These days, death-metal bands push the envelope by getting faster, more technical and less approachable. All praise to the mighty Thor that Swedish veterans Unleashed are still around to prove that there’s more to quality death-metal than BPM. While the Swedish veterans don’t hold a candle to Brain Drill or Origin in terms of speed or virtuosity, their ninth album, Hammer Battalion, rests its Viking battle odes and anti-Christian screeds on a bedrock of stellar songwriting.
And that means groove-centric verses, kickass choruses and perfect guitar solos. Construction-wise, Hammer Battalions’s thirteen tracks couldn’t be tighter. Unleashed have mastered the art of the memorable death-metal punch line as presaged by song title — whether or not you’re down with the band’s bible-bashing, you’ll find yourself grunting alongside Johnny Hedlund as he hurls out “The passion of the Christ/ The greatest of all lies” (“The Greatest of All Lies”) in a perfectly articulated growl. “This Day Belongs to Me” is similarly deserving of a raised battle ax, with its mid-tempo swagger and populist call to arms: “Now is my time/ Odin, set me free/ This day belongs to me.”
Hammer Battalion has the bulletproof consistency you’d expect and hope from a band that’s only swapped one member since forming in 1989. Unleashed are working with the same musical and thematic elements that initially placed them among the Swedish death-metal elite in the early ’90s, with more polish and a bit more black-metal influence than on their early releases. But by now, we know better than to expect innovation from Unleashed. The true gift of Hammer Battalion is a reminder that quality songwriting still has a place in the brutalverse.