s a bit common and too lame. It’s better to check the efforts before this to have a good idea of what Unleashed is about.
The title says it all, folks. "Across the Open Sea" is a profoundly painful listening experience, as it never wanders into unknown territory further than mommy allows. In general, the oldschool speed/death riffage easily expresses a badass masculine attitude without the idiocy associated with the majority of "masculine" acts, hinting at adventure, slaughter, frenzied rape, and a mystical continuity of virile activity over the ages, regardless of socio-historical context. While this is perfectly evocative, great for goofing around in the woods and drinking some exquisite porter, the completely predictable and unimaginative (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus) song structures obstruct these phrases' capability to create a slightly more elaborate logical progression of ideas, leaving the matter to the listener's competence in its entirety. It is possible to create a consistent mythos out of these songs, therefore it can't be said that "Across the Open Sea" lacks substance - more like depth of inquiry into these ideas, such that would dispel the need for a temporary suspension of disbelief. I personally find it best to use this album as a soundtrack for an active day, and when in doubt, reassure myself that this is actually Venom gone viking-rock. Oh, and the acoustic title track's references to Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" are hilarious.
Unleashed's debut album was an absolute corker. Full of good riffs and great vocals. It was passionate, powerful death metal and a great example of just how damn huge Death Metal can be when it's done right. Unfortunately, like a lot of bands, Unleashed were unable to keep the spirit of their first record. Instead, we have a bunch of death metal songs, that while they are solid, better produced and less raw, they aren't anywhere near as pure, as passionate as Where no Life Dwells.
Don't get me wrong though, this is still a good album. Not much has changed. There's still the mid paced guitar riffs, the rythym section is capable without showing off, and while the vocals aren't quite as throaty and aggressive as they where in the Where no Life Dwells, they are still fairly aggressive and fit the music perfectly.
There's still plenty of awesome riffs to be found. To Asgaard we Fly is full of awesome galloping riffs with a nice mid tempo bridge. I am God is pretty damn fast, with some cool tremelo picked riffs. It's pretty menacing, and as good as anything of the first album. In the Northern Sea is full of effective and simplistic riffing, and Execute them All has a super powerful main riff that's very thrashy and extremely headbangable. Not all songs are good though.. The title track is decent, but the melodies in it aren't that good, and the song can't make up it's mind whether to be epic or an interlude. It would've been cool if it was nine minutes long and had some massive riffing, and it would've been cool if it was a minute long. But at 3 minutes, it overstays its' welcome and doesn't really achieve much. The Judas Priest cover is horrific. The singer may be a great growler, but he can't do Rob Halford.
So every song but two of them is pretty good.. Why only 70% then? Because the album just leaves you disinterested. Maybe it's just me, but it just doesn't sound like the guys in Unleashed were still excited about playing death metal, and decided to just churn out an album of songs. The production is more polished but it lacks the warmth and thickness of the first album, and the vocalist sounds like he can't be stuffed. Not a bad album by any means.. Just not a good one.
"Across the Open Sea" is a triumph of death metal songwriting. The Viking atmosphere/artwork and the bands performance make this CD an epic in hiding. Sadly, the production and sound are a bit flat compared to the bands other great works but the songwriting is more consitent and the mood even stronger than ever before. Hedlund and co. really put a good deal of thought into this record, despite the somewhat poor sound quality. (The rich, bassy tone is terrible flat on this record which Johnny commonly blames on a lack of new gear.) Whatever production flaws may exist though, the band plays like a bunch of barbarians at war and the songs are imaginative and full of great death metal riffage.
One may note that the Viking theme in the writing may have inspired the great songwriting on this record well beyond the lyrics. The lurching riffs, brutal pick up sections and the fact that not one song is truly without something unique makes this a landmark in death metal songwriting. The riffs sound like an epic film battle put to music, without all the fruity keyboards and choirs. (Not that there is anything wrong with those things if Bathory happens to do them, as a side note.) This is flesh against flesh and steel against steel. The music and lyrics lock together to forge the perfect mental imagry of the Viking in heated and hopelessy grim battle. This is something few supposed "Viking" bands have done and Unleashed deserve credit for putting the work in to create such a monster.
The only obscure note is a strange cover of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law". I don't know what the band were thinking...it's just...very...strange.
I have no qualms in suggesting this to EVERY death metal fan alive. Despite it's "iffy" sound the band is in fine shape here. I dare say this ranks with the Deicide, Entombed and Morbid Angel classics as a great record that MUST be recognized by the death metal community for it's brute force, amazing songwriting and amazing entertainment value.