Written by Kep
Necrogod – In Extremis
Death metal from Sweden/Costa Rica
Releasing July 23 via Transcending Obscurity Records
Sweden’s Rogga Johansson is the busiest man in metal. I say that with no actual way to prove it, but I doubt anyone will argue. Just take a look at his list of projects from The Metal Archives:
I count almost 40 active projects, plus a slew of bands that he used to play in or that have broken up, and Rogga is regarded as someone who cranks out high-quality work consistently across that volume. Now consider that literally every one of those active outfits is a death metal or death-adjacent project, and you’ll understand why I pounced on the promo for Necrogod’s debut LP In Extremis. An opportunity to review a straight up death metal album from one of the biggest names in death metal? Sign me up!
This project features one other member, a name equally well-regarded within its local scene, although with a few dozen less bands attached to it. The Master Butcher (yes, his name is rad as hell) is a product of the lively and underrated Costa Rican underground metal scene, where he fronts Insepulto and international death/doom outfit Morbid Stench. I’ve done some research on this, so trust me: you might not have heard of The Master Butcher (I hadn’t), but he’s a name that is synonymous with quality, ferocious, brutal vocals. High expectations intensify!
Well, perhaps I let my expectations get out of control, because my biggest impression after sitting with the album for a while and listening several times is that it’s…underwhelming. Which is not to say it’s bad! It’s just not as good as I had hoped. I’ll explain.
In Extremis is a neat package of 9 songs and 34 minutes, with music that’s brutal and nihilistic and destructive; it’s actually quite a ways away from what you might expect from a veteran of Swedeath like Rogga (especially if you’ve jammed last month’s The Lighthouse by his outfit Eye of Purgatory), in that the riffs are substantially less melodic and the emphasis is squarely on savage violence. Just press play on opener “Bringers of Blasphemy” to get the gist—the riff is a thick, punchy beast replete with nasty pinch harmonics, no melody to be found. Johansson handles all instruments, and his imposing skill on the axe is a steady force across the album. His work is efficient, bludgeoning, and takes a distinctly attacking, in-your-face approach. This tack is one that results in palpable viciousness, but doesn’t produce many memorable rifffs. There are a few that are superb—one is the monster that features in “When Madness Has Taken Control”—but overall In Extremis is solid but little more in the riff department. The drum programming is similar: it does its job serviceably, but it’s nothing to write home about. Where Rogga does predictably kick ass is in the solos, because every single one is a chaotic shredfest. “The Brutal Path (Straught to Hell)” is a fantastic example of this, with multiple white-hot solos that could melt steel.
For his part, The Master Butcher’s performance is solid as well. His voice is beastly and massive with plenty of range, and that deep growl is a special, evil sound. The delivery is utterly blistering and reeks of malice, and I couldn’t find a fault with his voice itself or his level of intensity if I tried. He does seem to feel compelled to lay ad-libbed wordless growls and roars over passages of the music between his actual lyrics, which I found a bit tiresome. Sometimes those vocal-free passages need to breathe, man!
So far we’ve got a package of torrid, angry riffs and deliciously spiteful vocals, which is more than enough to make this a solid record. So what’s holding it back from being a very good one? To me, beyond pretty basic song structures, it’s primarily a disconnect between the two performers. It’s a hard thing to put into words, but to my ears the vocals often feel like they don’t quite mesh with the music; they feel like a separate entity, something that was fit with the music out of necessity and not out of a collaborative writing process.
I checked out an album from The Master Butcher’s other death metal project, Insepulto, and one from Morbid Stench, his death/doom group. Both bands feature tempos that ride consistently slower than most of the songs on In Extremis, with less of that brash speed and more heavy groove, and Butcher’s vocals fit perfectly. Similarly, Necrogod’s ensemble is best in the tracks “Remain the Same Again” and “When Madness Has Taken Control”, the two slowest, elephant-stomp heavy songs on the album. The band shines brightest when Butcher growls threateningly over a crushing Rogga groove, and less so when he rushes his massive sound over a breakneck riff, because when that happens the two parts make a much less impressive whole. I’m fully aware that I’m being a picky asshole, and there are moments where both guys absolutely slay at quicker tempos—“In the Reign of Gore” is one of the best examples of this. But I just expect tighter collaboration when the parties involved are this good individually, even if the project is an international one with members far apart. In my opinion, the riffs and vocals aren’t quite a match, and I wish they were.
All in all, Necrogod ’s In Extremis is sure to satisfy a ton of metalheads, and it’ll scratch that itch for savage audio malice. But if you’re looking for the kind of near-flawless songwriting that you might expect from two legends, you might have to look elsewhere.
Favorite track: When Madness Has Taken Control