Sweden’s UNLEASHED is back with their 13th offering, The Hunt for White Christ. This is the fourth in a series of concept albums that began with 2010’s As Yggdrasil Trembles. If you’re already familiar with Unleashed, you should recognise the term “White Christ” from 2012’s Odalheim. “White” in this case is a Heathen term meaning “cowardly” or “weak”, and this release continues Johnny Hedlund’s decidedly anti-Christian story of the Midgardian warriors from the land of Odalheim.
After nearly 30 years in the game, Unleashed still delivers consistent, blistering death metal. Unlike so many other bands in the genre, Unleashed has never been one to reinvent themselves, preferring to stick to their roots with the simple-yet-groovy style of Stockholm death metal that they helped to pioneer. There’s zero bullshit here – it’s death metal, no compromise.
Getting straight to the point without any unnecessary build-up, the Hunt for White Christ begins with the no-nonsense opener, “Lead Us into War”. While many death metal vocalists tend to sacrifice clarity for brutality, Hedlund enunciates clearly while still sounding powerful and authoritative. Although he no longer growls as he did on their older releases, his shouted vocals are still fierce and well-suited to this style of bluesy death metal.
The tracks on this album are short but sweet, with the longest track clocking in at 4:48. That’s all the time Unleashed really needs to make their point. Melodic without being melodeath, and almost danceable at times, this album is catchy as hell. The anthemic “Stand Your Ground” stands out as a future fan favourite, with a chant-able refrain and the sort of crushing heaviness that you can almost see in the air. This is truly a song that begs to be played live.
One of the strongest songs on this record is definitely “Terror Christ”. It opens with an intimidating riff, reminiscent of mid-era Nile, and continues with destructive melodies and uptempo drumming. The subject matter deals with the devastation that the Christian crusaders brought to the lands they invaded. This devastation is described in explicit detail, with the lines “Disembowelled bodies without heads / Some without genitals and eyes” painting a very vivid picture of what that may have looked like. Perhaps a bit cheesy, but it gets the intended message across.
In fact, the message behind this album is something potent. As The Hunt for White Christ continues, I find myself thinking of the many tribes and cultures around the world that were decimated by the spread of Christianity. Although some tracks seem to blend together, “The City of Jorsala Shall Fall” is another highlight. Jorsala an Old Norse name for Jerusalem, which of course, is where the cowardly Christ would be hiding out.
Despite dealing with rather dark subject matter, The Hunt for White Christ ends on an optimistic note. One thing I’ve always admired about Unleashed is that, in singing from the viewpoint of the travel-savvy Vikings, they often mention other cultures as equals rather than just those that they do battle with, as they once again demonstrate with the final track on this album, “Free to All the World”. The song is fast and triumphant-sounding, with the cult of White Christ having been purged from the land. The old city is free once again and welcomes people of all races and cultures to live and trade peacefully within it. Is this Unleashed’s “Imagine”? Perhaps not, but it is undeniably inspiring as far as death metal goes.
While Unleashed certainly isn’t bringing anything new to the table with this release, they are far from stagnation, proving again and again that they’re masters of the genre. The Hunt for White Christ is massive from beginning to end, and a must-have for any fan of Scandinavian death metal. If you’re into physical goodies, Napalm released a pretty cool CD box set, containing an Unleashed-branded Mjolnir pendant and matching patch, as well as a wall-flag of the great Pär Olofsson’s gorgeously dark cover art. The album also comes on 180g black vinyl, of course, as well as limited pressings of ice blue or gold vinyl. Regardless of the format you choose, this album is definitely one worth picking up.