MALFORMITY – Monumental Ruin (2021)REVIEW

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

What remains half-standing in the midst of decades-long writhing beneath structured yet wholly thoughtless societal movement is, at the very least, a knowing witness to dissolution and rust. The expert on decay both personal and widespread serves as the ideal lens for the decline of self-aware cognition, dissolved by time’s acid scrape along with any recognizable facial flesh the human experiment might still wear. Veterans who’d been kicked into their original death metal gear circa high school friendships in the early 1990’s, right at precipice of the sub-genre’s mainstream peak, Malformity represent a lifetime’s length envisioning of death metal crystallized within their own manner of multi-generational all mutations-applied statement. They’re beyond ripe with these ideas, each of of ’em conjured via an entirely organic, slow decompositional process of jamming and riffing upon what lands in sync and as a result ‘Monumental Ruin‘ cannot help but land itself as a pillar of ‘old school’ death metal strength, intentional or not. There exists a nigh archival abundance of provenance, detail, inside jokes, and life-threatening riffs up for grabs within the desolation-enriched halls of this debut so, you’re going to have to be in it for the long haul to fully appreciate the expansive document this compact disc version of the record represents.

At face value we’ve heard variations of this story before, old death metal band barely existed years ago and the internet spanked ’em back into reality for the sake of a keen half-assed teenaged demo tape… Or, actually, this ain’t that story, not exactly. Malformity formed between bassist/vocalist Eric Snodgrass and guitarist/vocalist Dan Ratanasit back in 1991, I believe when they were still in high school but, I don’t think they’d found a drummer until at least ’93-’94 before cranking out the first version of the ‘Black Holes to Heaven‘ (1995) demo as a trio. That same year they would re-record those same songs, plus one new one, with a second guitarist before splitting up before year’s end. If you collect demo tapes from ’95 you know what to expect from their general southern region of the United States, early Florida death influenced brutality with some unique melodic ideas and there are for sure some great ideas in there, including a badass logo on the first tape, but they knew they weren’t there yet at the time. The original Malformity as a train of thought technically ended in 1995, we could find threads of early Monstrosity (or ideally the second Brutality album) as a general starting point as to what ties the past with the present but today’s Malformity Mark III (or IV?) developed from the songwriting sessions of eh, Lectures on the Apocalypse which isn’t a terrible name but not fitting for what they were writing between Ratanasit, drummer Craig Vogel, and guitarist Glenn Skyes (ex-Regurgitate) before adding Snodgrass and changing the name to the great one they’d come up with back in the early 90’s. So, it really wasn’t so much a reformation and a call back to the 90’s but a matter of landing naturally in place, a classic death metal informed headspace that was fitting enough for the multifarious style they’d been working on. Plus yeah, somehow the band name hadn’t been notably used in the interim.

In this sense Malformity have more in common with today’s classicist death metal youth as their style is not scene or sound specific and attempts to find a full-ranged and varietal beast when putting together a full-length statement. You’ll hear a mélange of death/doom, classic grindcore, thrash and plenty of European and United States death metal cues throughout any of their releases thus far. This non-specificity is sure to catch the ears of folks who aim for the region-breaking sounds of groups like Sinister and Seance (Sweden) in the early-to-mid 90’s but we can only get so far approaching their first EP (‘Lectures on the Apocalypse‘, 2015) and 7″ (‘The Rapturous Unraveling‘, 2018) which I’d reviewed, since they always make sure to let each song be its own singular entity. How does this translate to the death metal attuned ear? Each song tends to arrive on its own insular purpose, be it narrative or stylistic bent but it is clear these songs arrived via jam sessions and practice-room development because each features a Malformity specific ease of synchronized movement that you don’t necessarily get from solo projects that rely on one composer for all input. The ultimate analog versus cyborg statement is just, yeah, you can tell they write these songs together. Of course we can peg their sound a bit now that the full-length is out and everything has come together — To start ‘When the Sky Turns Black’ seems to be the golden standard here, some ‘Ritual of Infinity’-era Morpheus Descends level compositional movements, plenty of bellowed Massacre and Grave-sized lunges and maybe a hint of early Drawn and Quartered as a result of these attributes landing adjacent to one another. Doomed slugs, teeth-grinding, and an unholy death metal core define the ‘Monumental Ruin’ experience.

It only make sense to cover what is old before we get to the 8-9 song heart of this thirteen track disc, which tops out in approach of 70 minutes. The two bonus tracks account for what I believe are re-recordings of the two songs on the ‘The Rapturous Unraveling’ 7″ EP and they’ve also re-recorded “Lost Necropolis” from the ‘Lectures on the Apocalypse’ EP. “Lifeless Mindless” is likewise a re-recording, but this one being a song reinterpreted from the first couple of demos in the mid-90’s. So they’ve really made an archival event of the CD version of ‘Monumental Ruin’, pulling in fresh versions of pieces from each recording in their three decade history. I assume this was for the sake of hitting the full span of the project though it does add up to over an hour of music. Had they cut things down to new material and roughly nine songs a slightly more manageable proposition of ~45 minutes is enticing for the eventual vinyl LP version. The reason I don’t have a gripe with the full hour plus experience now is that we’re basically getting the definitive edition of these sessions up front, everything straight up and in a glorious pile. It might leave the cursory disc-spinner wanting for sublime continuity within the running order but again, if you’ve collected music for some length of time the “one and done” version of a solid album up front is nothin’ to gripe about.

Malformity ensure that now two of their songs are the same or, noticeably similar in structure and movement. Beyond that, their choice of running order seems to have been designed to emphasize these songs as singular moments rather than one continuous flowing statement. “Perverse Apotheosis” is fittingly the stunner to start with as the opener, weaving some Morpheus Descends worthy winding paths and dual vocal torment. As far I’ve seen Ratanasit provides the sort of semi-guttural vocals (a la Mike from Ruin/Vrenth) that offer a strong juxtaposition of tone and cadence as we hit upon different levels of sophistication in cadence, this becomes most notable on “Monument to Decay” for my own taste, likewise bringing some of the sharpest riffs on the album. “False Dichotomy” likewise has a bit of this Hoffman-era Deicide dichotomy sewn into its vocal exchange though it isn’t necessarily sing-along as that might suggest. It is the unexpected pieces around every corner that give ‘Monumental Ruin’ its legs in terms of shelf life, the deathgrinding double-fister “Facemelt/Bloodgrinder” and my favorite track, the doom entrenched “Into Ruin”, offer a sort of up front statement of “Don’t get too comfortable” and this means never turning the brain off and riding whatever expectations had already developed by the fifth or so song. This especially comes into play as we reach the depths of the later pieces, which are slightly more primitive and almost Scandinavian in spirit with “Lifeless Mindless” and “Lost Necropolis” being written during sessions long in the past. This will either read as varietal or uneven depending on what you’re expecting from a 2021 death metal record. My only concern was that they’d kept the energy and ideas up throughout the hour and in that sense, all is well.

If you see the lineage from the birth of death metal ’til today, with some strong enthusiasm for the pros and cons of each eon and in even-eyed appreciation you’ll like what Malformity have put together here. Old spirits, fresh sounds, and plenty of choice variety makes ‘Monumental Ruin’ a solid lesson in death metal delivered without pretense. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Monumental Ruin
LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe Records
RELEASE DATE:April 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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