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One Man Army and the Undead Quartet was a Swedish band which kept a relatively low profile despite their numerous advantages. A band moniker that really stuck out from the crowd, superb Anthony Clarkson artwork which many bands would kill for, and a Nuclear Blast signing for their first two records. On top of that, even though they were not strictly a thrash band, they emerged at a time when the niche was starting to pick up steam again, and actually released all their albums through that very period. These weren't new kids on the block either, having cut their teeth in acts like Grief of Emerald, Incapacity, and most notably, the front man Johan Lindstrad was a member of The Crown when they first started to blow up internationally in the late 90s. So, with all that going for them, why is it that 21st Century Killing Machine failed to make much of an impression?
I can't speak for Europe, where the band obviously had a live presence with some festivals and touring, but they received nary a whisper in my own neck of the woods. This was one of those albums I picked up on impulse because I was surprised that they had a release out on one of the bigger metal labels, realizing only later that it was Johan's new band. Unfortunately, he seems to have traded down here, because if there is one thing lacking from 21st Century Killing Machine, it's the incendiary energy with which his alma mater lit up the studio on the records Hell is Here and Deathrace King. The Crown is a safe comparison for One Man Army, along with Witchery, though the focus here is almost entirely on mid-paced rhythms and the establishment of professional production values rather than explosive, memorable death/thrash anthems, and ultimately that is this debut's undoing. I don't know about you, but I have little interest in wasting an hour on plodding, average riff progressions that go next to nowhere. The album is far too long (just under 60 min. with the bonus tracks), and there's very little music of interest, thus even less replay value...
It would take me less than the fingers on one hand to count the number of times the rhythm guitars actually caught my attention here, and even then it was usually at the beginning of a track like "Killing Machine" or "Hell is For Heroes" where the moderate thrashing pace was solid enough to generate some interest in what was about to follow. But there is never any payoff: the choruses are lackluster, the tension and building of the various rhythms bland and uninspired, the melodies faint and few between, the handful of simplistic leads not able to compensate. Lindstrad's vocals were never among my favorite in the Swedish scene of the 90s, but here he manages little more than a stock, gravelly growl permeated by a few whispered emotional segments, and especially in the choruses the guy fails to evoke any excitement whatsoever. The riffs are dense, thuggish and have an appreciable level of punch to them, but with only the scant exceptions I hinted at above, they all play out in predictable and unimaginative patterns, at best picking up to a rapid mid speed, but occasionally lapsing into tired groove/thrash metal tropes somewhere between Pantera and Helmet in context.
The rhythm section is admittedly quite good here, with a potent and loud bass presence and some crack drumming that remains consistent at any speeds. For instance, the rampant double bass work on "When Hatred Comes to Life" is pretty tight near the bridge. The snare and toms are poppy and clean, but they really slice through those fat bass guitars and create a concussive backdrop to the compositions. The fault lies solely in the guitars' inability to create rhythm licks or specific leads over them, with second rate riffs often just paraphrased from bands like Exodus. Beyond that, the lyrics, which you'd think might take on a more ghastly horror aesthetic, seem like more of the same sacrilegious throwdowns that defined Johan's years in The Crown. You get the self-referential, pseudo-conceptual hints of zombies and terror, but it's never interesting, and ultimately 21st Century Killing Machine comes across as a hollow experience with high production values, that might have been so much more if One Man Army and the Undead Quartet were stronger songwriters. This is all merely moderate action to which you might bang your head if you had nothing better to do, but this first selection of tunes is too easily forgotten and returned to the CD rack, right between Exodus' offensively average Exhibit duology and Onslaught's post-reunion material.
Simply swirling the name of One Man Army & the Undead Quartet around the tongue is more than enough to leave a sour tang in the mouth. Come on, after all, the moniker not only reeks of a swaggering pomposity it must also have taken to dare to title an album (their debut, no less) as ‘21st Century Killing Machine.’ Can a band with such a ludicrous handle be truly serious about crafting a death/thrash metal combo, no less?
