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ONE MAN ARMY – Dark, Epic Pleasures
Anthony Morgan
February 2011

One Man Army (l-r): Jonas Blom, Mattias Bolander, Johan Lindstrand,
Robert Axelsson and Marek Dobrowolski

Lead guitarist Mikael Lagerblad departed from Swedish death metal outfit One Man Army And The Undead Quartet on April 1st, 2009, his four years of active service having seen the issue of three studio full-lengths (January 2006’s 21st Century Killing Machine and March 2007’s Error In Evolution, both released through Nuclear Blast Records, and October 2008’s Grim Tales, issued via Massacre Records), one demo (May 2005’s When Hatred Comes To Life), and one single (November 2006’s ‘Christmas For The Lobotimizer’, also released by Nuclear Blast). A melodically inclined musician, Lagerblad’s exit was publicly revealed six days later on the 6th.

“Mikael basically quit because when I first started out in 2004 and I created the first demo When Hatred Comes To Life all on my own with a little help from Valle (Adzic) from Impious, it was like only me being in the band and like I was trying to do a solo band,” explains Johan Lindstrand, frontman and vocalist for One Man Army. “When Valle knew about this lead guitarist that played a lot of Metallica stuff I immediately contacted him about it, and he was interested in doing solos on the demo. When everything turned out to be so very good I immediately asked him to join, and he was interested. All of a sudden, there was a lot of touring and stuff like that. Mikael is a great guy, probably the best guitar player we’ve ever had in the band, but he was never 100% into death metal. He’s more into softer metal and that showed up during the end here. When he told us he wasn’t quite into it anymore, that was when it was just better for him to leave and us to get a new guy that’s more focused on what we’re doing. Michael also did the more melodic stuff, which was quite good combined with my type of music. It was a good combination, but the melodic stuff is something we wanted to go away from on this new album and just focus on the more dark stuff with a more in-your-face aggression. No bullshit.”

One Man Army’s songwriting department mainly consisted of a partnership between Mikael and Johan, the axeman’s departure leading to speculation the quintet’s fourth outing would in actual fact be a Johan Lindstrand solo album masquerading under the guise of a band release. Democracy reigns supreme on The Dark Epic however, new guitarist Jonas Blom having penned the majority of the album’s tracks. “There are nine tracks on the album but unfortunately, I’ve written only one of these nine new tracks,” the frontman confesses. “The other eight songs were written by the new guy Jonas Blom, but of course they have all been developed in the rehearsal room as well between the five of us. It’s better to tell you the whole story about the album instead I think, what we aimed for, and that’s basically doing more longer songs with more riffing. We are all big fans of old Metallica stuff like the …And Justice For All stuff as well as the Master Of Puppets stuff when you have these seven-minute long songs. We wanted to go away from the typical four-minute tracks that we had on the previous albums and try to do something new, less melodic and more brutal, like right in-your-face with more aggression as well as me being more aggressive with the vocals as well. That’s basically what our goals were.”

In an attempt to discover a replacement for Mikael, One Man Army auditioned a mere two guitarists. “We had a couple of guys in mind – five or six guys I think – and the first guy that we tried out was very good and was a big fan of One Man Army, but unfortunately he didn’t have that songwriting skill that we were looking for,” Johan notes. “When Mikael left, 50% of the songwriting left as well. He was a good choice I think, but we decided to leave him out of this. The next guy we tried out was Jonas, and this was a guy that Robert our bass player knew about because they lived in the same hometown. He had played in a lot of bands, and everybody knew him from that town to be a very good and dedicated guitar player. He’s a multi-instrumentalist as well; he plays drums in a band called Trident so he can play a lot of instruments, and that’s a good thing when you’re writing songs of course. We immediately knew after one or two tries with this guy though, saying ‘You seem to be a very good guy and we really like you. If you wanna join us, you’d be very welcome.’ He didn’t hesitate that much – it took a couple of beers and we talked it over. Now it’s been a year and a half, I think.”

‘Inside The Head Of God’ is Johan’s sole songwriting contribution to The Dark Epic. “This was a track that I had before Jonas joined” the man himself divulges. “I actually recorded the demo back in Mikael’s house just one to two months before he left the band. I always went to Mikael’s when I did the demos of my songs, so this song has been around for two years now. I changed it a lot on its way to the final version, but yeah, I’m quite happy with it.”

