Unleashed has had a remarkable career. Exploding out of the gates with “Where No Life Dwells” (1991) (reviewed here and recently reissued on vinyl (again)) and “Shadows in the Deep” (1992), the Swedish killers settled into more sustainable mid-tempo groove for “Across the Open Sea” (1993), “Victory” (1995) and “Warrior” (1997). They took a bit of a break after “Warrior”, but came back in 2002 with the half fun, half dreadful “Hell’s Unleashed” which kicked off a string of releases that got better as they went: “Sworn Allegiance” (2004), “Midvinterblot” (2006) and “Hammer Battalion” (2008).
The next album — “As Yggdrasil Trembles” (2010) — switched things up a bit, taking on a slightly black metal feel which carried through on their next two albums, which includes “Odalheim” (2012) and “Dawn of the Nine” (2015).
Anyone familiar with those three albums can attest to the fact that Unleashed are far from done yet. If you’re not familiar, here’s some proof:
“Master of the Ancient Art” from “As Yggdrasil Trembles” (2010)
“Fimbulwinter” from “Odalheim” (2012)
“Welcome Son of Thor” from “Dawn of the Nine” (2015)
Death metal and keyboards are natural enemies, but sometimes they can come together in interesting ways. I thought this playlist would be easy to compile, but finding real death metal with keyboards is tougher than it seems.
Tampa’s Nocturnus is the obvious first step and I went with “Gridzone” from their highly underrated “Thresholds” album.
But where do you go from there? It very quickly devolves into two camps: cheesy wanking over melodic “death metal” (i.e.: Children of Bodom & pals) and big pads under slow, atmospheric sections. I dabbled with The Gathering, Dan Swano’s excellent Moontower project, Edge of Sanity, God Dethroned and a few others to no avail but everything was either way too melodic or surprisingly keyboard-free.
Luckily, Hypocrisy has always made excellent use keys, so even if “The Final Chapter” falls into the “big pads” camp, it’s such a great tune that it hardly matters. Two down, one to go.
For the final track, I tried to find a band from a third country but ended up with more Swedes, this time Cemetary with “Dead Red” from their twisted first album, “An Evil Shade of Grey”.
Didn’t any bands play more traditional death metal with keyboards? Post your suggestions in the comments!
Swedes get all the love but Finland has a great history of death metal all its own. Here are two early tracks from well-known Finnish bands that went on to greener (and lamer) pastures, and a song by a band that’s brand new to me.
Big shout out to XysmicExecration from YouTube who’s channel I stumbled upon when searching for these. He’s got a ton of great tunes, each with lots of info like you’ll read below. Check him out!
From XysmicExecration on YouTube: “Sentenced was a death metal band formed in ’89 in Muhos. The band released one independent demo “When death joins us” the following year. 1991 the band was also featured in a four-band split album “Chronology of Death” with Swedish Carbonized, Dutch Bluuurgh . . . and Slovenian Xenophobia. the band also released their second independent demo “Rotting ways to Misery”’91. ’91 they were able to sign on Thrash records and to release their first full-length “Shadows of the Past”. The album and band achieved incredible amount of positive comments. The album itself, aswell as all the demo production earlier , was exceptionally melodic, still not forgetting the crushing Death metal riffs. Swedish Dismember and Finnish Sentenced can be considered ones of the most influencal bands of Melodic Death metal, and also Sentenced was said to have some kind of influence on Gothenburger genre in Sweden. In the middle of their two full-lengths , Sentenced released an independent demo “Journey to Pohjola” year ’92, which consisted of three songs. Their second full-length “North from Here” was released through Finnish Spinefarm label in ’93. The album showed that the band had a huge musical ambition. The second guitarist Sami Lopakka , also dealed with more and more essential keyboards and the technicality and melody of the guitars was brought to a whole new level.”
From XysmicExecration on YouTube: “Purtenance was a Finnish Death Metal band found in Nokia in 1990 (originally with the name “Purtenance Avulsion”). The band recorded one independent and self-titled demo in 1991 with the name “Purtenance Avulsion”. At the same year, they got signed to the Spanish Drowned records through which they released “Crown Waits the Immortal” EP ’91. The next year band released their first ,and sadly, last full-length “Member of Immortal Damnation”’92. Soon after releasing their full-length, band broke up. This is the opening track of their full-length “Member of Immortal Damnation” of 1992.”
From XysmicExecration on YouTube: “Amorphis was/is a Finnish Death metal band formed in 1990, by a few ex-members of another Death metal group :Abhorrence, The band recorded the demo “Disment of Soul” in 1991, and got immediately signed to Relapse ( greatly due to the PR made by Abhorrence ). a single and and their first full-length “Karelian Isthmus” was released in 1992. The album was recorded in 1992 in Sunlight Studios of Stockholm and with assistance of Tomas Skogsberg. The songs recorded in 1991 in Helsinki were featured on the “Privilege of Evil” EP released in 1993 ( the EP was originally ment to release as a split-album with Incantation but due to some problems, Incantation’s side wasn’t released until 2008 ). The second album “Tales from the Thousand Lakes” released in 1994 represented the new musical world of Amorphis, with more extensive use of keyboards, melody and folk music influenced guitar riffs. In 1995, all the rest of the songs ,that didn’t fit on the full-length ,were released on “Black Winter Day” EP . “Tales from the Thousand lakes” has also been considered one of the founding stones of Melodic Death Metal. The lyrical themes of the band also changed during the “Tales . . .” album, and the songs have been inspired by the tales of Finnish epic Kalevala ever since. In 1996 released third album of the band “Elegy” had fallen even deeper to progressive experimenting both in guitars and keyboards and the music had more folk tendencies. This is from their first full-length “Karelian Isthmus” of 1992.”
One of my favorite styles of death metal is the early Swedish stuff that was going on as or before Entombed showed everyone what Swedish Death Metal™ was going to sound like. The guitars aren’t tuned down (or at least not much) and the riffs are very “skeletal”, for lack of a better description. Lots of lots of single-note tremolo picking, more focus on the rhythm section rather than a suffocating blanket of guitars, a more adventurous, almost proggy spirit to some of them.
At the Gates’ first two albums (plus the Grotesque material?) is the 800lb gorilla of this style, but these three bands prove a pleasant listen when you’re sick of hearing “Kingdom……Fucking……GAAAAAAAUUUUGGGHHHHNNNNN” for the bazillionth time:
Afflicted “Spirit Spectrum” from “Prodigal Sun” (1992)
Cemetary, “An Evil Shade of Grey” from “An Evil Shade of Grey” (1992)
Liers in Wait, “Overlord” from “Spiritually Uncontrolled Art” (1991)
Afflicted has one album of bizarre, fragmented death metal. Cemetary went on to become a much more melodic and gothic band, but their first album is straight up death with a nice dose of oddness. Liers in Wait is new to me, but sounds exactly like what you’d expect from one of the main guys of Grotesque (artist par excellence Kristian Whalin) to produce.