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Of all the classic Florida death metal bands Monstrosity for some reason never quite rose to the level of prominence and visibility as their peers in Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Malevolent Creation, Morbid Angel, and Obituary. Up until 2007 Monstrosity was a reliable second-tier with a healthy work ethic and a respectable measure of quality even though they weren’t as prolific in terms of releases as some of their more popular contemporaries. 2007’s “Spiritual Apocalypse” heralded a new era for Monstrosity and rejuvenated their robust death metal with a progressive, more melodic slant and drastically improved production values. In 2012 the live DVD “Live Apocalypse” was released to little fanfare and even littler press. Then… nothing happened. For 11 years the world waited with bated breath for Monstrosity to finally claim their rightful place among the celebrated elite in the genre’s hallowed upper echelons. Except nothing really happened outside of the surfacing of the occassional rehearsal video. Then suddenly “The Passage Of Existence” was announced. Apparently forever relegated to second-tier status Monstrosity once again proves that they’re still better than everyone else.

“The Passage Of Existence” is a refinement of the more progressive direction that “Spiritual Apocalypse” introduced and it largely consists of the same musicians. The closest equal to “The Passage Of Existence” is Death’s landmark epic “Symbolic”. Indeed. In the 11 year layoff in between albums Lee Harrison and his companions have honed, fine-tuned and perfected their assault from the ground up. “The Passage Of Existence” sounds unmistakably like Monstrosity only do they now sound as highly stylized, deliberately paced, and as melodic and neoclassical as they have ever been. It might not be as outright percussive as, say, “Imperial Doom” or “Millennium” but it combines the technical showmanship of “Rise to Power” with the subtlely progressive – and more melodic inclinations from “Spiritual Apocalypse”. “The Passage Of Existence” reveals its intricacies in playing and composition gradually. It banks far more on control, precision and restraint than it does on engrossing the listener on initial discovery. In other words, it is a grower of an album that reveals a multitude of details and layers only on repeated listens. As heavy as Morbid Angel sounded on “Kingdoms Disdained” Monstrosity has actually eclipsed them years ago in terms of songwriting and performance. It’s almost criminal how underappreciated Monstrosity still is even after nearly 30 years.

Carried over from “Spiritual Apocalypse” are frontman Mike Hrubovcak (who will have a second release out in 2018 with Hypoxia’s second offering “Abhorrent Decimation” on Ultimate Massacre Productions), bass guitarist Mike Poggione, lead guitarist duo Mark English (who also figured into the surprisingly decent “Overtures Of Blasphemy” from Deicide) and relatively-new Matt Barnes and founder/drummer Lee Harrison. Spanning 12 tracks and about an hour’s worth of music some of the material for “The Passage Of Existence” was written as early as 2009 and others were premiered as bare-bones rehearsal videos in 2013 (‘Solar Vacuum’, ‘Dark Matter Invocation’). Where “The Passage Of Existence” bears the most similarities to Death’s “Symbolic” is that the pace is far lower than in the past, there’s an advanced sense of melodicism that runs through out and all the songs are elegantly constructed compositions with extended sections of neoclassical soloing and some of the best drumming one is likely to hear. The spirit and mentality of Chuck Schuldiner was never more present than it is on here. Hopefully “The Passage Of Existence” will herald a new era of productivity and visibility for Monstrosity, whose modest body of work should speak for itself by now. “The Passage Of Existence” is erroneously dubbed a comeback by some less discerning critics but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Monstrosity might have been existing on the periphery in the decade-plus since “Spiritual Apocalypse” but they always remained active.

While “The Passage Of Existence” is consistently strong through out and there aren’t any notable lapses in quality it does lack something in way of a signature song. In fact “The Passage Of Existence” is so stylistically consistent that it’s sometimes hard to tell where one song ends and another one begins. There’s so much happening in each and every song that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of. Everybody gets their moment in the limelight, whether it’s Lee Harrison’s always versatile and acrobatic drumming, Mike Poggione’s flowing funky bass licks that support the guitars as much as they solo on their own or the exquisite leads and beautifully laid-out solos from Mark English and Matt Barnes. Mike Hrubovcak is pretty much himself and his vocals haven’t changed much from the bygone times of “The Burning Passion” from his erstwhile unit Divine Rapture. The fantastic artwork from Timbul Cahyono of bvllmetalart is in line with past efforts and reminiscent of Atheist's "Elements". It probably is the most accomplished art Monstrosity has had to date. The production is similar to that from “Spiritual Apocalypse” except that it is far cleaner sounding. Overall it combines the weight of “In Dark Purity” with the clarity of “Rise to Power”.

