Where No Life Dwells is the first full-length album from Unleashed. It is also one of the first Swedish Death Metal albums that I heard, many years ago. To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what I was hearing at the time, since most of my Death Metal experience had been with American bands. I was also getting into a lot of second wave Black Metal bands, around this time. The spirit of this album seemed to fall in line more with the Black Metal that I had been listening to, rather than Death Metal. Of course, the obscure cover art and even the inverted cross that is bound in with the logo added to this perception. I discovered this around the same time that I was first exposed to albums such as Left Hand Path, Like An Everflowing Stream and Into the Grave. This was something darker and colder than any of those.
In 1989, Johnny Hedlund found himself ejected from Nihilist, thus moving on to form Unleashed. After a series of demos, the band was signed by Century Media Records. In April 1991, they went to Woodhouse Studios in Dortmund, Germany to record their debut L.P. Where No Life Dwells does not possess the same sound as the many Swedish Death Metal albums that were recorded in Sunlight Studio, under the watchful eye of Tomas Skogsberg. While this does share some characteristics with bands such as Entombed, Carnage / Dismember and so on, it is also quite different. Indeed, the music of Unleashed embodied a lethal coldness of a brutal winter storm, offering no mercy in its attack while destroying all in its path.
The album begins with "Where No Life Dwells", a brief and fragile acoustic intro that is absolutely torn to shreds by the barbaric assault of "Dead Forever". This is a fitting portrayal the band's world view. The song erupts with crushing mid-paced riffs and an overpowering roar. The riffing alternates between fast tremolo riffs and slow power chord breaks. The drum work isn't something really outstanding yet it's extremely frantic and fits totally with the riffing. The bass isn't very prominent and is mixed down with the guitar riffs giving their already dark sound a lower range. The vocals of Johnny Hedlund are dry and cold. They are similar yet different from the classic Swedish style, being very rough (but not too deep) with occasional piercing screams of mortal horror. Guitar solos are short yet intense fast tremolo that have the same tone of the rhythmic guitars.
This album possesses more of an old school feeling than many of its peers, as there are many galloping riffs and thrashy sections, as seen on "Before the Creation of Time". This alternates with the faster tremolo riffs and blast beats that seem to come out of nowhere, thus maximizing the effect. However, where the band truly shines is during the slow power chord breaks, as this allows the your mind to drift into the gaping abyss.
The sound on this album is immensely heavy, with the drums given a pounding, hammering presence through music that takes on the form of a deadly nighttime blizzard. This has a very cold sound to it, but not quite the same as listening to early Darkthrone. An album like Transilvanian Hunger freezes you with bitter cold winds shredding through your flesh. Where No Life Dwells is more like being crushed between two sheets of glacial ice.
As the previous song ends, you hear icy blizzard winds blowing over the frozen plains which serve as an intro to "The Dark One". This song begins with an atmosphere of pure doom. The slow riffs transition, suddenly, into a frostbitten blast of tremolo riffs and pounding drums. Hedlund's dry screams are filled with fury. The rage found here is tempered by a descent into a slower passage, anchored by mid-paced double bass. The guitars then re-emerge from these darkened depths to revisit the previously established theme. This is probably one of the best songs on the album. Also worth mentioning is that the lyrics are inspired by Tolkien.
The lyrical themes of this album are, mostly, anti-Christian but there is also a strong Viking Metal approach as many songs speak of great battles and approach death as an unavoidable fate for all those who live, yet this grim destiny must be faced with courage. "Into Glory Ride" embodies this spirit quite well, and mentions Odin, Thor and Valhalla. This would seem to foreshadow the type of themes that Unleashed would become most known for.
"...And the Laughter Has Died" begins with much the same barbaric fury as can be found all over this album, yet here we find some of the darkest atmosphere created by this band. In the heat of battle, you have been fatally wounded. The blood is pouring from the gaping wound in your chest. As the riffs slow down, a truly haunting and abysmal lead melody coils around your cold body, suffocating you near total lifelessness. A terrified shriek wakes you from this dark winter nightmare. The song speeds up, once more, as you realize that the battle is not quite finished.
As through many of the songs, "Where Life Ends" features many slow doom riffs that are accompanied by the double bass rumbling beneath, creating a suffocating feeling. The only complaint here would be the lack of the funeral bell that was on the version of this song found on the ...And the Laughter Has Died E.P. as it added a nice touch.
At its most energetic, the songs on Where No Life Dwells carry an absolutely barbaric feeling. During the slower sections, the atmosphere is dark and filled with dread. As with most bands, Unleashed made their defining statement with the first L.P. so this one is the most essential of their catalogue.