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Felix 1666, September 2nd, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak, Limited edition)

Welcome to the clearly structured poetry of good old Johnny Hedlund. On the one hand, his world is full of "unleashed hammer battalions", "immortal armies" and "simple but honest people", on the other hand we have this goddamned Christianity that kills the origin culture of the once innocent Vikings in the most perfidious manner. Nice to know that things can be so easy. Do not get me wrong, I am not intending to reject this tradition-conscious approach completely. Yet in times of Islamist terror attacks, I am quite unsure whether these lyrics are still up-to-date. Maybe it is time to reject old enemy images. Anyway, Hedlund and his comrades are not known for their flexibility. And, to be honest, that's not a bad thing. With regard to "Dawn of the Nine", Unleashed present themselves one more time as a reliable partner for their supporters. Experiments, surprises or innovation? You must be kidding. I am speaking about Unleashed, the unpretentious, non-pompous Swedish genre flagship - and I believe that the majority of their loyal fans does not want to be confronted with anything else but generic death metal.

The full-length shows the typical picture of the Scandinavian marathon runners. Some mid-paced pieces attack intransigently, fast outbursts like "They Came to Die" add a spicy flavour. The upright four-piece has been in the business long enough in order to create appropriate genre tracks and the experience of the musicians shimmers through every composition. "Dawn of the Nine" is another work that gives the lie to all those who say that progressive song patterns are indispensable for the creation of an interesting record. Unleashed illustrate once again that more or less conservative schemes can work sufficiently well. Moreover, the sound of the album finds the right balance between density, massiveness and transparency. One can blame Nuclear Blast for many of their actions, their flamboyant advertising, the collaboration with grotesque jumping jacks such as Sabaton or Sonata Arctica and their missing company profile, to name but a few examples. Yet it cannot be said that the enterprising Germans are well known for low budget productions.

"Dawn of the Nine" sounds neither totally fresh nor does it indicate that Unleashed should call it a day. The album belongs to these numerous works that impress with a strong beginning and fail to keep the level until the end. Both the death and doom combining title track and the closer enrich the output rather in terms of quantity than in terms of quality. Nevertheless, the vast majority of death metal fans will find a couple of tracks that will make their day. In my humble opinion, the partly apocalyptic "Where Is Your God Now?" with its hovering guitar lines between verse and chorus or the uncompromising "Let the Hammer Fly" stand out, but the two openers also should not be left unmentioned in this context. So what does this all mean at the end? Well, the four musicians play their parts very professionally. The solos and the further instrumental parts shine with coherence, the melodies do not lack of robustness and Hedlund's vocals appear as strong as ever. "Dawn of the Nine" is a resilient, very solid album and its best songs can more or less compete with classics such as "Onward Into Countless Battles" or "To Asgaard We Fly". ("Before the Creation of Time" remains naturally unaffected.) But is it a necessary album? Decide for yourselves.

A Nod and a Toast to War-Weary Vikings - 70%

doomknocker, June 24th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

You just can't keep the premiere Nordic death metal horde down no matter what. Though my exposure to them has been very limited over the years, recent outputs have proven to show the kind of longevity you'd hope for with a group with this caliber and level of appreciation that comes with it. It’s not all that often you see a band go about things in a strong and powerful way and are still able to maintain that level of creative juice flowing two decades or so later, so for that good on ‘em, and then some. Being able to keep the flame going as brightly as can be whilst others suffer and slowly disintegrate

As far as their latest work is concerned, while still containing a good amount of legit death metal fury, a further inkling of melody and deeper sense of song craftsmanship is very evident. Still brutal and wild in its own right, yet the main tone of it all feels less like bloodthirsty Vikings tearing forestland asunder in search of as much holy blood to shed as possible and more of those same berserkers fresh off the war fields confidently striding in victory with the caveat of potential happenstance victims on their path, should they rear their ugly heads. Certainly focused and tight for the most part, yet only containing as much spirit as the material and level of performance could exude in themselves. But to be fair that’s not a bad thing, seeing as the end results are still as potent and strong as can be, more memorable in itself than many other death/extreme metal acts that have come and gone over the years. Seems the mighty Swedes only require(d) so much simple brutality and their method of more smooth musical craftsmanship of the sounds of old is able to be far more remarkable and indelible all its own (to wit: the various bouts of inescapable fury ala the blistering “Where Is Your God Now?” and the crawling torment of the title track.)

To a certain extent, that is…for while the creatives forces contained therein never dip below simply “good”, the album tends to drag here and there, specifically the moments where one would either expect or wish for tempos to move beyond the mid-to-semi-fast-paced range they tend to reside most of the time. It could just be how it is with these veterans of drinking horn-clad death (as I’d said before, I only know so much of what they have and do, easily far less than many of you out there), and if so then it does seem to work for them. The guitars are still real sheen and sharp, the rhythms puissant and more than simply moderate in its devastation, and the front growls are decipherable and honest yet not exactly strong in the grand scheme of things. They have no shortage of beef or energy behind them, just that the tone feels a touch off given the music at hand. But that could just be a small potatoes argument given how many out there (yours truly included) would prefer to hear the words over indecipherable nonsense. Even if it’s part of the repertoire (which, let’s be honest, it isn’t always…).

All in all “Dawn of the Nine” really shines when and where it happens to and can no doubt serve to gloss up your European extreme metal collection as well as it can, but I feel that’s all it can do at this point. Unleashed have definitely earned their spot as a death metal institution wit the best of them, there’s no doubt in my mind, but for me that may be as far as they can go in terms of full-on appreciation. Respected and occasionally enjoyed, if nothing else.