Morbid Angel’s fall from grace and subsequent restoration has been much publicized. Deicide has been existing a state of quiet resignation (or stagnation, if you prefer) for longer than that they’ve been relevant to the genre they helped define. Malevolent Creation has been courageously soldiering on regardless of how unfavorable the circumstances in which they find themselves and the lesser said about Obituary’s post-reunion albums the better. Always a silent force in the once-potent Florida death metal scene “The Passage Of Existence” might just be the strongest offering Monstrosity has yet conjured forth. It possesses a zeal and a sense of purpose that a lot of the more seasoned acts lack. Monstrosity never took anything for granted and “The Passage Of Existence” is testament to that. It might not be as immediate and straightforward as some of fans might have wished or wanted but that doesn’t stop it from being an amazing achievement on its own. We can only hope that it doesn’t take another 11 years to write, produce and record a follow-up to this formidable genre exercise that puts many of the band’s peers and competitors to shame. The Horror Infinity looms as strong as ever…

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The second and only widely available Divine Rapture album is the record Morbid Angel should have released when “Heretic” hit the market in 2003. While imitating Morbid Angel had been a practice dating as far back as the 90s, in the early 2000s it came to a peak with bands as Lost Soul, Myrkskog and Divine Rapture all releasing albums that were, musically and spiritually, inspired by the once relevant Tampa, Florida masters. One of the more poignant examples of this was “The Burning Passion” by Pennsylvanian combo Divine Rapture, who combined “Blessed Are the Sick” writing with “Domination” like production values. The student had become the master, it is unfortunate that the band would dissolve and its members scatter to various other and different bands.

The album starts off with the guitar noodling of the intro ‘The Kindling’, before giving way to the uniformly ungentle ‘Your Time Has Come’. The track forms the template of the material present on the album. The obvious influence is Morbid Angel, but the “Blessed Are the Sick” and “Covenant” riffs are far more mechanical and structurally denser compared to the original thing, they also are played at “Black Force Domain” era Krisiun speed, as is the album. A direct comparison can be made to UK death metal duo Mithras, which is quite similar in writing – and playing style, but are lyrically much different than this Pennsylvania outfit. The commonalities are hard to deny, however. The lyrics are far more personal, introspective and based in the internal world than Morbid Angel’s tirades about the Sumerian pantheon, The Ancient Ones and the Roman Empire. Only ‘Affliction Of Faith’ and ‘No Future, No Past’ both share superficial similarities with Morbid Angel’s usual anti-religious lyrics, although Divine Rapture clearly approaches them from a more personal – and direct perspective.

Half of the material present was re-recorded from the band’s independently released 2001 promo along with a cut from the band’s self-titled album from 1999. The renditions here are superior in every way. Notable is that the intro ‘The Kindling’, the interlude ‘The Deifying, The Sorrow, The Awakening’ and the outro ‘The Smothering’ are closer related to symfo – and more keyboard oriented variations of pagan – and Viking metal than the Florida death metal of Morbid Angel. Their inclusion isn’t really puzzling, as Morbid Angel is prone to including numerous instrumental interludes on its albums, but their stylistic deviation from the main portion of the album is bewildering and sometimes distracting. The new tracks ‘Your Time Has Come’, ‘Severed’, ‘Funeral Mist’ and ‘No Future, No Past’ are compositionally more ambitious, faster and more technical than the re-recorded early material, although all tracks are far from original as they conform to all the tropes and genre conventions associated with this type of mammoth death metal.

Recorded by Ron Vento (Aurora Borealis) at Nightsky Studios in Waldorf, Maryland Divine Rapture is graced with a thick but clear guitar tone that retains enough crunch without sacrificing anything of its concrete heaviness. The drums sound powerful enough, and while the kickdrums could have been more meatier, they are not clicky and of the “typewriter” variety as many bands of the modern era. The bass guitar isn’t really heard much, although the production overall is thick and heavy, so at least its present. A good deal of attention was given to the esoteric solos and the synthesizers. Overall, it is just below “Domination” in terms of production work. Everything is balanced expertly. The digitally rendered artwork by Daniel Allanic fits with the band’s overall theme, and the photograpy is a bit goofy with the band standing in flames, everyone looking mean and grumpy.

A glance at the line-up reveals all that needs to be said. The band consists of several mid to high-profile figures. Mike Hrubovcak would go to front both Monstrosity and Vile while being an acclaimed digital artist on the side. J.J. Hrubovcak would go to join Hate Eternal, Babak Davodian is Cannibal Corpse’s resident live sound engineer. Ryan Moll fronts the thrash metal band Rumpelstiltskin Grinder. Considering the pedigree of these members (and their various other commitments) it was perhaps for the best that Divine Rapture only released this sole album. Quality, after all, is far more important than quantity, which is something that few bands seem to understand in this day and age.

“The Burning Passion” was released in 2003, the same year that Morbid Angel released the uniformly disappointing, if not outright terrible, “Heretic” through Earache Records. Everything that that album should have been is present here in spades and without the excess fat that usually litters Morbid Angel albums. In Poland Lost Soul was steadily making its rise out of the underground and Behemoth was an established entity at this point, Mithras released “Worlds Beyond the Veil” the same year. Nile had released “In Their Darkened Shrines” the year before. Just to illustrate that bands across the US and Europe were releasing numerous albums that were plainly better than the band everybody supposedly looked up to in reverence and respect. Divine Rapture was one of these bands, and it serves as a curious reminder never to take the established brands or what releases they put out for granted, or without critical thought and examination.