By Adrien Begrand
Only a band that has been around as long as Unleashed has could get away with an album as goofy as As Yggdrasil Trembles is. Of all the bands that came out of the nascent Swedish death metal scene more than 20 years ago, you won’t find a band more set in its ways and, to be blunt, stubbornly generic, as Johnny Hedlund’s crew. Then again, if your band can do one thing extremely well, why not milk it for all it’s worth? After all, Unleashed’s tried and true formula is a simple yet very effective one: big, meaty old school death riffs, songs that engage audiences instead of challenge, and loads and loads of good, old fashioned Viking shtick, thicker and tackier than Mackintosh toffee. It’s been done to death to the point where Unleashed couldn’t be more predictable, but from 1991’s seminal “The Dark One” (on the album Where No Life Dwells) to 2004’s brilliant return to form “The Longships Are Coming” (from Sworn Allegiance), this is one band where we’re totally willing to ignore their lack of new ideas, and simply relax and have fun.
The band has been on a nice little roll as of late, with the recent trifecta of Sworn Allegiance, Midvinterblot, and 2008’s Hammer Batallion showing the metal world there’s plenty of fire in these fellas’ bellies yet, and their tenth album follows suit with, you guessed it, more of the same. Unlike fellow Swedish Viking veterans Amon Amarth, whose star is on the rise thanks to their willingness to broaden their sound and pull out all the stops production-wise, Unleashed is perfectly happy in their own little niche, and while the new album won’t expand their audience any time soon, that familiarity is a big reason why As Yggdrasil Trembles succeeds so mightily.
In fact, the fierce “So it Begins” is one of the finer Viking anthems we’ve heard since the last Amon Amarth record, the sly hook by guitarists Fredrik Folkare and Tomas Måsgard bringing the song to a tremendous climax, while the title track immediately follows suit in similar fashion, Anders Shultz’s double-kicks effectively cannonading. Of course, with every Unleashed album comes the Silly Lyrics, and we get a ton of them in the middle of the record, led by the otherwise wonderfully titled “Wir Kapitulieren Niemals”, whose oddly meta “Viking death metal” shout-along chorus is simultaneously inane and brilliant, as Hedlund sells it with as much conviction as Cronos did on “Black Metal” 28 years ago. “This Time We Fight” is fairly self-explanatory and is damn catchy, plus if Hedlund’s command of, “Batallions lock and load…Guns, ready, aim, fire!” on “Return Fire” doesn’t get your blood pumping, you’re not human.
As much as many of us live for those records where a band brazenly defies the perceived limitations of their genre, resolutely sticking to a simple musical template can be liberating as well. The fact that Unleashed has been doing this for more than two decades and still manages to sound vital every time out is an achievement that cannot be underestimated. It’s doubtful it’ll end up on many year-end lists, but that’s not to say As Yggdrasil Trembles isn’t worth your time. If you love metal at all, this album will bring a big, dumb smile to your face.