Sworn Allegiance

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In some respects, Unleashed is to death metal what AC/DC is to hard rock, or the Ramones to punk: creatively steady along the genre's formative guidelines to the point of repetition -- but so good at what they do that their tricks still seem to work every time. So good, in fact, that the price of serious evolution is probably too steep to risk paying at this stage of the band's decade-plus career, making 2004's excellent Sworn Allegiance -- the band's seventh studio album -- a gratefully surprise-free effort. Raging opener "Winterland" is quite simply a stone-cold classic -- as perfect an example of the Scandinavian death metal template as one could expect; and ensuing numbers like "Destruction (Of the Race of Men)," "Helljoy," and "Insane for Blood" storm past in similar fashion: corrosively heavy, reliably urgent, and remarkably danceable. Ok, that "danceable" reference would be metal-speak for possessing massive grooves -- something Unleashed has always excelled at -- but you get the picture. The band also remains quite unique for touching upon any number of topics from song to song. As such, Unleashed is as likely to inject slices of real-life social commentary ("CEO") into their lyrics, as explore traditional Viking subjects ("Attack!," the colossal "The Long Ships Are Coming"), as embark on anti-religion spats ("One Night in Nazareth," the impossibly venomous "Praised Be the Lord"). And then there's the necrophilia-premised "Only the Dead," which is easily the sickest, most shocking display of death-defiling perversion since Slayer's brilliantly gruesome "Necrophiliac" two decades earlier -- yet, for some strange reason, it's still by far funnier than it is creepy. The also quite memorable "To MiklagÄrd" (featuring extended guitar solos from axe-men Frederik Folkare and Tomas Olsson) revisits the Viking metal theme one last time, and the terrifically nippy "Long Live the Beast" wraps up what is sure to stand as one of the more consistent outings in Unleashed's enviably accomplished career. Bottom line, heavy metal as both lifestyle and entertainment doesn't get much better than Unleashed.

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