Do you feel that Jonas becoming One Man Army’s new guitarist and writing eight songs for The Dark Epic shows more of a democracy within the band Johan? It’s quite unusual for a new member of a band to be given such freedom on a songwriting level. “I’m quite shocked myself because the guy seems to come up with new music every day. When he joined everybody knew that he was writing a lot of songs, but he was spitting them out, and he spit out very, very good music – we had to cut five songs away from the process because everything went too fast. We chose nine of the best songs we had out of 14 or 15 songs, but I’m no dictator. I don’t have a big ego and say ‘You can’t come into this band and think you can run everything your way’, because I don’t have that ego. I wrote one song and he wrote eight of the other songs on the album. In the end, it’s all about making the best possible One Man Army album. There’s 100% democracy in the band; everybody has opinions when it comes to riffing, melodies and stuff, and everybody comes up with ideas of course. In the end though he came up with the best solution for the album, so it was a very fresh and welcomed situation for us.”

Will any of these leftover songs from The Dark Epic sessions be recorded Johan? “Maybe, yeah. I think so. We had a sequel to the instrumental song ‘Dark Epic’ which he wrote almost at the same time. It’s a good song, about ten to 11 minutes long, but this time we’ll probably use lyrics for the whole song. We have that song and we also have another song that we rehearsed a full version of, but in the end, we felt that it wasn’t fitting the concept of this album. Yeah though, we might have two or three songs left we can use later on. Who knows? It might take two years for the next album to show up, so anything can happen.”

By comparison, Johan adopts a more aggressive vocal approach on The Dark Epic than can be heard on either Grim Tales or Error In Evolution as he earlier admitted. “As I said, my voice is more aggressive than it has been on the last two albums or something,” the singer proclaims. “I brought back the old Johan that could be heard on The Crown stuff when I had the more screamier style, at least in my opinion anyway. On Grim Tales, it was a deeper growling style compared to the more screaming style which I’m using now. When everything comes together, you can really hear the progress. It has improved with my voice and has combined with the more epic music, so everything fits I think. It wouldn’t have fitted with me doing the Grim Tales growling, so everything makes sense.”

Whether they be screaming type vocals or growling type vocals, the One Man Army mainman has no preference. “For me personally, I need to have a combination of both I think. The deeper growling is nicer for my throat compared to the screamier stuff because to keep screaming for an hour to 90 minutes or something wears out your throat, but I need to have a combination. I really like when a vocalist can take the voice to where the music is if you know what I mean, and not use one style during the whole song. It needs to be very flexible.”

One Man Army (l-r): Marek Dobrowolski, Robert Axelsson, Johan
Lindstrand, Mattias Bolander and Jonas Blom

Johan doesn’t adopt certain techniques to maintain his voice for live performances, but that isn’t to say live performances fail to take their toll. “I’ve been doing this for about 21 years now, and two to three weeks on the road or something wears out even the best vocalist,” the veteran readily admits. “Doing a tour in mid-winter or something is pretty hard for a vocalist, but I try to maintain it as good as I can. With being older and things like that, it gets harder all the time. We haven’t been rehearsing since we recorded the album in October I think, so we’ll start rehearsing for some May appearances. When you haven’t done this for three to four months it feels very fucked up to start screaming again, but yeah, those things you need to be aware of (laughs).”

A darker atmosphere permeates the lyrical topics on The Dark Epic. “I try to use a lot of fantasy with the real stuff out in the world actually,” the vocalist observes. “There’s a couple of war stories on this album as well as some black magic stuff, and also I have my own version of the Jeffrey Dahmer incident, so it’s a combination. When it comes to the cover art, it fits. ‘Stitch’ for example, the first song on the album, is a war song about being in the middle of a war and standing in your ditch in a bunker somewhere, and getting bullets from everywhere and getting really fucked up mentally. I haven’t been in a war so I don’t really know, but I can imagine people getting fucked up. That’s what the irony of the word ‘Stitch’ is: you cannot stitch together the mental wounds that occur from being in battle. There’s a lot of stuff like that, so it’s a good mixture I think. My earlier work had a lot of black humour in the whole mess, but now there’s a more serious approach. Definitely word-wise it’s more aggressive than before.”

Central composition ‘Skeletons Of Rose Hall’ refers to the the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall, reported to have occurred at the Georgian mansion of the Rose Hall Plantation near Montego Bay, Jamaica. “It’s about an incident that happened almost 200 years ago in Jamaica,” Johan expounds. “‘Skeletons Of Rose Hall’ is about a girl called Annie who married a guy called John Palmer. He was the owner of a plantation, and he had 2,000 slaves there or something. She learned black magic from an old voodoo queen or something. Annie killed every husband she had and she performed torture on the slaves, and she used black magic on them as well. This is a story that’s well-known when you’re searching for such stories, but I wrote my own version of it. I altered the story a bit to fit my view on things but I think it’s very cool both musically and lyrically, which I’m very proud of. The video is a basic performance video combined with some storytelling, but it has some cool moments. You get the girl Annie Palmer as well as me, but the story of the lyrics doesn’t quite show in this video. It’s the director’s own interpretation of what he thinks, so it’s me running around being like a psycho with a chainsaw cutting people open. Annie Palmer rises from the dead and performs voodoo on me with a doll, so she’s controlling me. It’s pretty cool and it’s pretty bloody (laughs).”