As it turns out, no. And that in turn is the key strength of the One Man Army and his Undead Quartet. Listening to ‘21st Century Killing Machine’, the lasting impression is that the band have struck a exceptional balance between artistic dedication to their craft, and the pure and simple impulse to strap on their instruments and rock out with their balls to the wall.
Look no further than the rip-roaring introduction to the eponymous lead-off track to see this aggressively gleeful attitude in full swing – a maniacally thrashing riff supported by dressed down and poundingly heavy backing rhythm section, alternating beautifully between groovy chugging and rapid-fire upsurges and downsurges in tempo, for a full minute and a half before the deathly growls make an appearance. More often than not, one imagines that it only takes a good thirty seconds for many people to start wondering why the vocalist is still keeping schtum.
This is the charm of ‘21st Century Killing Machine,’ and where it combines those two distant attitudinal notions together superbly well. While the Undead Quartet clearly seem to have set out to nudge a few ribs in glee with extended instrument-only passages, such glorious song titles, and indeed songs, as ‘Hell Is For Heroes’ and ‘Bulldozer Frenzy’, and their general air of good-natured half-grimness, one can also hear in that delectably crunchy guitar tone and headbang-worthy, groovy riffs a genuine desire to craft a metal album that will still see skulls a’crushin’.
This languorous pace, of course, is what seems to have stopped this Swedish metal-machine from receiving a warmer reception from the metal fraternity.
As mentioned, the quizzical phrases querying as to when the hell the vocals will kick in, or how many more times will that riff be recycled have more merit than is comfortable on occasion, and there are plenty of listeners who will not sit still for them at all.
For die hard deathsters and thrashers, the band’s approach is one that will simply not fit their quotas on snarling aggression and furious speed, and these fans will pull the album from the death deck as quickly as possible.
A shame really, as while One Man Army & The Undead Quartet could never be cited as a notable group of the more extreme spectrums of metal, their approach carries with it enough force, verve, and tuneful grit as to leave a definite stamp of individual identity amongst much of today’s identikit heavy metal.
‘21st Century Killing Machine’ may not be the be-all and end-all landmark that such a title should really be attached to, but to say it’s not as heavy as a lead-injected Texan, and just as entertaining in its own right, would be to do it a great disservice.
Damn, I haven't listened to thrash for a very very long time. Still, you can only listen to 10 minute songs with super long build ups for so long, so after hearing this on a Terrorizer sampler, I ordered this cd.
This album is pretty damn solid, if not totally thrash. There's tonnes of solid riffs here, which is what this music is all about, right? The title track kicks things off nicely with a mid paced, heavy riff. Sure it's not the most brutal riff you'll ever hear, but it's still pretty nice. The song slowly speeds up, there's some great riffs at the outro. A lot of the riffs are fairly low pitched and not all that melodic (In Flames they aren't) but there's still a nice bit of variety in these songs. Devil of the Red Carpet has some kinda melodic bits, and there's lot of different tempos on display, with some nice and doomy riffs, some fast songs, and lots of great solos on display. The solos are very Kirk Hammett influenced, but that's definetly not a bad thing, because Kirk kicks ass. They are melodic, memorable, and tread the line nicely between being economical and wanky. The lead guitarist is pretty talented, no doubt. So Grim so True so Real features some really good solos.
There's some interesting stuff here too. It's not really left field or experimental or anything, but When Hatred comes to Life has some spooky, minimalist parts, as does Hell is for Heroes. The vocalist should learn to shut up sometimes though, becuase while he's by no means bad, these quiet parts might be better with no vocals. And the spoken word sections just shouldn't exist at all. Oh well. It is there debut I guess, hopefully they'll fix that by next album.
All in all, this is a fairly solid if not quite amazing collection of mid paced thrash songs. While their are some great riffs here, a lot of em are at a similar tempo, so they can start to grate after a while. Good riffs, great solos, decent vocals, all of which have been produced fairly well. Get it if you like thrash but don't expect an amazing experience.