For extreme metal, anno 2015 is off to a good start, with Johansson & Speckmann‘s second studio effort, Mask of the Treacherous, being released through Vic Records. This nine-song album features Ribspreader‘s Rogga Johansson, teamed up with Master‘s Paul Speckmann. The studio-only collaboration showcases the musical and songwriting acumen of Johansson with the “vokills” of Speckmann.
It’s nice to hear an album that fires on all cylinders and sonically kicks you in the face right away. It hits that sweet spot and stays there. A lot of discs these days focus on having eerie intros, slow builds, layered orchestration, and the like. This one dispenses with that notion and goes straight for the jugular.
A classy collaboration named after the participants rather then being called something from a pathophysiology text, Mask of the Treacherous encourages you to listen deeper: your ‘this is another gory platter’ crutch to lean on has been removed. The sound is crisp, clear, and loud. It hasn’t sacrificed that thick, warm spectrum though: it doesn’t sound ‘digital’ or over-compressed.
Neither overly technical or overly simplistic, Johansson & Speckmann’s latest invokes and recalls the best of the mid 1990s grindcore and extreme metal sound. There’s a very nice sonic balance between the instruments and vocal. The overall mix combines the best of buzzsaw guitars, prominent but not overbearing bass guitar, and a very nice drum mix, replete with non-tappy bass drum. Nicely performed, not slopped-through guitar solos are a definite plus. Brynjar Helgetun accurately sets varying tempos, mostly in the faster realms. Speckmann’s vocals are as distinctive as ever. He manages to bring that repellent or repulsive, disgusted, malevolent tone to his lyrics. Plus, he’s more intelligible then most. Listen for the bona fide Genesis (Bible) verses in “Within Reach”. Plus, any extreme metal album that opens with a deep existential question like “is there really a soul?” and follows that up a couple tunes later with “…the rat race that is life…” gets bonus points.
Right from the outset, the bands that come to mind first are Death (early), Terrorizer, and Entombed (Left Hand Path era). Old-school death metal fans could always use more of that! It’s a wonderful amalgamation of American and European sound and influence.
Check out the mid-tempo break-downs in “The Bringer of Pain” and “I’ll End Your Rotten Life”. When ‘extreme’ bands first introduced that ‘sonic motive’ into their songs, mosh pits went crazy, and many whiplash injuries were sustained. Mating this mid-tempo pummeling to a grindcore ‘bridge’ only increases it’s intensity and stand-out character. These guys aren’t afraid to court rock and roll: “A Grave For This World” actually ventures in to melodic territory, briefly sounding (guitar-wise, at least) like ground-out punk rock at times.
Currently, musicians create releases, for the most part, so they can tour them. That this is strictly, so far, a studio collaboration brings up the question of “why”? Well, why not? Johansson & Speckmann’s Mask of the Treacherous is pretty standard fare for the “old guard” – nothing that we haven’t heard before. It doesn’t move the genre forward but doesn’t have to. It more seems to be an edification or elevation of the death grind art form for another decade, another generation of listeners and fans. And boy is it well-performed. Perhaps it’s a reflection, a bit of nostalgia for an era gone by. It definitely brings back memories of the genre’s formative days.
Mask Of The Treacherous
Through The Filth And Riddled Ages
The Wicked Marches On
The Bringer Of Pain
I’ll End Your Rotten Life
Enslaved In Filth
A Grave For This World
Rogga Johansson – Guitar, Bass Guitar
Paul Speckmann – Vocals
Brynjar Helgetun – Drums