Axl Rose famously took a decade to complete Guns N’ Roses’ comeback album, Chinese Democracy. By contrast, in the first six full months of 2018, Rogga Johansson will have released five full-length albums… and an EP… with six different bands.
Johansson suffers from no such lack of focus: He does one thing, with slight variations on his theme of straight-ahead Swedish-styled death metal. Some are better than others, of course — the products of whatever collaborators Rogga works with in whichever project at the time. Back in April, The Grotesquery released The Lupine Anathema, which was a solid slab of Lovecraft-fueled horror death, with Massacre mainstay Kam Lee on vocals. Released a week prior, the newest from Johansson & Speckmann — Rogga’s partnership with Master-man Paul Speckmann — tragically fared a bit worse, effectively treading death / thrash water. I haven’t checked out the Revolting album that came out in January, or last month’s debut EP from To Descend, or the forthcoming Down Among The Dead Men. It’s hard to keep up…
Of Rogga’s myriad projects, Ribspreader has never been my favorite, although it’s certainly not terrible — Swedeath connoisseurs will note that the first album also involved Dan Swano, although on the now half-dozen records released from there, it’s just more of the same ol’ Rogga. Quite obviously the continuation of 2011’s The Van Murders, this Part 2 furthers the tale of murderous characters The Cleaner and Mr. Filth, and it’s pretty much like most sequels: similar, but not as interesting. Like its precursor, Part 2 is passable Swedish death metal, far more interesting in its slasher-film concept than in any execution. It’s not particularly melodic, not technical, not inventive, not all that exciting except in a few spots, although again, it’s never terrible, just predominantly forgettable.
On the positive side, second track “Flesh Desperados” manages to be memorable, although mostly for inadvertently nodding to Texas singer / songwriter Guy Clark with its “flesh desperados waiting for their train” refrain, and “Back On Frostbitten Shores” sports some fun riffs, far less blackened than its title would imply. The two-part “The Cleaners Theme” is the album’s strongest moment, by leaps and bounds. The first half rides on some very respectable riffing and the increased energy that comes with playing something that finally clicks, while the instrumental second half follows that with a standout melodic guitar lead. Throughout all of Part 2, Rogga’s gutturals are appropriately throaty, at times sounding Akerfeldt-y, and at times, Karki-esque; the guitar tone has that certain special buzzsaw bite. All the boxes are checked, and everything’s in order, except very little of it stands out from the pack. But by the time Rogga opens final track “Traveling Band Of The Dead” with a shouted “fuuuuck” like he just got to the bar and forgot his wallet, I’ve wandered off to track down my own drink.
If you’re absolutely insatiable for Swedish death metal, and you’ve scraped the barrel down, then I’m sure you’ll find riffs and grooves to like on The Van Murders, Part 2. For most of us, there’s plenty of Swedeath to cover before you get here, and by the time you do get here, you’ve heard all this many times before. There are worse ways to waste a half-hour, but there are definitely better ways, too.