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Maximum Intensity! - 92%

soul_schizm, July 11th, 2011

This particular release arrived on my doorstep in the context of an unmitigated CD-buying binge of long ago, and would likely have been lost in the shuffle if it hadn't been for the singluar rawness of the production values and the sheer muscular power of it all. Back then you had to blow my head off to get my attention or you were lost, sometimes for years, and maybe forever. I was buying that much metal -- I'm sure some can relate. There's just a ton of material out there, it's simply difficult to cut through to a metalhead's inner soul.

Well, I'm proud to annouce Unbound cuts through. With a vengeance. You see, power & glory has a beauty and rarity all its own. Sharpening one's blade can be done by anyone, but sharpening it to the peak of ripping glory? That's an accomplishment for only the few...

And so we arrive at Merciless' accomplished talents. The power and the glory. Because that's what Unbound is, at its heart. Blow the doors off everything, use the sharpest blade, bare it down to its roots, and cut to the deepest core. A monumental task, and one that a great many bands fail at. But this group? It's an effortless endeavor.

Stylistically I really feel like there's a healthy dose of Kreator in here. I know Merciless are a band of Swedes...that's cool and all, and definitely there's a plenty of the old Swedish death on display. But listening to it more & more, I can hear Mille's influence happening, both in terms of Rogga's throaty shouting and the dissonant twisting riffwork delivered by Erik Wallin. The punch is pure Kreator wonderfulness -- it's an asset these guys can wear as a badge of honor as far as I'm concerned, as few can match the intensity of the German thrash legends. And Merciless pulls it off. I mean come on, that opening riff on Feebleminded would do anyone proud, but certainly Mille and the boys can sit back and say to themselves...."we inspired that." And there's nothing wrong with it. It's fantastic - more bands should wear Kreator as a feather in their cap.

A certain amount of modal melody is employed on Unbound. I love that these guys aren't afraid to phrase their riffs towards the lyrical. You can't sing along -- no, that's too far. But there's logic and a certain cyclical sensibility here. Not everything is a Slayer-esque atonal assault. Witness the chrous section of the title track, or the middle break in Back to North. There's an attempt at a change here, and it's toward the melodic. To be sure, the vocals can't be involved -- Rogga is pure thrash/death, not going to happen. But the guitars, and even the bass, can pick up where the vocals can't. Through it all, the melodic parts never take out the muscular tension supplied by the rest of the material, but rather offer an interesting and welcome counterpoint to the traditional laser-precise thrash delivery.

And then again, there's a time to just assault until the cows come home, such as in Nuclear Attack, or the aforementioned Feebleminded. Merciless has no shortage of intensity, and can dish out blast-beat thrash with the best of them. Nuclear Attack in particular contains some of the most honest blasting on the CD, and I'd put it up against pretty much anything in the genre. Love the cow bell in the closing moments. Nice touch.

The production on Unbound is stripped down and in-your-face. Effects processing is kept to a minimum, with the majority of the alterations happening on Rogga's vocals (some echo/reverb added). Even then, the vocals are a throaty shout, without much alteration. The mix is very guitar-heavy, and I find the drums are perfectly placed, although for my money I would prefer a bit stronger representation from the bass drums. The bass guitar gets lost a little bit here, and if there is one fault I would point there. But its not bad enough to ruin the experience. Merciless' performance on the CD is well-rehearsed and well-executed throughout, and the produced mix and strategy employed in the sessions draws out that performance, as it should. These guys knew what they were doing, which only adds to the mystery as to why they didn't break out like other bands did...

Unbound was a lost classic, being released on a small label and never really seeing the light of day. There are likely hordes of fans of the genre who would love to get their hands on a slab of pulsating madness like Unbound. Fortunately, with the invention of mp3 and massive online retailers, you should be able to find the songs if you want. I wholeheartedly recommend it. Merciless is a band that was always going to be more than they ended up being, but somehow never got the chance to break through. But all along they produced great stuff, and Unbound is no exception.