Written by Kep
Malformity – Monumental Ruin
Death metal from Georgia, United States
Releasing April 19, 2021 via Unspeakable Axe Records
Malformity has had about as uncommon a journey to their debut full-length Monumental Ruin as any band ever. 2021 marks a full THIRTY YEARS since bassist Eric Snodgrass and guitarist Dan Ratanasit first got together and formed the group in 1991, and 26 since they added a drummer and second guitarist and released their first demo, Black Holes to Heaven, in 1995. After another demo, they split up entirely for nearly TWENTY MORE YEARS before re-forming with new members Craig Vogel and Glenn Sykes on drums and guitar in 2014. Now, after two well-received EPs (Lectures on the Apocalypse and The Rapturous Unraveling) in ’15 and ’18, Malformity is finally, finally ready to drop their first full album into the world.
And you know what they say, right? Good things are worth waiting for.
Straight up: this album kicks ass. It’s a monstrous death metal chimera that hits every stylistic and aesthetic note, showcasing a diverse set of influences and a talented group of musicians. You’ve got your European influences like Entombed and Dismember and your American influences like Deicide, Obituary, and Immolation standing shoulder to shoulder, but Malformity doesn’t ape anyone too obviously. Honestly, the closest sound comparison I have for these guys is Darkened, which makes perfect sense because Darkened is an international band with members hailing from multiple stylistic backgrounds. Don’t expect to hear Kingdom of Decay Part 2 though, because Monumental Ruin is a distinct beast that has a compositional style and an aggressive, commanding energy all its own.
After a suitably moody and epic intro track, it’s a plunging rush into the mammoth techy riff that drives opener “Perverse Apotheosis”. It’s a head-turner of a theme that features changing meters and definitely hails from the American side of their influences, and when they suddenly slow it down (we classical musicians call it augmentation) and make it crushingly heavy less than a minute into the track, that’s a hell of a moment, too. This is, in my opinion, the band’s greatest asset, and its signature: the ability to shift between stylistic elements seamlessly, with tight compositional methods. There’s a moment like this in nearly every track, as they marry OSDM from two continents with flashes of doom and grind effortlessly. You’ll also notice another featured aspect of Malformity’s sound: they’re a two-vocalist band. Ratanasit and Snodgrass both take chunks of the vocal work throughout the record; their respective roars are similar but certainly not the same, with one voice a bit throatier and deeper while the other is a touch higher and more snarly. Some of the most powerful moments come when the two come together for a colossal dual growl, like their double delivery of the title words in closer “In Corrosion”.
These guys have put together a group of songs that all loosely fit together under the theme of crumbling society and ruined civilization, and they approach the subject differently from track to track. You ever listen to a death metal record that sounds fantastic at first blush, and then by the third or fourth spin you realize that it all kind of blurs together and feels the same? This is not that. Every song feels distinct and memorable, and there’s a huge variety of sounds, tempos, and riff structures. You’ve got rip-roarer (and awesomely named) “Facemelt Bloodgrinder”, with a nasty, fast-as-hell main riff and one of the chuggiest, moshiest passages I’ve heard this year a little over 2½ minutes in. “Into Ruin” is doomy as hell, with an atmospheric intro and deliberate dual guitar harmonies over simpler drums, and “Degenerative Sequences” features a Euro-tinged melodic riff that’s interspersed with descents into pummeling brutality. There’s even a little touch of solo drumwork to open the title track, with a primitive, almost medieval marching rhythm. The sheer variety of sounds is flat out impressive, particularly for an album that’s 11 tracks (13 including bonuses) long.
Malformity’s overall sound is massive and weighty, but it’s also remarkably clear. There’s plenty of grit and grime in the guitars, the bass rumbles and rolls underneath, the drums are powerful and dirty while still having real clarity, the vocals are prominent but not dominant; my hat’s off to Jamie Uertz (who’s also done some work for Gojira!), the production wizard who handled the mixing and mastering. This is true modern production on an authentically OSDM sound, and when done this well, it’s pretty damn wonderful.
Now, Monumental Ruin is a lengthy album. Like, really long by death metal standards, landing at about 64 minutes. This runtime includes two bonus tracks (“Rapturous Damnation” and “Unraveling”) which are rerecorded versions of the songs from the band’s 2018 EP The Rapturous Unraveling; take them away and it’s about 55. It’s really my only complaint. Over an hour of death metal can be a tough sell, as it is in this case, but for the record, *the whole 64 minutes is just so damn good*. Plus, Malformity has been waiting 30 years to make this record, and who am I to begrudge them for taking a little extra time?
All things told, Malformity is about to deliver an absolute powerhouse of a record to the world on April 19. Doesn’t matter that it took 30 years to get to us, Monumental Ruin is a colossal death metal triumph, and I’ll throw in a guarantee: if you like death metal, you’re going to love this album.
Favorite track: Facemelt Bloodgrinder