UNLEASHED – As Yggdrasil Trembles

Though the Viking-obsessed Swedish death metal of UNLEASHED can’t be denied in terms of the influence it’s possessed over the course of time, the output of UNLEASHED post-reunion has been questionable at best. Hell’s Unleashed in 2002 was an embarrassing false start for the band, a blemish which was only slightly redeemed with 2004’s mildly more aggressive Sworn Allegiance.

It wasn’t until 2006’s Midvinterblot where things finally started coming together for the troupe who recorded such genre-defining classics as Across the Open Sea and Where No Life Dwells. The band were starting to dust off the proverbial cobwebs, and decided to focus on what they do best: simplistic, pounding death metal the old school way. This is the sound echoed and perfected once again on As Yggdrasil Trembles, a twelve track effort which serves as a veritable and historical chronicling of UNLEASHED’s mighty Viking history.

Indeed, bassist/vocalist/ex-NIHILIST man Johnny Hedlund and Co. have their creative heads firmly in place this time around, delivering an album which rides on—workmanlike in the best possible way—into glory and devastation, focusing primarily on delivering The Riff to their waiting legions. The effect was a whole is almost AC/DC-like in its simplistic furor—the band have never quite been as musically involved as their peers in ENTOMBED or DISMEMBER—but oh so rewarding in the end.

Similar to the reunion path of their countrymen GRAVE, UNLEASHED have finally returned for good this time ‘round with As Yggdrasil Trembles, a righteous return to form, and proof that Swedish Death Metal still conquers all. (Nuclear Blast)

IHSAHN: Progressive Thrills and Chills for a Post-Black Metal Age

The following interview with Ihsahn was conducted and gracefully provided by MetalGeorge for Examiner.com, as the site’s Cape Cod Rock Music Examiner (original article).

Having first acquired a copy of After-the third solo effort from former EMPEROR frontman Ihsahn-in late 2009, it was clear from the get-go that this truly was going to be the first great album of 2010. Time has proven this initial analysis correct, as After survives further investigation in spades, spreading the wealth of its expansive songwriting and proving-beyond a shadow of doubt-that Ihsahn has certifiably arrived as a solo artist. Notoriously perfectionist in his regard for art and music, Ihsahn spoke to Cape Cod Rock and shed a little light into exactly what sort of thoughts drive this creative, driven mind to unleash sounds beyond the oft-limiting parameters of the black metal spectrum.
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VREID – Milorg

Though the work of Norwegian black metal band WINDIR was well regarded for its time, the years have been far kinder to VREID, which rose from the ashes of WINDIR back in 2004 after the demise of the band’s frontman Valfar. Over the course of four LPs, VREID (Norwegian for “wrath”) have committed themselves to carrying their black metal roots with them, whilst tempering that white-hot fire with some cool-as-fuck alternate elements, the most electric of which is the inclusion of righteous, 70s styled rock.

Milorg takes this torch and runs with it, serving as VREID‘s finest and most self-actualized work to date. It’s here where the quartet (ex-WINDIR members Hvall on bass, drummer Steingrim and guitarist/vocalist Sture, alongside guitarist Ese) perfect their working class black ‘n roll aesthetic, resulting in the culmination of a journey: an album which defines a band and its theme.

Take the awesomely-titled track “Speak Goddamnit“, for example. Martial might abounds, tempered with a weird, but endearing bounciness which almost comes across as a diehard and dead serious FINNTROLL, if that makes any sense. Elsewhere, “Disciplined” rocks in a similar fashion (even featuring some tuneful clean vocals), whereas “Alarm” sets the band’s frosty Norse BM on the table, proving that VREID are on to something which they can truly call their own.

Milorg is a refreshing listen, indeed, and proves a solid purchase for any self-respecting underground minion. (Indie Recordings/The End Records)

THE ACCÜSED – The Curse Of Martha Splatterhead

Growing up a rabid thrash fanatic, you would assume that Seattle’s foremost (read: only) purveyors of “splatter-rock” would have been part of my daily diet of circle pits, mosh parts and skateboards (okay, I lied: I don’t skateboard)…but you’d be wrong. I was cognizant of them, of course, but, truth be told, I never really heard THE ACCÜSED until somewhat recently, and was left…unimpressed.

