Reek – Death Is Something There Between Review

Cometh the year, cometh the man. Rogga Johansson is once more pillaging our pages with yet another death metal project (1 of the 73,832,799 death metal or death metal-adjacent albums to which he has contributed), this time with a band called Reek. Here he supports on guitar with Håkan Stuvemark of Wombbath on vocals and lead guitar, Jon Skäre of Wachenfeldt on drums and Mathias Back of Fimbultyr on bass. Death Is Something There Between represents their debut release and extends its gaunt fingers into the graveyards of early 90s Stockholm, but with the mildly jauntier twist of mid-90s Entombed. How fares its exploration of the dead?

If nothing else, Death Is demonstrates the unassailable clout of Entombed in death metal’s decorated history. I don’t just mean for the classic Swedish death metal sound (formerly as Nihilist, latterly as Entombed), but also for introducing classic rock influences into the template across Wolverine Blues, and consequently inventing an entire sub-genre over 37 minutes. Death Is broadly fits this death n’ roll template, leveraging the grooves from both Swedeath and also 70s rock. This manifests most obviously through the twin-guitar attack. The ‘death metal’ guitar handles the buzzsaw riffs typical of the Sunlight Studios sound; these are honed to a sharp edge, as opposed to the dirtier approach favored by some classic death metal. The ‘70s rock’ guitar shreds with the best of them, utilizing a significantly cleaner tone to embellish bridges and elevate solos. Though this is first and foremost a death metal record and not a hard rock one, it peaks when both strands are interwoven into counter-pointing, layered melodies. “Flesh Golem” and “Gold in Your Throat” exhibit this style early on in their opening passages which match grinding rhythms with shredding leads. The best example is finale “Rain Down Salvation” which features the most ear-catching riffs and transitions, and consequently draws things to a close strongly.

Given the evident influences channeled through Reek, it should not be shocking to learn that the production is also grinding and old-school. The cutting edge of the buzzsaw guitars and the distinct absence of bass in the mix evoke the raw, earthy sounds of Stockholm in 1991; there’s nary a scrap of modernity in this production. But I think the weakness at the bottom end of the mix is a problem here. Robust, groovy rhythms are key to most rollicking death n’ roll. But the absence of bass means that the drums are somewhat muted and the bass guitar is almost entirely obscured. Death Is therefore lacks that rhythmic strength of the sub-genre and the net effect is to rob the record of distinction. Though solid many of the surface riffs are, the lack of a commanding presence at their core results in blurring and ensures that my head is not as bouncy as it should be.

But arguably even worse than this is that though the songs are relatively short-form (typically between 2.5 and 4 minutes), Reek have a strange proclivity for repetition. Most tracks employ just 1 or 2 key riffs to carry the duration, and while they’re largely decent, most are not decent enough to engage for their entire tracks. I was left with a feeling that my ears had taken a battering; initially in a good way, but latterly in a tiring one. Furthermore, the consistent mid-paced approach bolsters the blurring mentioned above and the feeling that songs aren’t really developing (which they largely aren’t). Many tracks sound very similar and would be interchangeable to my ears. This particularly stings as you reach the rear end of the album. Although “Rain Down Salvation” is the highlight, it’s dreary to get through the couple of tracks before this and they leave very little impression.

Despite my criticism, Death Is is not a record I actively dislike. I particularly appreciate the grinding aesthetic and dual guitar approach which lays the groundwork for some nifty music in the future. But the majority is insipid, indistinct, and I feel no desire to spin it anymore, especially when I’ve acquired 15 other albums since social distancing began about 5 weeks ago at time of writing. The call of my medley of prog, synth and ambient (and even a few metal albums) is too strong.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Testimony Records
Releases worldwide: April 24th, 2020

« »