Perhaps the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall is why The Dark Epic’s artwork includes a slave’s head on a stick, among other details? “You can say that, but it hasn’t been obvious for us,” the lyricist clarifies. “The viewer can always interpret the cover art in their own personal way. Of course, that’s fitting with these types of covers. I mean, what is The Dark Epic? It’s up for you to decide. For me, it’s all about death; death is epic, and death is everywhere. Everybody can make their own judgement.”

Björn Goosses of Killustrations, whose previous credits include commissioned work on behalf of Sodom, Zyklon, Norther, Aborted and Dew-Scented, designed the cover artwork for The Dark Epic. “We have been in contact with him for a couple of years and he has been doing a lot of good merchandise for us,” Johan affirms. “For the Grim Tales album he was scheduled to do the cover art and everything, but for some strange reason we decided to use another guy to draw General Grim. Björn from Killustration works on other stuff as well, but for this album we decided to ditch old things and just make a new, fresh start. Björn is very dedicated towards making cool designs, so we thought ‘Why not contact him and make the whole artwork with him?’ He was very into it, so we will definitely use him in the future. Also, he has done a tremendous job for the booklet.”

Of all the artwork illustrated for One Man Army’s material, The Dark Epic seems to have the greatest affinity with the outfit’s mainman. “I think the new one probably fits my own personal view much better than the previous stuff,” concedes the singer. “The previous stuff were all my ideas but in the end, when I look back at them they don’t fit me as a person. They’re more Manowar-like, and more suitable for a power metal band. For this new album we needed something that was much more death metal and more in-your-face, and not a man with big muscles. It’s pure death metal – it has the Grim Reaper, and that says it all.”

Error In Evolution

21st Century Killing Machine

The Dark Epic

Grim Tales

One Man Army’s initial trio of full-lengths sported the General Grim character on their respective covers, though the character’s vacation shouldn’t be viewed as an early retirement. “I wouldn’t say that we have seen the end of him, but he will definitely rest a couple of years I think,” Johan speculates. “For maybe on the next album or the one after that, from now on it feels very good to have him put aside. Musically I think you can still hear the typical One Man Army sound on this album, but it’s a fresh, new sound, and it feels like a new, fresh start for us as well, so that means we need to tread on new ground and write new chapters. We need to put something aside to take new steps.”

The Crown have reformed have reformed with a new singer Johan… “Have they (laughs)?” What are your thoughts on their reformation? “I’m very happy for them. I’m still friends with the guys, and I also met Jonas Stålhammar the new singer when they played in my hometown of Trollhättan. He’s a really good, nice guy and he sings very good, and I’m quite happy for them. Marko asked me to join the band in the beginning to make it a real reunion. I listened to the whole album – instrumental versions of the songs – and I had a day to make up my mind, but in the end it was all about me trying to promote Grim Tales because it was three years ago when they first approached me. I’m getting older, and I don’t have time for two bands actually. You can combine of course and say ‘For half a year I’ll do this and for the other half I’ll do that’, but in the end I wanted to be honest with both myself and the band, so I decided to not do it. I had 13 very nice years with The Crown and they wanted to quit, so I started One Man Army from scratch. That’s my baby, and that’s what I want to do. Who knows for the future? If Jonas Stalhammer gets sick or something, maybe I can go up onstage and do some ‘Deathexplosion’ (laughs).”

Some would argue that using the Crown moniker without the original singer’s involvement isn’t right, particularly since he was an original member who cut six full-lengths with the group. However, Johan himself doesn’t share that view. “Yeah. Marko and the other guys tried to do the whole thing with a different band name; first they started out with Dobermann, and then they had ten other names they were deciding on. I said ‘Marko, why use another name? Why not use The Crown? That’s the name you should use because that’s a name you’ll gain more access within the business with.’ It’s all about business in the end, because you want to put out a record. That was the solution, to use the name The Crown. I have no bad feelings about it whatsoever.”

If you wanted to or had the time Johan, could you make a good album with the members of The Crown? Or are you too far removed from them because of how long you’ve been pursuing One Man Army? “I would definitely be able to do an album with The Crown, but it’s not a question of me wanting to do it now whatsoever because they’re happy with their situation right now, and I had the chance to say yes but I didn’t. In the future who knows though? If I can do some session stuff on a future album it would be cool because as I said, I’m still friends with the guys. There are no hard feelings at all. I was very proud of The Crown and I still am – it’s a really good band.”

The Dark Epic was released on February 25th, 2011 through Massacre Records.

Interview published in February 2011

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