Punishing and gritty death metal from the Swedish legends
The crushing first wave of death metal that flooded Florida in the early to mid-1980s was a force destined to spread and envelope further reaches of the heavy metal world. And by the early 1990s, death metal’s growing empire had sprouted horns within the growing metal scene in Stockholm, Sweden.
Death metal was evolving and bands in Sweden were pioneering their own sound with an icy bleakness and images of Viking culture and Norse mythology all captured within the chaotic and blistering drum beats, ‘buzzsaw’ riffs and howls of the very likes of Unleashed. The Swedish death metal veterans boast a career spanning 23 years and 11 studio albums. With only two changes to their line-up since their formation in 1989, Unleashed is founder Johnny Hedlund (vocals, bass), Fredrik Folkare (lead guitar), Tomas Måsgard (rhythm guitar) and Anders Schultz (drums). Odalheim marks their eleventh studio album and second with Nuclear Blast.
Thematically, Odalheim is a continuation of the story told in 2010’s As Yggdrasil Trembles. Yggdrasil, the symbolic tree of life, begins to shake and tremble as it ushers in the world’s path to extinction (known as Ragnarök). This end to all life is preceded by a foul threefold winter known as Fimbulvetr (the great winter). The earth will be stripped bare and it will be left up to those worthy enough to survive to rebuild everything that was lost.
Odalheim opens with ‘Fimbulwinter’, an appropriately bleak and ominous contortion of rattling riffs and frenzied drum beats all with Hedlund’s signature vocals lashing and heaving throughout. It is a lot of what we’ve come to expect from Unleashed – punishing blast beats and serrated edged guitars; all rolled up into sounds of classic Viking death metal and gritty thrash. It is this grit that really gives Unleashed’s music a lift and, in fact, is best seen on ‘Fimbulwinter’. Indeed, I think Unleashed deliver their best moments on Odalheim when at their most harried and further examples include ‘The Hour of Defeat’, ‘Gathering the Battalions’ and ‘Germania’. The slightly slower and more dramatic songs like the title track ‘Odalheim’, ‘By Celtic and British Shores’ and ‘The Soil of our Fathers’ also impress once they kick into gear.
There are songs like ‘Rise of the Maya Warriors’ and the closer ‘The Great Battle of Odalheim’ which are rather forgettable but, on the whole, Odalheim is yet another highly impressive death metal album from the Swedish veterans.
(Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment)