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The Florida swamps have proven fertile the last couple of years with old guard representatives Deicide, Monstrosity, Morbid Angel, and Pessimist (who are Floridian by proxy) all releasing commendable offerings. Malevolent Creation has always been relegated to something of a second-tier status despite having a more consistent repertoire, indefatigable work ethic and a relentless worldwide touring schedule than most of their more accessible, more readily marketable peers. Few bands can survive the loss of an iconic frontman. Even fewer can survive multiple complete line-up overhauls and still sound recognizably like themselves. “The 13th Beast” (which we’d hoped to be a temporary working title) is historic for being the first Malevolent Creation album since the untimely passing of Brett Hoffmann and their 13th since their formation in 1987. On “The 13th Beast” Phil Fasciana and his Malevolent Creation re-emerge with renewed vigor and purpose.

Il faut le faire, recording 13 albums with a near-constant revolving door line-up over 30 years. Malevolent Creation isn’t an institution for nothing. Their dysfunctionality is legendary. The sheer amount of in-fighting this band has endured is infamous and their turnover in personnel borders on the astronomical. Yet somehow they’re still here. In all face of all the hardship, all the opposition (or indifference, it’s hard to say which) they’ve endured over the years Phil Fasciana shows no signs of resigning or even slowing down. To be frank, Fasciana has never written an outright terrible album. Sure, there were some releases we were invariably indifferent towards along the way – but they never strayed too much, if at all, from their established formula. For over an incredible three decades and counting Malevolent Creation has proven resilient in face of the kind trials and tribulations that would have killed any lesser band a long time ago. As the Dying Fetus of the Tampa Bay Area Phil Fasciana has lived through his share of controversy and disaster.

Lee Wollenschlaeger (left), Phil Fasciana (middle-left), Phil Cancilla (middle-right) and Josh Gibbs (right)

In what has become a sad tradition for this unit a lot has changed in the Malevolent Creation camp since “Dead Man’s Path”, their debut on Century Media Records, in 2015. Firstly, in 2016 Jason Blachowicz (bass guitar), Justin DiPinto (drums), and Gio Geraca (lead guitar) either all left or were fired depending on who you ask. Secondly, and far more tragic, long-time frontman Brett Hoffmann was felled by colon cancer in July 2018 ruling out any future reunions of the classic line-up. Instead of bringing back former frontman Kyle Symons and bass guitarist Gordon Simms from the 1998-2004 era Fasciana has assembled a cast of relative nobodies. Lee Wollenschlaeger (who pulls double-duty on lead guitar) is given the Herculean task of replacing iconic late frontman Brett Hoffmann and his substitute Kyle Symons. Josh Gibbs (from universally and uniformly reviled retro-thrash metal act Thrash Or Die) replaces Jason Blachowicz, Gordon Simms, and Mark van Erp. Philip Cancilla, who gained some notoriety with South Carolina’s Narcotic Wasteland, replaces illustrious institutions as Justin DiPinto, Gus Rios, Dave Culross, Derek Roddy, Alex Marquez, and Lee Harrison. Of all the different reconfigurations that Malevolent Creation has gone through this is one of humble unknowns.

On “The 13th Beast” several of Malevolent Creation’s various iterations converge. Structurally it’s the closest to “Retribution” one is likely to get in the modern age. Some of the guitar work harkens back to “The Fine Art Of Murder” and the soloing is some of the finest in years. Wollenschlaeger combines the percussive qualities of Symons with the grittier bellowing roar of Blachowicz on “Eternal” and “In Cold Blood”. Cancilla is as good as anyone who sat behind the kit for this band and Gibbs’ thick bass guitar lies prominently in the mix. Songs typically come in two varieties. First, there are the Slayer inspired tracks that borrow from “The Ten Commandments” and, secondly, the more straighforward, no-frills blast exercises in tradition of “Envenomed”, “The Will to Kill” and “Warkult”. Malevolent Creation was never known for its experimentation and their tried-and-true songwriting approach has yet to show any notable defects. They might not write albums that tend to innovate their genre but they always form good representations of it. “The 13th Beast” is no different in that regard. It presents no novelties whatsoever and amply demonstrates that there’s a place for Malevolent Creation in 2019. “Dead Man’s Path” was somewhat all over the place, “The 13th Beast” possesses a greater focus.

