December 29, 2011

Album Review: "Hell Frost" by The Unguided

Redemption and second chances don't come easily in the music industry, especially in more recent years when one-hit-wonders and single-release artists are becoming more prevalent than ever before. It becomes even more difficult when artists need to use new names or form new bands in order to find that redemption. Such was the path for vocalist Richard Sjunnesson after his departure from modern melodic death metal group Sonic Syndicate. Disgusted by the group's changed sound - a change which was forced on them by Nuclear Blast Records, no less - and wanting to return to his roots, Sjunnesson decided to form his own group that would take on Sonic Syndicate's older style and let it grow naturally. The resulting group became known as The Unguided, and with this group, Sjunnesson definitely achieved his goal.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Sjunnesson relied on many familiar faces to bring The Unguided into existence. For production of the group's demos, the Nightmareland EP, and the debut album Hell Frost, producer Jonas Kjellgren (who is also the rhythm guitarist for Scar Symmetry) and his The Abyss studios were chosen, mirroring the choices for Sonic Syndicate's latest three albums. Artwork for both Nightmareland and Hell Frost, as well as the singles pressed from Hell Frost, was done by either Gustavo Sazes (who designed the cover for Sonic Syndicate's Burn This City EP) or Jose Aranguren (the artist behind the visuals for Sonic Syndicate's debut Eden Fire).

The remaining lineup outside of Sjunnesson is full of pleasant surprises. Richard recruited both his brother Roger, guitarist for Sonic Syndicate, and current Sonic Syndicate drummer John Bengtsson to play the same instruments in The Unguided. He even brought fellow ex-Sonic Syndicate vocalist Roland Johansson into the fold on clean vocals and guitar, recreating the vocal tandem that helped Sonic Syndicate rise to popularity in the first place.

The Unguided plays the same style of modern melodic death metal as their predecessor, but there are some subtle twists. Hell Frost has a much rougher feel to it overall, with the production sounding not quite as polished, and the mixing a bit more raw. This creates a more aggressive tone in the recording, helped by the heavier compositions and Richard's ferocious screaming vocals. The musicianship is also leagues above almost everything Sonic Syndicate ever composed, with a great deal more technicality and experimentation. The songs aren't formulaic, despite some structural similarities, and the lyrics are much more thought-provoking and intelligent. Hell Frost is the realization of the potential possessed by the musicians involved.

If you are one of the many left disappointed or outraged by Sonic Syndicate's last album, We Rule the Night, then Hell Frost is exactly what you need in order to cleanse your palette. Delivering on the promise of excellent modern melodic death metal that their former band promised and often came close to creating, The Unguided have made more progress in one album than Sonic Syndicate did with their last three. Richard Sjunnesson's dream has finally been made into reality - a proficient melodic death metal band, with newer stylistic tendencies and forward-thinking ideas that will help grow the genre and set a high standard for quality going forward.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Track Listing

1. Inherit the Earth
2. Phoenix Down
3. Betrayer of the Code
4. My Own Death
5. Serenade of Guilt
6. Collapse My Dream
7. Green Eyed Demon
8. Iceheart Fragment
9. Pathfinder
10. Where the Frost Rose Withers
11. The Miracle of Mind

Album Personnel

Richard Sjunnesson - Vocals
Roland Johansson - Vocals, guitar
Roger Sjunnesson - Guitar, keyboards (session)
Jonas Kjellgren - Bass guitar (session)
John Bengtsson - Drums

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