Album Review: Replicant – “Malignant Reality” 9/10 (Death Metal)

Written by Kep

ReplicantMalignant Reality

Death metal from New Jersey, US

Releasing September 10 via Transcending Obscurity Records

9/10

I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I love Replicant. Their debut EP Worthless Desires kicked ass. 2018’s Negative Life, their first full-length, is one of the most viscerally ugly monstrosities I’ve ever heard, and it kicked ass. Their half of the Welcome to New Jersey split with Bayht Lahm? Kicked ass. The two-track Hypochondria of the Machine EP was a gem, and it kicked so much ass. “Unbeing”, their track from the four-band Chasm of Aeons split was an asskicker, too. 

And now their brand new second full-length effort Malignant Reality? IT FUCKING KICKS ASS.

Let’s not get it twisted, though: this is not a fanboy review. My love for Replicant and their highly underrated discography has had my expectations set approximately as high as a Jersey City skyscraper. This could have easily been a crash and burn sort of situation if Malignant Reality, their first offering with Transcending Obscurity, didn’t deliver. They needed to keep true to the tenets of their sound while pushing their songwriting forward. Replicant’s bread and butter has always been a particularly groovy brand of grotesque dissonance, the kind that lurches around like a diseased sewer monster and is every bit as likely to twist your face into a mask of loathing even as you bob your head. There was certainly room in Negative Life for improvement: transitions in a few places that heaved in a new direction a bit too jerkily, a few tracks that felt overlong or incomplete, a couple odd false ending that didn’t really work. The band also went through a member change, with drummer James Applegate taking over behind the kit in 2019, and lineup adjustments can be make-or-break for three-pieces especially. 

So what does Replicant offer on Malignant Reality that makes it so definitively great? Well, for one, they still sound like a demented Frankenstein’s monster of Voivod, Y2K-era Gorguts, Negativa, and NJ core legends Burnt by the Sun, but with an even more earworm-y sort of groove than they had previously. For two, the riffcraft has evolved and gotten more memorable. Their characteristically heavy use of dissonance isn’t as avant-garde as in something like Obscura or the Negativa EP, and that keeps their songs in a much more accessible, catchy place that nevertheless feels bestial. This album is absolute riff city from the moment lead single and opener “Caverns of Insipid Reflection” cranks up with its chunky rhythms juxtaposed against those strange little pop-up harmonics. It takes talent to write something that is super angular but also as immediately enjoyable as the groove that kicks off “Chassis of Deceit” (that song whips, by the way). And the oddly delicious dissonance doesn’t stop there: tracks like “Relinquish the Self” and “Ektoskull” feature some of the strangest guitarwork to ever feel eminently headbangable. 

There are so many relentlessly charming quirks here, many of them thanks to guitarist Pete Lloyd’s unique, Voivod-influenced playing style. Funny little chirps, nasty pinch harmonics that punctuate slimy riffs, solos that rise contorted from the muck, technical licks that stretch in directions you wouldn’t expect, and all of it with a thick, robust tone. But as notable as his playing is, perhaps the most distinctive element of Replicant’s sound is bassist/vocalist’s Michael Gonçalves’ bellow. There’s a ton of Steeve Hurdle in his approach: he roars and howls like a wounded animal, pushing his voice so hard that it often breaks, and nothing contributes to the band’s signature ugliness more. That desperate, unhinged roar is something that sticks in the ears, just like the late Hurdle’s did. The man’s got a way with words too, because the lyricism is spectacularly filthy and full of malaise. Check this out in standout track “Death Curse”: “A sordid corpse draped in dust / Lethargic soul of atomic ills / Invalid organic trash / Ignorant cell born in filth”.

The production is fantastic for the style as well. It’s just a few touches cleaner than Negative Life, which is for the better, because here the grimy aura Replicant cultivates is carried entirely by the instruments and writing, not by the production. Everything is crystal clear but with grit and heft. Gonçalves’ bass rattles and rolls heavily underneath, the guitar is stout and fills all the crevices, and Applegate’s drums feel so physical that you’d think they could burst through the speakers. Add in spot-on leveling for the vocals (which are delightfully light on the reverb) and it’s a winning package. 

As far as shortcomings go, Malignant Reality doesn’t have many. It’s extremely well-paced—some of the songs run particularly seamlessly into each other, like “Death Curse” into “Coerced to Be”—and the overall length and song variety feels about perfect. There are a few spots where the songwriting left me scratching my head, though: for example, the final minute of “Caverns of Insipid Reflection”, which feels like it’s headed toward something and then just kinda…ends. There are also a few riffs that feel noticeably samey (e.g. the opening riff of “Chassis of Deceit” and the one ~30 seconds into “Dressed in Violence”). These are the definition of minor complaints, though; overall this album is 10 tracks of highly gratifying ragers.

Replicant have never let me down so far, and this is the best entry yet in what is becoming an undeniably strong catalogue. I’d bet that Malignant Reality will be the album that brings them true notoriety within the metal scene, because it’s a damn blast to listen to. It’s skronk for the modern metalhead: dissonant, disgusting, and deathly, but with plenty of hooks to help you let loose.

Favorite track: Chassis of Deceit

Score: 9/10

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