Not quite as spectacular this time around is the artwork. Once upon a time Malevolent Creation could be counted upon to have decent artwork. Those hoping that Fasciana would commission canvasses from Adam Burke, Brian Smith, César Eidrian, Giannis Nakos, Federico Boss, Raphael Gabrio, Marcos Miller, Andrey Khrisanenkov, or Cristina Francov won’t find them here. “The 13th Beast” perseveres with Chilean artist German Latorres whose work on “Dead Man’s Path” was far better than this unforgivable eyesore of a cover. Whether it were the classic Dan Seagrave canvasses of the early years or the digital covers from 2000-2007, anything and everything is superior to this cartoony abomination that’s supposed to look evil and intimidating. The days of Malevolent Creation consistently delivering in the visual aspect are apparently well and truly behind them now. It slightly takes away from the experience as Malevolent Creation is usually better than this. At least they are one of the few to have their integrity intact three decades in.

You have to admire the tenacity, perseverance and resolve that must go in an operation as profoundly challenging as “The 13th Beast”. In three years Fasciana rebuilt his Malevolent Creation from the ground up and managed to write an album’s worth of material simultaneously. There’s a lot you can say about a character as Phil Fasciana and Malevolent Creation as a band but never that they back down in the face of adversity and hardship. That Malevolent Creation is still alive and kicking in 2019 is nothing short of a miracle under the circumstances. Of all the bands coming out of Tampa, Florida in the early nineties Malevolent Creation has by far seen the most internal and external problems. They always stood head and shoulders above Cannibal Corpse, were more consistent than Deicide, more productive than Monstrosity but never as esoteric as Morbid Angel. That Malevolent Creation sounds as rabid and bloodcurdling in 2019 as they did in 1987 should tell you everything you need to know. “No one can destroy this Malevolent Creation,” the late Brett Hoffmann shrieked in 1991. He couldn't have been more right, indeed...

A number of the Florida death metal old guard have come back with some of their strongest records in many years. Morbid Angel, Monstrosity, and now Deicide. For largely incomprehensible reasons Deicide has long been enshrined as a legend. Despite having been mired in mediocrity for about two decades Deicide is for some unfathomable reason still considered important irrespective of the great majority of their output being actively mediocre or even hostile to the listener. Deicide made a name for themselves through blood drenched early performances, the usage of “god-deflecting” armor and outlandish statements from their larger-than-life frontman Glen Benton. There’s no contesting that both “Deicide” and “Legion” are worth every accolade bestowed on them. The post-Hoffman years have yielded exactly one classic record with 2006's “The Stench Of Redemption”. However, “The Stench Of Redemption”, lest we forget, was little more than “Serpents Of the Light” with overly shredding and flowery solos courtesy of the late virtuoso Ralph Santolla and Jack Owen. The Sunshine State’s most enduring enfant terrible hasn’t been controversial nor incendiary to any degree in a long, long time. “Overtures Of Blasphemy”, their twelfth record overall, is largely similar to the albums surrounding it. Above all else Deicide has become shockingly efficient at producing consistent albums, even if they are seldom very inspired.

All things considered Deicide have done good for themselves. Granted the days of Deicide epitomizing the ultimate evil are long gone. The post-Hoffman years haven’t exactly been kind to them, nor have they been one of great innovation. Not that the Hoffman brothers have been faring any better on their own, mind. In comparison, Eric and Brian have since their departure in 2004 released “Liar In Wait” with their Amon in 2012. Amon played a grand total of 2 shows in 2017, their only 2 shows since reforming a decade prior. They also have been attempting to crowdfund a second album, campaigns that have proven unsuccessful. At least since 1995’s “Once Upon the Cross” Deicide has adopted an unbelievably streamlined and mercifully compact writing style that plays up to the rather limited abilities of its weakest, most iconic member. Glen Benton is a lot of things but he’s not a good performer. His abilities as a bass guitarist remain forever dubious and the wear-and-tear of 30 years of international touring and the irrevocable passage of time have taken their toll on his vocal cords. The voice of Legion these days sounds suspiciously like Max Cavalera. Since the joining of guitarist Kevin Quirion in 2008 that writing style has been pushed to its logical conclusion. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is but a variation of “To Hell With God” and “In the Minds Of Evil”. Thankfully it is slightly more ambitious and marginally more hungry sounding.