Amon Amarth Want To Be As Good As This - 90%

Daemonlord, May 28th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

Believe it or not, this is full length studio album number twelve from Johnny Hedlund and his bunch of merry men. Considering they’ve had a career spanning over 25 years, I suppose you could say they’ve been fairly consistent to their fans. For me, they’re a band I’ve followed for the majority of their career, from the early classic Swedish death metal efforts, through to what I considered their sketchy barren period of ‘Victory’, ‘Warrior’ and ‘Hell’s Unleashed’, back through to the quality of ‘Sworn Allegiance’ and onward into glory. Generally I think you’d be hard pushed to say they’ve stumbled massively in quality for a good decade plus, and ‘Dawn of the Nine’ continues their roll of catchy, chest beating anthemic death metal.

My particular favourite things about Unleashed are all present and correct. Firstly, Johnny’s signature growl (which has gruffness and venom aplenty, yet having the power to cut through for crystal clear lyrical enunciation) is on fine form, leading this album into another great success for “storytelling” in extreme metal form. Lyrically, I think the guy is a master – rousing and inspiring, exactly what I look for in metal. Secondly, the riffage. The DAMN riffage. Tomas Olsson and Fredrik Folkare have to be one of the most under-appreciated guitar duos in extreme metal, rarely failing to dredge out the very slimiest, catchiest riffs for each successive album, even though they’re plagued with the same issue all current songwriters have – the majority of the good ones were already written 25+ years ago.

Opening with ‘A New Day Will Rise’, they instantly find their feet with a threateningly devious riff, the sort that coils around you seductively, before Johnny begins belching his toxic diesel infested ‘Our time will come, a new day will rise!”. Before you know it, all furniture within a 3 metre radius has been upturned and you’re in paroxysms of metal-inflicted bliss. This formula is used throughout to great effect, the band’s greatest asset as far as I’m concerned. ‘They Came To Die’ is a classic Unleashed neck-snapper, high paced and packed with rumbling riffage and Johnny gasping and growling his way through another pounding success story. ‘Where Is Your God Now?” sets ornaments tumbling once more through involuntary limb flailing, such is the massively involving up tempo urgency, ‘The Bolt Thrower’ is a pounding, mid-paced beauty which references a ‘master of war that feels no pain’ setting small creatures scurrying in fear from its bounding energy.

One thing I really recognised upon the first listen that there is no filler here. No downtime, no dull bits – you’re captivated throughout. Best enjoyed with a beer tinged bloodstream, a healthy neck (with a fluid range of motion) and some working eardrums; ‘Dawn of the Nine’ kicks all sorts of arse. The death metal granddads have done it again, wiping the floor with a large percentage of the modern imitators – so drink in the goodness and throw the horns high for another dose of quality death.

Originally written for www.avenoctum.com

An extremely impressive release - 94%

Cause of Death, May 5th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak, Limited edition)

Many were highly impressed with Unleashed's 2012 release, "Odalheim", which showcased a greater amount of black metal influence and featured more clever songwriting (a departure from the band's to-the-point, galloping, "death metal warhorse" trademark). I still listen to the album regularly, though I don't think it was completely perfect, containing some more awkward ideas as well (the chorus of "The Soil of our Father", for example). When I listened to "Dawn of the Nine", I didn't know what to expect. I knew it would be good (I mean, it is Unleashed after all!), but wondered if the band would take a step back to old school death metal, or tread further on in the path of "Odalheim" and expand upon that style?

What makes this such a great album is that Unleashed somehow managed both, sounding fresher and more inspired than they have in ages. Tracks like "Where Is Your God?" and "Welcome the Son of Thor!" gallop away, bringing to mind classics like "Before the Creation of Time", "Onward into Countless Battles", "To Asgaard We Fly", etc. whereas others like "Land of the Thousand Lakes" feel very fresh and interesting, and are naturally filled to the brim with killer death metal riffs. Particularly "Welcome the Son of Thor!", a track which contains what may possibly be the absolute best chorus I've heard in years. It's powerful, melodic, chant-worthy, and completely unforgettable.

I would argue that this album scales back the black metal element somewhat, focusing more on a death metal sound. However, elements of black metal are still evident in tracks like "They Came to Die", an absolute monster of a track. But the true monster here is "The Bolt Thrower". All I can say is, the track truly lives up to it's name, containing absolutely crushing death metal riffs, Bolt Thrower-esque ones, that would have turned heads even on "The IVth Crusade". There is also the epic title track, which is something I've never really heard Unleashed do before. It is very dark, moody, and atmospheric, but very well-executed and powerful.

The production is also very good. The guitar tone could deal with holding a bit more grit, but a close listen reveals a relatively "organic" sound. I have always made fun of Johnny's bass tone because of how fucking weak it sounds on "Master of the Ancient Art" (off "As Yggdrasil Trembles"), during the verse where the guitars stop (which is the only time you can really hear it if I recall correctly). However, after hearing this one I seem to be eating my words a bit...his tone is extremely delicious here. It cuts through the mix really well and adds a great deal to not only the album's brutality, but also the atmosphere. He is truly an underrated bassist...and vocalist! On top of the killer bass playing, Johnny's vocals are incredible here (which should not be a surprise!), delivering some of his best stuff in ages.

Overall, anyone missing out on "Dawn of the Nine" is missing out on life itself. The album is simply awesome, and destined to become a future classic (well...at least in my mind).