Johansson & Speckmann – Sulphur Skies Review

Johansson & Speckmann // Sulphur Skies
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Get a bucket and some Purell ®
Label: Vic Records
Release Dates: EU: NA: 2013.06.10  |  06.18.2013

Johansson-Speckmann-Sulphur-SkiesNeither rain, nor snow nor soccer riots can keep the Rogga Johansson express from its appointed rounds through the Swedish death metal landscape. This is the fourth album I’ve reviewed in 2013 that had his bloody prints all over it (Megascavenger, Just Before Dawn, Paganizer) and he’s in countless other projects as well (Demiurg, Ribspreader, etc. etc. to infinity and beyond). As I study the endless tide of Rogga works, I’m left to marvel at both his inhuman productivity and the overall quality of the material he creates. Johansson & Speckmann is his new collaboration with the legendary Paul Speckmann of long running, seminal death act Master. With such a titanic union, one obviously expects great stuff (and shitty, DIY album art) and since between them they cover the spectrum from Swedish to American death, the possibilities seem limitless (well, except by the parameters of death metal). Sulphur Skies features Rogga on guitar and bass, leaving Speckmann to handle all the croaking, screaming and caterwauling. If you expect some old school Swedish death, you’re half right. The music does indeed sound a lot like old Grave and really old Dismember, but Speckmann’s vocals and the song writing actually make this stuff sound more like vintage Autopsy (as did the last Master album). That isn’t a bad thing for me, and some of this material really flies high in those sulphur-rich skies. While it has some turbulence and bumps along the way, this is another solid outing by the Rogga-Meister and there are some real death gems scattered about like so many bloody limbs.

Things tear right off without the conceit of an intro and “Everyone Rots” is a doozy of an opener! Fast, thick, crusty and rancid like last year’s gym socks, the classic Swedish guitar buzz isJohansson paired with Speckmann’s body-wracking, phlegmy vocals. I don’t know anyone who had the bubonic plague, but I imagine in the last hours of life, a victim would sound like this guy does: sick and nauseous. Rogga’s riffs are inspired and attention-grabbing and the whole thing is a big, wet, leprous kiss. The quality continues with “Spiritual Wasteland” during which Speckmann sounds as if he’s hacking up his duodenum and jejunum. Rogga spins some powerhouse riffs and fills in the gaps with haunted, eerie solos for the perfect icing on the rat cake. When they slow things down for a bit of grind during “Taste the Iron,” Speckmann sounds even more infectious and inhuman.

Other winners include the stomping mix of Autopsy and Carcass during “Vile Stench and Decay,” the straight-ahead, simple slam of “The Wretched Man” and “The Real Victims” which features hilariously over-the-top, vomitous vocals. I haven’t heard noises like that since my college days of lock-n-load keg parties featuring Milwaukee’s Best premium ale.

On the weaker side, “Rotten Soil” has a chorus that leaves me flat, though the song around it is still pretty cool. “Crawl for Miles” goes for an ugly, mid-tempo grind, but it doesn’t really fire on all cylinders and lacks the impact of the surrounding tracks.

logoThis is a little labor of love by long time respected vets, so you get some quality performances. Rogga deals out the big, propulsive (and repulsive) riffs like he’s a one man Sunlight Studio and his solos are usually creepy, haunting and perfect for the mood. Speckmann goes for broke from go and spends the entirety of Sulphur Skies sounding on the brink of a nasty demise. He really makes this album work and even though he does good work on the Master albums, he really outdoes himself here. Brynjar Helgutun (Ribspreader, Grotesquery) handles drums and does a great job, providing a great pace and a serious rumble. The playing overall is tight, but still feels loose and on the edge, as good death should.

If you enjoy the work of either of these grizzled warriors, you can buy this with confidence. It’s a primal slab of caveman death that will make you feel as if you need an authentic Silkwood shower. And remember, as you enjoy this stuff, Rogga is burning the midnight oil on seven hundred other death projects because he loves you. Rogga, Rogga, Rogga!

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