This album is totally one of those records that you wouldn't have expected the band that created The Awakening
to have ever done. Whereas that record was absolutely blistering black/death/thrash metal, the band have turned into a sort of amalgamation of both melodic death and thrash metal, with a fairly subtle folk influence at play within some of these songs. It's totally different from that debut record (one of THE top thrash releases of all time, to me anyway), and if you're used to that record, it can be a little hard to appreciate this one.
Is it good? I think it's a great record in its own right. Despite
the significant change in style, this is recognizably Merciless
through and through, and while I feel it is a little inconsistent at times, it has some absolutely dead on tracks. The riffwork on this record is actually very strong, balancing the thrash and more openly melodic elements of the riffcraft very well, and the lead guitar, while simple, fits the songs pretty well. (almost Iron Maiden-esque at times - see that short lead break in "Back to North
") The melodic elements are well utilized, and while the songs are very conventionally structured and arranged, they mostly maintain a sense of direction and cohesion throughout.
The two real standout tracks of the record is the title song, which builds up from a wonderfully folk-influenced acoustic intro (seriously, it might be one of my favourite intros on a metal record ever) then effectively goes into the band's new, cleaner style here. It's a well written song, with some excellent riffs, great melodic ideas, and an excellently anthemic chorus that shouldn't work, but it is pulled off very well. "Back to North
" is the other one, which sticks to mid-pace for a lot of its running time and cohesively puts some truly stellar moments into a compelling track.
Unfortunately, the album does suffer from some choppy tracks. "Feebleminded" tries to bring back the bands more death/thrash inclined style, but it doesn't work nearly as well in the cleaner, more openly melodic context that the band is operating in with this LP. It's not a bad song, but it doesn't really bring much to the table. "Lost
Eternally" has some great riffs and a storming vocal presence from Roger Pettersson, but it sort of drags and meanders a bit.
The production job is much cleaner than their previous records, although I feel that it's to this record's benefit. Every instrument is audible, and with the exception of maybe the drums (the kick does sound a little synthetic to me), they're well recorded and polished without being rendered sterile. The performances are top notch for the material at hand, with a level of tightness and discipline that fits the songs superbly.
Unbound is massively different from earlier works like The Awakening
, there's no doubt about it. The debut will always be my favourite album from this band, but this album, despite some flaws with the material, is a very strong work of melodeath and worthy of this great band's overall career. Well worth getting.