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After their Nuclear Blast deal came to a close, One Man Army and the Undead Quartet were thrown another strong opportunity, to join the Massacre Records family. Thus, they still had the potential to make a name for themselves, even if the first two records didn't really pay off in anything more than a faintly audible level of buzz. Grim Tales is a better produced, better written record than either of its predecessors, and the first that I can claim to have 'liked', so naturally it wasn't incredibly well received at large and further sunk the Swedes into near obscurity (even though a few of the members could always run back to their other, better known bands like The Crown). This isn't exactly unique stuff, and it's possibly the most straightforward of their records, lacking the charm and variation of the sophomore, but it firmly wedges a skull-adorned boot and greave up your arse and then leaves it planted there for 46 minutes.
Duration was an issue with the first album (an hour of mediocrity is an hour too much in my estimation), but then they tightened that down for Error in Evolution to about 40 minutes, which paired with the newfound enthusiasm in the writing, proved the stronger of the two. To its great credit, while longer than the second album, Grim Tales fills itself out well enough that you don't really notice. Classic West Coast 80s thrash triplets and charge rhythms dominate the battlefield, with noticeable nods to Metallica or Testament in not only the pacing and construction of the guitars, but in how some of the burning, bluesy lead flashes remind us of what Kirk Hammett might have snatched from his creative ether during his prime. In other places, you get a lot of perky, squealing Zakk Wylde techniques built into the rhythm guitars which recall an album like No Rest for the Wicked, or perhaps more directly Alexi Laiho's playing (which is itself obviously built upon Wylde and Rhoads). Good use of melodic chords, vibrant energy and the truly level production of the guitar, which dominates without drowning out the rhythm section, ensure that the riffs are hits more than misses...
...and that's a first for this band. Cuts like "Misfit with a Machinegun", "A Date With Suicide", "The Frisco Reaper", "Dominator of the Flesh", and "Saint Lucifer" are genuinely catchy and engaging whether it's the riffs behind the verses or the lead snatches, and the remainder of the material isn't far behind. Beyond that, Marek Dobrowolski's playing here is fucking phenomenal, with a perfect mix emphasizing both the snares and drums but losing nothing else on the kit. Conversely, I felt like the bass guitars had less of a presence, but you can still trace them along under the rhythm guitar. As for Lindstrand, he's vastly more forceful and consistent here, rivaling even his better performances in The Crown. There is no reliance here on clean, emotional choruses which forced a mix reaction to Error in Evolution: here he's snarling and growling and some effects and layers have been placed on his voice to have it bouncing all over the belligerent guitars, which ultimately gives this record a lot of its atmosphere.
But, in the end, it's just the consistency that drives this one across the finish line. Some might rue the lack of exploration (or 'fucking around') that was tangentially present on Error in Evolution, but as much as I enjoy expansive bands that stretch out past their comfort zones, I'll take a 46 minute ass whooping any day than a failed experiment. Grim Tales isn't that distinct or creative, perhaps, with decades of thrash and death metal already supporting its existence; but it is fully self-realized. No decisions here need to be questioned by the listener; just dive in and dance in its aggression. Apart from (maybe) a few of the song titles, there is nothing remotely silly about this record. The lyrics are quite good, the best of their discography, you really feel the sickness and psychosis in a tune like "Cursed by the Knife". It was convincing, and no longer felt like a band-just-made-up-of-guys-from-other-bands-who-just-wanna-have-fun-together under an outrageous moniker. No, Grim Tales was something to be reckoned with, and while it's far from mandatory, it's an easy recommendation for fans of Carnal Forge, Witchery, Terror 2000 and the first few albums by The Haunted.
As I'm sure every man and his dog knows by now, One Man Army & The Undead Quartet (OMA from henceforth) is the band formed by Johan Lindstrand upon the dissolution of The Crown back in 2004, which if third album "Grim Tales" is anything to go by sees Mr. Lindstrand move slightly away from the groove and punch of The Crown to a more melodic, In Flames territory. Those mega Gothenburgers are without doubt the main point of reference for the twin-laden guitar rhythm of a number of tracks here, but when one isn't instinctively picking up signals of a fiery nature the tone is still very much svenska, with At The Gates, The Haunted and the aforementioned Crown all being referenced in the mid-paced attack that is "Grim Tales".
As if OMA wished one to know where they have derived greatest personal inspiration, first track proper (following the obligatory instrumental introduction which at least is worth it's plastic) "Misfit With A Machinegun" features a chorus so In Flames Anders Friden & co should consider patenting their uniquely melodic style. When at times I remember I am infact not listening to "Colony" or "Clayman" the more aggressive Haunted and Crown give added kick to "Saint Lucifer" and my album highlight "The Frisco Reaper". Depending on one's point of view, the In Flames obsession (thankfully) wanes during the second half of the album across a number of songs like the Slayer-ish "Bonebreaker Propaganda" and that most clearly descended from The Crown, "Make Them Die Slowly", before OMA close shop with an IF cover - "Bastards Of Monstrosity". Sorry my mistake, that’s not actually cover, who knew. Please do excuse my antipathy to the widespread pillaging of the In Flames vault but with all of it going on these days they must be the second most plagiarised band in extreme metal save for Slayer, a situation staggering considering the uniquity in which In Flames operated in late 90s/early 00s.
In "Grim Tales" OMA have made a perfectly listenable metal record that is indeed somewhere in the worryingly crowded field of good-very good records which will garner a batch of initial listens, before another similar sounding band creeps into your record collection to push OMA out of favour. What OMA can do to push this mark upwards is not as easy as toning down on the worshipping going on here, that can still result in high marks, but have more confidence in departing from many of metal’s clichés they have subconsciously or not found themselves meeting. A little more inventiveness in the structure and colours of OMA could turn this band from ‘reassuringly good’ to ‘great’. The reassuringly good mark follows.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
Hands up, all you people that never banged your head or raised a mug of beer to The Crown. You can all leave the room now. One Man Army and the Undead Quartet is essentially the band of Johan Lindstrand who made his name as vocalist of The Crown. The Crown released a couple of kickass death-thrash albums in the late 90s and One Man Army itself has been around now for a while with Grim Tales being the bands third album.
Right at the start I have to say that Grim Tales is an unapologetic exercise in melodic extreme metal. Sure, there’s plenty of thrash and some Gothenburg type death metal but it’s all backed up by melodic guitar parts and catchy vocal lines. However, while operating within the standard clichés of the genre, the band do manage to write energetic songs that kept me interested through the course of the album. Most songs follow The Crown, later Carcass and In Flames in basic song structure with Lindstrand’s vocals being a bit toned down from when he was in The Crown.
It should be pretty obvious that this band doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of a listening experience. This is music that has already been done in a much better fashion but One Man Army and the Undead Quartet do the basics of this genre well and write songs that are catchy and solid and never outstay their welcome. Misfit with a Machine Gun, Saint Lucifer, A Date with Suicide and Death Makes It All Go Away have solid metal grooves and are fun songs. The band is also at its most melodic and mainstream friendly on Grim Tales. The songs are all generally more melodic thrash than death metal and the grooves and riffs seem geared towards people who think Slaughter of the Soul is the greatest album ever made.
Still, having said all that grim Tales is one of those albums that’s great for when you’re driving around or when friends come over for a few beers. You might only give it the occasional spin but if you like this sort of thing then the album is quite enjoyable.
Originally written for http://www.kvltsite.com