Rogga Johasson gets more time in the AMG spotlight than any other artist (yes, even including Jorn the Mighty). With more musical projects than anyone can keep track of, the man is everywhere in the Swedish death metal scene all at once, all the time. The Grotesquery is yet another of his myriad projects, this one teaming him with death metal legend Kam Lee (Massacre, Denial Fiend) and members of Demiurg for a righteously retro Swedish death outing borrowing extensively (and unsurprisingly) from the oft-sacked tombs of Dismember and Entombed. Adding a small dose of originality, this is a concept album, continuing the gruesomely Lovecraftian pulp detective story from their Tales From the Coffin Born debut. Aside from that wrinkle, it’s yet another dose of something we’ve been mercilessly dosed with for years. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good though, and considering the veteran lineup, it almost had to be.
Upfront, it should be known, there’s nothing here you haven’t heard many times before. Most of Rogga’s projects sound similar and all are in line with what you’d expect from a Swedish death act. What makes the material here worthwhile is how well Rogga executes on ancient formulas. Opener “Unholy Reprisal” is a ripping burner that will make you feel like it’s 1990 again and you’re hearing Dismember for the very first time. It rocks that same type of riff they made famous and Kam Lee’s wonderful roars, gurgles and moans make it all the more crushing. If the whole album was this good, we’d be talking album of the year material. It isn’t, but it never tanks either.
Other wicked moments come during “Her Exquisite Corpse” which is more in line with Massacre and Denial Fiend and stomps the listener with jack hammer riffing as Kam foams at the mouth as only he can (his odd moans at times even recalling Mayhem‘s Attila). “Rise – Advent of the Crooked Man” does the classic Swede-death sound justice with satisfyingly old school riffs and pays proper respect to the Left Hand Path style guide. “This is the End” introduces some new elements like gothy, melancholic riffing and clean chanting and singing alongside Kam’s savage delivery and it works quite well.
When the band slows things down for a more grinding style as on “Downfall – It’s All Gone to Hell,” it makes things a bit less interesting and the mood isn’t quite as menacing as was probably intended. The same goes for “Magnum Innominandum – He of the Yellow Sign,” despite brief moments of Triptykon influence that rears its ghastly head.
My biggest gripe with the album is the abundance of mega-cheesy narrative segues between songs. The overly dramatic voice overs are silly and the detective story mixed with horror isn’t particularly compelling, and when they drop in supposedly maniacal and evil laughter, it sounds exactly Like Homer Simpson, thereby inducing more giggles than screams. Out of the 43 minute runtime, roughly 10 minutes is taken up by these little vignettes and they disrupt the album’s flow pretty substantially.
As always, Rogga shows himself an able riffsmith and he clearly has a knack from crafting effectively Entomby and Dismembery lead lines. At this point it’s between him and Anders Biazzi (Blood Mortized, Just Before Dawn) for best riff-meister in the genre. Also as usual, Kam Lee gives it his all as a vocalist. He’s still got a powerhouse roar, and as he did on his work with Denial Fiend, he fills the gaps between actual lyrics with plenty of weird moaning and cackling, thereby approximating the experience of being besieged by a horde of hungry undead. Paired with Rogga’s riffs, this makes for an amusingly over-the-top experience.
By this point, you can expect Rogga-helmed projects to deliver quality death metal and Curse of the Skinless Bride continues the trend, despite the trite storytelling devices and over serving of rotten cheese. If you feel the need to be D-beaten by some heavy death, you could do much worse than The Grotesquery. Just ignore that cover, okay?
Johansson & Speckmann – Mask of the Treacherous Review
Speaking of the many projects of Rogga, here’s one I missed getting to last month. This is his second collaboration with Paul Speckmann, the mastermind of seminal death pioneers, Master. I enjoyed their Sulfur Skies outing back in 2013 for its blend of classic Swedish death and American gore acts like Autopsy, and though it was hardly groundbreaking stuff, the wily veterans knew how to craft tunes that sliced and stabbed their way to one’s metal heart. Their second offering, Mask of the Treacherous doesn’t change a lot, but the changes they do make are good ones. There’s a slight punky swing to some of the songs and this leans much closer to American death than anything Swedish, but it’s still straight-up, zero-nonsense old school death with maximum hostility, minimal melody and nonexistent frills.
At a short 32 minutes, the album starts off fast and aggressive and never eases off the accelerator. It’s a nine song pummel-fest with thrashy riffs layered with Speckmann’s uniquely phlegmatic vocal style. He often sounds like Autopsy‘s Chris Reifert and his scabby, sticky delivery makes you feel like you need a Purell shower. As songs like the title track, “Inhuman Lust” and “I’ll Take Your Rotten Life” hurdle past at breakneck speed, it dawned on me this is what S.O.D.‘s Speak English or Die might have sounded like had they gone for death metal instead of punky thrash. The songs start to bleeds together into an angry blob, but the album remains a fun, berserk listen.
This is one of those albums where standouts aren’t really the point, but “Through the Filth and Riddled Ages” (huh?) offers a nice blend of slow, powerful chugs and Speckmann’s moister than usual spewage. “Enslaved by Filth” (what’s up with the filth fetish?) hammers away with gleeful abandon and includes some “Raining Blood”-esque riff lines for good measure.
The songs are all between three and four minutes, hit quick and run off with your lunch money before you can react, and the album is over before you realize it, which is a sign of good things. There’s no filler, no intros, outros, or anything fancy. It’s the thrash and just the thrash, and that’s fine with me.
This is the rare album where Rogga strays from his Swede-death ways and few of the riffs here sound like Entombed or Dismember outtakes. This isn’t a bad thing at all and it’s nice to hear him writing in a style closer to Slayer and Autopsy. Paul Speckmann sounds as nasty as ever and gives the material the blanket of spittle it needs to really disgust and revolt the listener’s sense of decorum. And check out that DR rating! Not too shabby either.
I wouldn’t call this a “must hear,” but it’s a mindlessly fun and savage slab of speedy death with no pretense or artifice, and that’s always nice to get in this day and age. If nothing else, it proves that short albums are much easier to enjoy.