Eating, or looking for things to eat. Boning down, or looking for people to bone down with. Shitting, or looking for music to shit on. The angry metal life devotes countless hours to these simple activities. How Rogga Johansson makes time for even one of these is a mystery. Metal Archives lists The Darkside, the debut of Stass, his project of the month with Crematory‘s Felix Stass, as his 11th release of 2017. That’s far, far too many albums to keep up with, and I know at least one AMG writer has stopped trying. Rogga’s output has been surprisingly consistent, though little of it tends into eye-catching territory. Besides featuring one of the year’s most heinous promo pictures, can The Darkside do anything to standout from a glut of releases that all seem to be circling the same drain?
As expected from the minds behind Crematory and Paganizer, Stass poo-poos any notion of electric melodies or over the top hooks. The Darkside is melodic, but only overtly – it would rather thrive in darkness and discord than soar with the eagles. “Warriors Land” filters light in through the crack in the door, just enough to illuminate the carnage inside. Dripping with malice, Stass brass-knuckle through riffs that unsurprisingly share a good deal of ground with Rogga’s Paganizer. However, Stass often sounds like a more melodic Vallenfyre that swapped out its d-beat grind for Hypocrisy and Before the Dawn pick-me-ups. “The Final Disease” blends some Quo Vadis basswork into the thick Swedish riffing, but the track – and The Darkside in total – maintain a structure that is often predictable. There are a few furtive death/doom chords here and there, but it is mostly up to Rogga’s closing charge to plump up the track.
Stass avoid the grand glossing over that hinders plenty of death albums by imbuing tracks with enough identity to stand apart from one another. Felix contributes to the cause with vocals that remain multi-dimensional despite their crushing abilities. “Forever Blind” rolls a bit of gothic into the mix, enveloping the track in a Peter Steele (Type O Negative)-nee-Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom) take in a way that feels natural within the scope of the song. Likewise, “Angel of Doom” runs long but deepens The Darkside with the haunting influence of Gregor Mackintosh, evoking Paradise Lost on top of Vallenfyre at times. The record shies away from burying itself under crushing impermeability though, never far from a chorus or a tempo shift. This keeps everything moving, even though you can see the change-ups coming every time. This is where Stass suffer the most. Rogga and Felix make a fine pair, but separately they each covered so much ground that taking on a new genre doesn’t exactly feel new. Their overall malleability keeps the record from growing stale, though individual songs proceed about as expected, with no real curveballs or home runs.
Still, the individual components are capable, from Stass’ juking and diving to Rogga’s dependability to the warm licks of Johan Berglund’s (Demiurge) bass and Erik Bevenrud’s capable drumming. I even enjoyed Kjetil Lynghaug of Paganizer guest-spotting on a few of the album’s solos. Rogga and Felix have some friends in the biz, why not take advantage of them? And for all the bands out there whose bassists are more likely to be found on the side of a milk carton than in the final mix, Stass offers an easy solution: let the bassist handle the production. Berglund’s work lands on the bricked side, but his all-around treatment suits the record well, and no exception.
In a year chock full of mediocre melodic death,1 2 it’s easy to dismiss Stass as another brick in the wall. The Darkside probably won’t catch the eye of anyone who isn’t looking for it. At its core, it’s Rogga being Rogga with a cadre of solid performances around him. However, viewing The Darkside through the lens of an artist who works to live, who simply cannot take a day off, brings with it an appreciation of the craft. The consistency embodied in The Darkside is an impressive feat all its own. It doesn’t hurt that the music’s good too.