I like to imagine the absurdly prolific Rogga Johansson’s inner monologue to be similar to Pinky and the Brain’s introductory bit, with him eating whatever the Swedes eat for breakfast, wondering “what should I do today?” and answering, “the same thing you do every day, Rogga: write and record a death metal record.” Our hero would then draw a band name from a hat or make one up depending on his mood, and by lunchtime would have written about seven songs and called up whoever was needed to complete the lineup. Johansson & Speckmann had clearly been drawn from what must be a very large hat by now, and before the traditional Swedish dinner bell rang that day, Edge of the Abyss was born.
Edge of the Abyss is a quick thirty-three-minute blast of what can best be described as Americanized Swedish death metal. Rogga’s own Paganizer is an obvious influence, as is Speckmann’s Master, but that’s what’s on the marquee so you probably could’ve gathered that yourself. Those two bands along with Grave and Dismember made crustier via Nihilist and then mixed with Obituary forms the backbone of this record, which makes for some reliably good caveman death metal with a bunch of blast beats for good measure. Vocally Speckmann sounds like a raving lunatic, coming across as a mixture of Autopsy’s Chris Reifert and Eric Cutler.
Given that Edge of the Abyss is a Rogga project, it’s full of entertaining, no-frills death metal that gets in, gets out, and leaves a good impression after. Opener “Perpetuate the Lie” sold me on this record within about ten seconds: Rogga rips out a typically good, high-energy riff, and Speckmann comes in with an “oooough” that sounds like John Tardy puking up some bad Chinese leftovers, and you don’t need me to tell you that it rules. “Misanthropy” is subtly hooky, with an earworm chorus that sees our titular duo marching in lockstep with each other, and a verse that sounds like Obituary with blast beats over the top that works oddly well. Edge of the Abyss is also quite accessible and easy to just enjoy,1 as the songs are uniformly simple in structure and even after three thousand records of them Rogga still knows his way around quality, memorable riffing. “The Last Witness is Barely Live” successfully mixes distinctly Swedish melody with a blunt-force caveman-ish bludgeoning, and it’s composed well enough to make both halves work, and neither sound arbitrary or out-of-place.
Caveman death is a deceptively hard thing to do successfully. For lack of a better term, it’s more honest than most styles of death metal, with everything clear and up-front instead of hiding folly and mediocrity behind dissonance and pretension.2 Edge of the Abyss lays its cards on the table, plays zero tricks, and lives and dies by the quality of its riffs. These riffs are uniformly good, but slightly damaging is that these are all good songs with good riffs and good arrangements, meaning that if you’re going to buy five death metal albums this year Edge of the Abyss almost certainly won’t make the cut. It’s enjoyable instead of necessary, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a good record that is certainly worth hearing at least once, and acts as a nice go-to if you’ve got a hankering for some catchy and barbaric death metal.
In terms of production, Edge of the Abyss doesn’t fare so well. It clips all over the place, is squashed to near oblivion, and maddeningly sounds like it could have been quite good if it wasn’t so loud. For instance, Rogga’s guitar tone would pitch-perfect if not for its incessant redlining, and Brynjar Helgetun’s kick drums sound pummeling but shallow. Ultimately, Edge of the Abyss is, to quote my alma mater’s definition of a good work, “a generally competent work of quality” that has no egregious flaws, boring moments, or needless fluff. The presence of greatness doesn’t necessarily follow from the absence of flaws, and Edge of the Abyss is a textbook example of this. Johansson & Speckmann is a good project, and if you liked their two previous records then you’ll like this too. Rogga’s clearly got more riffs and ideas left in the tank, and if this is the kind of stuff he’s going to produce roughly ten times a year then I hope whatever well of inspiration he’s drawing from is far from dry.
DR: 3 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Soulseller Records