Rogga Johansson is the closest thing we have to a death metal machine. Even in a world where bands swap members at random, and everyone has multiple projects, the amount of projects he has put his name to is staggering. You would think that after enough time has passed, there would come a point where the need and the inspiration to continue making mountains of old-school death metal would wane. The amazing part is that we have yet to reach that point, and we may never will. Revolting's fourth album is yet another creation of Rogga's unending obsession with death metal, as well as a singular statement to the overwhelming saturation of the scene.
It's not fair to place blame on one person in particular, but at a time when death metal is as omnipresent as air, there are serious questions to be raised as to the merit of a musician having so many projects that do essentially the same thing. Everything Rogga touches carries the same affection for the old-school Swedish death sound that no matter how much he and press releases try to draw distinctions, it becomes an interchangeable wash. That isn't an indictment of the music, merely the over-abundance that makes it less of an event when news of another album comes down the line.
“Hymns Of Ghastly Horror” doesn't offer us anything we haven't heard before, either from the first wave of death metal bands, or from Rogga himself. It's one of the downsides of backward looking art; nothing comes as a surprise. Every riff and drum pattern are throwbacks to the music that built the current scene, and if I was more well-versed in the history of death metal, I'm sure I would be able to point out examples of classic songs that feature similar material. Again, that doesn't speak to the relative quality of the music, just that it has to work harder to overcome the nagging feeling of familiarity that threatens at all times to relegate the music to a cliché.
The best thing that can be said of the album is that it manages to avoid falling from relevancy. While the songs are undoubtedly rooted in tradition, they are executed with enough skill to be more than a mere retread of better music. Rogga has a knack for playing riffs that stick with you, not relying on speed or brutality to mask what is at its heart an uninteresting but of guitar playing. He throws in plenty of crusty riffs that would make the founders of death metal proud, swamped in the harsh-edged tones that marked those watershed records.
Revolting's best weapon is Rogga's growl, the kind of ragged-throated howl few vocalists in extreme metal can match. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of the songs he appears on, his vocals alone elevate them near the top of the death metal heap. Whereas many bands treat vocals as an afterthought, Rogga is the rare vocalist who at his best can make growling musical.
As to the songs on the album, there isn't much to be said that isn't true of every other record Rogga has made. They are all fruit from the same tree, just with varying tempos. The blast beats in “Ravenous Alien Spawn” sounds different at first, but soon reveal themselves to be a slightly different coat of paint on the same kind of song. So it goes with the rest of the record, with each song a barely different take on a sound we've all heard countless times. That doesn't diminish the quality of the material, which is strong, but it does make it hard to consider what we're hearing special enough to remember.
“Hymns Of Ghastly Horror” does exactly what it sets out to do, providing another dose of old-school death to a scene growing more and more obsessed with technicality and brutality. It's commendable, but the weight of nostalgia sets in even before the thirty-six minutes is over, relegating the album to the back of the line. It does old-school so well it can't step out of that shadow and make its own identity. Like a lithograph of a famous painting, it's simply not the real thing.