Released: 2004, Century Media
After an initially disappointing comeback with 2002's HELL'S UNLEASHED, Sweden's perrenial underdogs have returned with their best release since 1995's VICTORY. With both a musical and lyrical return to their roots, SWORN ALLEGIANCE is Unleashed's brutal metal statement for the ages. The tempo is fast, the riffs gallop and crush, the leads scorch and soar: all is right for Scandinavia's heaviest Vikings.
Indeed, many of the songs here deal with the medieval topics we have come to expect from Unleashed, such as opener "Winterland", as well as "The Longships Are Coming", "Attack!", "To Miklagard", and the "Lord of the Rings" inspired "Destruction (Of the Race of Men)". The speed and heaviness of the band's classic back catalog is echoed within each note of SWORN ALLEGIANCE, as well, galloping rhythms and crushing songs being the order of the day here.
What's curious is the strong addition of melody within this album. While the overall atmosphere is most definitely heavy to the bone, there are also subtle guitar harmonies and ripping old-school lead work to be found here as well. What really killed HELL'S UNLEASHED for most people was the inclusion of goofy songs like "Demoneater"; it just felt like an unserious return for a band who had prided themselves on flying the old school Death Metal banner for so long.
While SWORN VENGEANCE does include one clunker in the form of "CEO", the overall vibe of the record is angry and aggressive, yet with a killer Venom-esque looseness to it, as well (see the track "Metalheads" for proof of this). Even frontman Johnny Hedlund spits his vitriol like a more brutal version of legendary bass assassin Cronos.
Overall, consider this a winning return to form for the Swedish legends who helped define the Stockholm Sound in the early 90s. Moreover, it is one of the better old school Death Metal records I've heard in some time, easily beating out the new Grave in comparison. For raw and rockin' fun, you can't beat a lil' SWORN VENGEANCE.--mg