Review Summary: Rogga Johansson. Need I say more?
In the consciousness of the masses who only slightly flirt with the heavier side of music, Swedish death metal is exemplified by the likes of In Flames and Soilwork, their watered-down, commercial Gothenburger mellowdeath having more in common with radio chewing gum than metal's most extreme subgenre, which it still proudly sports in its name. The vast majority of the current melodic death metal scene happily morphs its sound away from the blueprint set by Gothenburg's trailblazing At The Gates, picking a broader audience and media appeal over the “death metal” tag erroneously remaining in its name. Two decades ago, this was not the case – the turn of the 80's and 90's brought the world a wave of bands offering a powerful, somewhat punk influenced response to American death metal, the movement centered around Stockholm. Bands like Entombed and Dismember utilized the instantly recognizable “Sunlight Studios” guitar tone as they created monolithic albums that gained them widespread acclaim. Melodic death metal, and the unfortunate mutations it went through later, was just an off-shoot. All too soon the Stockholm scene overstuffed itself and fell easy prey to black metal's calculated invasion, leaving the big dogs and seldom little else alive.
With time, a new wave of bands, somewhat smaller and less acclaimed than their forefathers, decided that the initial Swedish death metal sound was worth reviving. Acts like the revered Repugnant, Facebreaker, Flesh, Nominon, and to some extent Death Breath and Bloodbath have declared emulating the old school way of playing as their goal, creating pounding, catchy songs that wouldn't have sounded out of place in Stockholm's heyday. The most diligent musician of them all – Rogga Johansson, a man who seems to sleep, drink and make death metal. Rogga has participated in countless acts, be it collaborations with his regular Swedish buddies, an all-star band by the name of Demiurg involving Dan Swanö (Edge Of Sanity) and Ed Warby (Gorefest), a group including Spaniards Rober and Phlegeton or a pending recording with a fellow side-project freak and “ancient death metal” lover Elektrokutioner. His bands have already released four records in 2009, and it's safe to assume that at least two or three more will follow before the year ends. The man's a robot, devoted to churning out old school Swedish death metal by the tons.
From his sea of bands, he names Paganizer and Ribspreader as his main projects. Indeed, Paganizer is the longest running, triumphantly crawling out of the ashes of another outfit dubbed Terminal Grip in 1998. Paganizer seems to have survived it all – a supposed name change to Carve (who released a bunch of albums alongside the supposedly defunct Paganizer in the early to mid 00's before falling apart), a supposed break-up in 2005 and a revolving door of bassists and drummers weren't enough to stop Rogga from regularly popping some bluntly primitive, bizarrely catchy and distinctly un-technical death metal under his favorite moniker, be it in the form of a split, EP, or a fully-fledged album. Scandinavian Warmachine, Paganizer's 2009 record, is the band's seventh in eleven years – quite a nice rate, isn't it?
The music to be found on here is... yes, you guessed it, old school Swedish death metal. Not a trace of originality to be found within a hundred miles, just the tried-and-true heavy riffing alternating between speedier tremolo passages and chunkier bottom end attack, meaty roaring and drumming showing that death metal can survive without a gigantic condensation of blast beats. I somehow prefer this album over No Divine Rapture and Carnage Junkie, but it's all a matter of personal taste – none of Paganizer's albums, excluding the tepid mistake of a debut, are too bad, and the ones you prefer will be determined by how much fast/slow/catchy you want in your music. Scandinavian Warmachine offers a ton of crunchy, mid-paced riffs slightly reminding me of Grave, a whole lot of these tracks are catchy in the peculiar way that only Swedish death metal can be catchy in. “Forever Scorned” and “Scandinavian Warmachine” offer a fantastic one-two punch right off the bat, getting your foot tapping along to a powerful groove (and I'm using groove in a good way here). The style doesn't change throughout, offering a balance between the tremolo motifs and mid-paced riffs, just enough to have you not get too bored of either style. Solos are not to be found – Rogga is more of a rhythm player, and he didn't see it fit to include any leads here. However, to be quite honest, the primitive music sounds just fine without them, it manages to hold its own. Johansson delivers a good vocal performance, as usual – huge growls, meaty roars, an occasional harsh yell, and all of them executed with style. The album is a bit on the long side, clocking in at almost an hour, but it doesn't offer any stinkers. You won't find too much diversity here, it's a retro death album and the bands devoted to playing that style are some of the more conservative acts around. However, Rogga manages to make each track sound energetic and powerful, Paganizer doesn't seem to be racking up playtime for the sake of it.
Scandinavian Warmachine is yet another release by the man responsible for about half of the current retro death scene, and despite so many albums done already Rogga shows no signs of wanting to slow down. Paganizer's 2009 album falls more on the mid-paced, catchy side, and I like it for what it is. The music is far from original, plus the songs may get somewhat similar sounding, especially when you consider this is an hour-long album. However, it's an old school death metal release and those particular bands find pride in sticking to tried-and-true ways of writing tunes, and none of the songs are real stinkers – Rogga manages to maintain a level of quality throughout, and each of the tunes is performed in a lively, powerful manner. If your perception of Swedish death metal ends on Scar Symmetry, start from the giants (Entombed, Dismember, Grave, Unleashed) and if you like what you hear, slowly work your way down to retro death. If you know (and like) the Stockholm scene already, you can give this a go. Don't expect anything revolutionary though – this is simply primitive, pounding and catchy old school Swedish death metal done right. Nothing more, nothing less.