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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.