“If two journeymen journey enough, at some point, they will inevitably journey together…”
— an ancient Chinese proverb that I just made up
Johansson & Speckmann is the rather uncreatively named pairing of death metal stalwarts Rogga Johansson and Paul Speckmann. Most famous for the seminal tandem of Death Strike and Master, Speckmann has also been a part of defunct and underrated thrashers Abomination and Czech death metal outfit Krabathor, among others. The almost comically prolific Rogga Johansson is a one-man Swedeath factory – his Metal Archives entry lists twenty-nine bands, twelve of which are active. Of those twelve, one (Megascavenger) features an earlier pairing of Herrs Johansson and Speckmann. Then, the latter contributed vocals for one track on that project’s decent, if unspectacular, Descent Into Yuggoth.
This latest of three Johansson & Speckmann discs released since then can be described in much the same terms. Like that first Megascavenger, Edge Of The Abyss is a straightforward death metal album, and like that one, it’s enjoyable in the moment and regrettably pretty forgettable thereafter. Stylistically, it’s exactly what you’d expect, a gnarly thrashing bashing that holds closer to Speckmann’s work, largely due to his characteristic grunt. Rogga’s riffs are suitable, occasionally strong but never transcendent; Speckmann’s vocals are typically gut-level and gnarly, but none of the songs really hit hard enough to leave much of a lasting mark.
Thus, your enjoyment (or not) of Edge Of The Abyss hinges entirely upon your appreciation of workmanlike death metal – moments do coalesce better than others, as you’d expect. The descending triplet riff in the center of “Misanthropy” pokes its head above its peers, while late-album entry “A Concept” comes together well enough. There’s much promise in the stuttering intro and Master-ish drive of “You’ve Stepped On A Dime,” although it’s mostly because it arrives earlier in an album filled with similarities. Still, after about twenty spins, I can’t really tell one song from the next, and can’t remember which is which once the disc stops playing. (A large part of my preference for “Concept” is this: It seemed like whenever I heard something and thought, “That part is cool,” I looked over and it was during that song. Even then, I still can’t pull it too far ahead of the rest of the pack.)
So, while there’s nothing technically wrong with Edge Of The Abyss, it’s simply outperformed by most of its contemporaries, and even by its own creators. Both Speckmann and Johansson have released better efforts already this year – Master’s An Epiphany Of Hate continues their recent run of strong and vicious death/thrash albums, and Johansson’s Paganizer project dropped the latest of three EPs in July. Maybe it’s the product of the pair of them focusing their best efforts elsewhere, but like the unimaginative band name that bore it, Edge Of The Abyss feels only really halfway developed, not quite fully engaged, rushed. Unfortunately, even with the promise the pairing brings, the whole of Johansson & Speckmann is less than the sum of the parts, and Edge Of The Abyss falls readily over that edge and into… Well, you get the picture…
By no means awful, but ultimately, this one’s mostly for completists and the death metal insatiable…