That Deicide no longer possesses an inch of the character and zest they once held is a truism at this point. Truthfully, they should have split up years ago. Asheim would feel right at home in Malevolent Creation and Benton could finally stop pretending that he actually still cares. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is better than the last two Deicide albums and far more enjoyable than the two Vital Remains albums on which Benton appeared, but how much does that say exactly? Not much. Somehow, some way Deicide has survived two career slumps on as much labels. While little more than an extension of “To Hell With God” and “In the Minds Of Evil” there’s a fire on “Overtures Of Blasphemy” that has been absent from the band’s output since “The Stench Of Redemption”. Deicide, age and overall redundancy notwithstanding, has found purpose and focus again, it seems. Not that this album will be going down the history books as vitally important or as a new classic anytime soon. Not much of what Deicide has released in the last decade qualifies as such. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” won’t be dethroning “The Stench Of Redemption” as a modern day classic in any shape or form. Deicide is not the band to expect any profound artistic statements from. In the modern age Deicide is all about efficiency instead of artistry. Deicide has elevated to functionality to an artform. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is the embodiment of functionality, if nothing else.

Compared to their Gibsonton brethren in Obituary, Deicide’s latter-day output has a charm all its own. It possesses a mad thrashing energy that was largely absent in the twilight Hoffman – and Ralph Santolla years. The addition of Kevin Quirion allowed the melodic inclinations that the late Santolla introduced to become an integral part of the sound. Deicide’s third lead guitar tandem Kevin Quirion and Mark English might prove to be their most versatile. Neither Quirion nor English lose themselves in excessive showboating the way Ralph Santolla was often prone to. Stylistically “Overtures Of Blasphemy” shows a few overlaps with “Serpents Of the Light” in how bare-bones and minimal most of its songs are in terms of structure and length. 4 songs barely reach the 3-minute mark, the remainder barely cross the 3-minute mark. No song even reaches 4 minutes. The longest track on the record is ‘One with Satan’ that clocks in at an economic 3:47. Deicide hasn’t penned another ‘Homage For Satan’, ‘When Heaven Burns’, ‘Creatures Of Habit’ or ‘Kill the Christian’ and likely “Overtures Of Blasphemy” won’t yield any new classics. Which isn’t to say that “Overtures Of Blasphemy” isn’t catchy. It is. At 38 minutes it’s one of the longer Deicide offerings in recent memory. It swings, it thrashes and grooves in ways that only modern Deicide can. Will anybody remember this record in years to come? No, “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is barely a blip on the radar.

In the decade and a half since the Hoffman brothers were exiled Deicide has proven resilient and prolific in face of having somewhat of a revolving door in terms of guitarists. Never one to push their chosen genre forward Deicide has always been willing and able to follow whatever prevailing aesthetic trend of the day. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” sports a canvas from from Polish designer Zbigniew M. Bielak, famous for Dimmu Borgir’s “Eonian’”, and it’s significant for being the first in some 17 years to feature the long absent Trifixion. It’s a nice little touch that ultimately means nothing. In the 21st century Deicide has embraced its regressive tendencies and the limitations of Florida death metal as a style. They were one of the first to fall to the wayside when death metal experienced an evolutionary jump at the dawn of the millennium and now some 18 years later Deicide has made its robust, rudimentary approach its ultimate and only selling point. What is a band to do when they are no longer deemed controversial nor incendiary in the way that they used to? They settle into a comfortable groove. On “Overtures Of Blasphemy” Deicide is clearly comfortable with their station in life. In all honesty, we prefer this over some of the atrocities they committed to in the past.