The idea of a death metal version of Tobias Sammet’s ambitious and overblown Avantasia vanity project is sure to inspire curiosity and I suspect, a fair amount of bemused doubt and sniggers. After all, that vehicle famously attempted to cram every notable metal vocalist into diverse styles of music ranging from Euro-power to hard rock and even poppy hair metal. Leaving aside the success ratio of that project (which was surprisingly high), dragging that template into the crusty world of death metal could easily lead to a train wreck on the scale of Six Feet Under covering Yes and Jethro Tull. Though biblical disaster surely loomed around every corner, Rogga Johansson (The 11th Hour, Just Before Dawn, Demiurg, et al) set out to do it anyways with the new Megascavenger opus At the Plateaus of Leng and if you think about it, who else but this multitasking wunderkind would even entertain such a batshit crazy idea.
Basically, every song has it’s own unique approach and features a different death metal luminary on vocals. None of the tunes sound too similar and Rogga dabbles in multiple genres, styles and moods as the album unspools. The result is an odd, but captivating death metal platter; significantly more interesting than the straight-forward Megascavenger debut, and benefiting from higher level writing and some truly impressive musical ideas. Sometimes risk is its own reward.
The opening title track features Dave Ingram (ex-Bolt Thrower, ex-Benediction) and the music is very much in line with vintage Bolt Thrower with huge, molar-loosening riffs that rumble this way and that like a tank in battle. It’s a simple approach, but it has genuine power and a certain nostalgia factor since it’s as close as we’ll get to hearing new material from the classic Bolt Thrower line-up. Before the dust settles, things take a turn for the weird with “The Festered Earth,” as Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Denial Fiend) gets dropped into a NWoBHM-meets-epic-doom construct loaded with clean, melodic vocals and spacey, synth keyboards from the 80s. The music could almost be mistaken for old Warlord, Atlantean Kodex or the solo work of Dan Swano, but Kam sits in the middle of it all, barking away with his cartoonishly extreme roar. It should be a total disaster, but it actually works…and ROCKS! In fact, I can’t stop spinning it.
Then comes Rogga’s take on doom/death with “And Then the Death Sets In,” where Aad Kloosterwaard (Sinister) croaks over enormously crushing doom riffs that walk the line between Catherdral and morose funeral doom. Kloosterwaard has an almost Chris Barnes-esque delivery (except that he’s good) and the brootal vokills are an effective counter-point to the weighty riffs that sometimes invoke the Godless Beauty era of Cemetary. Even the mighty Martin Van Drunen (Hail of Bullets, Asphyx ex-Pestilence, ex-Bolt Thrower) swings by for “Mucus Man,” which is akin to melancholy Finnish melo-death and loaded with impressively weeping flourishes.
Other fun moments include Ilkka Jarvenpaa’s (National Napalm Syndicate) clean vocals on the more accessible and upbeat “The Hand of Bereavement,” which blends goth rock with metal in interesting ways; the vintage Entombed stomp of “Back to the Ancient” with ubiquitous death drummer Brynjar Helgetun (The Grotesquery, Ribspreader, etc.) taking a shot on vox and lastly, “Night of the Grand Obscenity,” which features Rogga’s attempt to imitate Max Cavalera’s vocals during what sounds like an homage to old Sacred Reich, but with moody, Queensryche-esque prog riffs added in for chuckles (yeah, you need to hear it for yourself).
As disjointed as things should be, the album actually has a respectable flow. Rogga provides all the fretting and I’m quite impressed with the different moods and emotions he brings into his playing. I’ll be damned if he doesn’t pop out some brilliantly doomy and sad riffs while also crafting a few rock solid traditional metal leads that scream 1982. The man has a lot more versatility than I ever gave him credit for, that’s for shit sure. Brynjar Helgetun handles all the drums and does a great job, with some inspired playing and interesting patterns as he strives to adapt to the diverse material.
This is a surprisingly inventive and enjoyable death metal album with more than it’s share of bells, whistles and oddball moments. In a genre that can often feel stale and static, these kinds of albums are like a breath of fresh mountain air. Rogga may be reaching a new creative pinnacle and I’m very curious to hear what he comes up with next. Move over Tobias, there’s a new mega-maestro in town, and he’s also a Megascavenger!
Label: Chaos Records
Websites: None Whatsoever
Release Dates: Out Worldwide on 02.17.2014