Add to this the fact that THE ACCÜSED‘s reunion album, The Curse Of Martha Splatterhead, is being released on Southern Lord of all labels, and this humble scribe is even more confused. Known primarily for their doom ‘n drone delving, the fact that The Lord is releasing a skate-thrash album of all things led to assume that Curse would just HAVE to be one bad-ass sonofabitch which would bring me back to the SUICIDAL mix tapes and METALLICA tees of my youth.

Again, agitation and confusion rule my world, as The Curse Of Martha Splatterhead–she, the band’s mascot for years now–lends itself to be a tired, uneventful foray of warmed over thrash. First and foremost, Brad Mowen‘s vocals are of the nasal hysteric, love them or hate them variety, with yours truly standing in the latter camp. Additionally, Tom Niermeyer‘s riff ability never overwhelms or dutifully impresses–apart from brief, shining moments of headbangability–which leads me to question any real relevance THE ACCÜSED‘s might possess: I just don’t get it.

Maybe it’s the matter of a meeting place and time, but–even after delving into THE ACCÜSED‘s back catalog–this sort of “splatter rock” doesn’t move me, baby. While I commend the band’s longevity, I’m having a difficult time recommending this record to anyone other than staunch fans and defenders from back in the day. (Southern Lord)

BEHEMOTH – Evangelion

Since their blackened inception in the early 90s, it must be said that BEHEMOTH bandleader Nergal‘s (a.k.a. Adam Darski) dogged determination is–at this point–beyond question. In a genre awash with blasting, technical death metal, the plain-as-day fact is that BEHEMOTH are at the top of the heap…and on top of their game.

While that game is crowded, indeed, Nergal and Co. put so much thought into their art–yes, I’m calling death metal “art”–that their unmatched superiority is nearly impossible to deny. Evangelion drives this point home yet again, inserting a well-deserved cerebral center into an often bull-headed genre. Anchored by the inhuman drumming of Robert “Inferno” Prominski and the subtly effective bass playing of Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski, the arrangements of Evangelion cleverly weave their spell around the listener, incorporating both hyperblast and mid-pace to their best advantage.

Indeed, it’s this instinctive tempo change which lends Evangelion its own unique flow; something which definitely serves to set itself apart from the single-mindedness which marred its predecessors, 2007’s The Apostasy and 2004’s Demigod. Nergal‘s ever-present emphasis on atmosphere also elevates Evangelion above so many of death metal’s also-rans; though admittedly the album’s headache-inducing blast sections can get to become incessant after a while, resulting in a certain numbness overall.

While it’s easy to be skeptical of merits within the clinical, Pro-Tooled death metal of the modern day, Evangelion‘s merciless might–to paraphrase a certain Mr. Perry–doesn’t stop believin’…and rarely lets up throughout its forty-five minute running time. BEHEMOTH sets the bar, and sets the benchmark. (Metal Blade)

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THE 69 EYES – Back In Blood

For over twenty years now, Finland’s THE 69 EYES have kicked out the Goth ‘n Roll jams with pomp an’ panache, to a (mostly) rapturous audience. Sure, there’s a certain derision by some of the heavy metal faithful at the unabashed neo-glam rock of bands like THE 69 EYES, H.I.M. and THE RASMUS, but Back In Blood proves that–ten studio albums after their inception–this Lapland quintet have their Rock ‘n Roll balls in check.

The proof and pudding behind the band’s longevity has a lot to do with their rock-solid list of influences. A direct line in the sand could be drawn from THE 69 EYES sound to that of their big haired 80s counterparts in THE CULT. Both bands ride that thin line between romantic mysticism and sidewalk sleeze, and capture a certain sturm und drang with their unabashed and shameless sense of drama.

THE 69 EYES temper that gothic soul with more than a fair share of punk rock snarl, however, with Back In Blood owing just as much to a band like THE RAMONES as it does the SISTERS OF MERCY. If anything negative could be said about THE 69 EYES, it’s that the formula has become a tad too predictable at this point, with the band’s most recent triumvirate of albums–2004’s Devils, 2007’s Angels, and this one right here–relying a wee too much on the caricature of THE 69 EYES, rather than the actual blueprint which blew them up in the first place.

So if THE 69 EYES are the AC/DC of the goth ‘n roll world, does Back In Blood rival Back In Black with regards to its awesomeness? Not quite–that award should most likely go to 1999’s Wasting The Dawn–but this album still has the big riffs and big hooks to deliver just the fanged bite you need. (The End Records)

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