By no means am I huge fan of Tad Morose, but I can see why they’d appeal to fans of heavier power metal and for a quick comparison, think of the style that’s more along the lines of Angel Dust’s 90’s albums than that of Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys series. In fact, Undead would probably appeal to the people who complain about power metal’s cheesiness (which, frankly, is silly criticism to me, most metal bands are cheesy in one way or another, but the good ones know how to pull this off). It features dark themes, a vocalist with a clear edge to his voice and despite their occasional keyboard-impacted moments, the guitars remain prominent.
Let’s get one thing straight right away though: to deny that the vocals play an important role here would be completely inaccurate. I wouldn’t be surprised if Urban Breed was in charge of the songwriting process, because Undead resolves more around impressive vocal hooks than an onslaught of riffs, but yes, what a voice does Urban Breed has! He does it all: like a possessed eagle he soars way up high with ease, occasionally adds some powerful grit to his voice, manages to convince you that singing power metal damn easy and perhaps most important of all: makes Undead sound extremely robust. I have no problem calling Urban Breed one of the best vocalists out there unfortunately that fall into the underappreciated category, but once you’ve heard what he’s capable of, you, too, will understand why I praise his him so much.
Fortunately, there’s more to the vocals and even though I used to believe that there wasn’t, it sometimes it feels good to be wrong! Stylistically speaking, Undead finds itself between the gloomy A Mended Rhyme and the simplistic Matters of the Dark and I’m not surprised why I prefer this album over the surrounding ones. Unlike its successor, Undead has some actual depth to it; with the exception of several catchy choruses (you can’t beat the ones of “Where the Sun Never Shines” and “Lord on High”), these songs don’t just live and die by their choruses. They’re worth replaying many times over, whereas most of Matters of the Dark sounds much catchier, yet loses its appeal in the long run. There are some vocal-oriented tunes here, too, yet you could never say that these were written for a live setting where the crowd is meant to sing along. The foreboding “Order of the Seven Poles” is chug-heavy, but unlike anything from A Mended Rhyme, it actually works all the way up towards that incredible soaring climax. The fantastical storytelling of “The Dead and His Son” reminds me of something Dio would have written in his younger years, which is all about the overpowering vocals, but you wouldn’t hear me complain about that. Urban Breed sound at his most passionate here; belting and wailing with an enormous amount of power, while the track has an ancient and foreign feel to it. I’m convinced that an album full of these tracks wouldn’t work, but some variety never hurts anyone, does it?
Vocals aside, long-lasting guitarist Christer Andersson has clearly found his niche here. Equipped with a hefty guitar tone it would have been a waste if he wouldn’t use this to his advantage by actually playing some fine riffs. Fortunately, he’s definitely stepped up his game from A Mended Rhyme, which is too chug-based for my taste. I don’t mind some chugging in metal, but you’ve got to incorporate that properly, you know? Either way, most of what Undead has to offer sounds fairly solid and even unpredictable to a certain degree (which, frankly, you couldn’t say about Matters of the Dark), even if not every song represents a never-ending sea of riffs. “Servant of the Bones” hint some Crimson Glory influence with its choppy riffing storming onward in that faithful American power metal fashion and along with the Iron Maiden-inspired “No Wings to Burn”, it’s the most referential track on the album. “Corporate Masters” is another thrilling song and with its vibrant and thundering main riff, it turns into one of the heavier cuts on the album. It’s a good example of a guitarist pulling something like this off without relying on an unnecessary amount of riffs or by playing around with any overly sophisticated licks. But then again, sometimes less is more!
I’ll admit that I could have done with a few more riff-heavy songs in the vein of “Servant of the Bones”, but Undead sounds well-paced and its variety pays off as well. The only time things turn absolutely dreadful would be once the title track kicks off. It features some overpowering verses, where Urban Breed sound as gigantic as you’d expect him to be, but with that complaining chorus – combined with a plodding mid-paced riff, the track turns into something awfully mediocre. Of course, one poor track isn’t a big loss and while I could nitpick about the unimaginative chorus of “Another Time Around” or the unnecessary start of “Lord on High”, those things don’t bother me too much. If anything, I can’t help but wonder: was Urban Breed lucky to have been part of Tad Morose or were Tad Morose lucky to have had Urban Breed as their vocalist? It’s up for debate, really. Yet, at the end of the day Undead remains a good album and that’s all that matters.
Score: 77 out of 100 – Realm of dark fantasy
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