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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...

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On “Millennium” Fort Lauderdale underdogs Monstrosity manifested itself as a veritable force in the Florida death metal scene. Whereas its “Imperial Doom” debut was heavily redolent of Malevolent Creation, the band from whence Lee Harrison came, “Millennium” conclusively proved that Monstrosity was compositionally – and technically stronger than a good deal of its regional, more marketable peers. Despite its obvious merits Monstrosity remained only in the second-tier status as its frontman George Fisher would soon decamp to front the iconic Cannibal Corpse.

Disagreements concerning the distribution of royalties resulted in a split with Nuclear Blast Records. The termination of contract with Nuclear Blast Records led founder Lee Harrison to release future Monstrosity efforts through his own label imprint Conquest Music Group. Conquest Music handled distribution and marketing in North America, while Nuclear Blast and Hammerheart Records licensed it for European territories. A few changes in the personnel happened Death alumnus Kelly Conlon replacing Mark van Erp on bass guitar, and Jason Morgan substituting for Jon Rubin. Despite these changes former members Jon Rubin and Mark van Erp contributed to a few songs, while the majority of “Millennium” was written by Lee Harrison and Jason Morgan.

While its kinship with Malevolent Creation remains obvious through its writing Monstrosity offers everything you’d expect of a Florida death metal act. Lee Harrison is probably one of the best drummers in the region, and it's somewhat insulting that he’s still considered second-tier by many. “Millennium” is technical, and thrashy in equal measure while offering bouts of melody and groove simultaneously. Whereas on “Imperial Doom” Harrison’s drumming was mostly about speed on “Millennium” his playing truly becomes integral to each of the cuts. Some of his best work is to be found on tracks as ‘Devious Instinct’ and ‘Dream Messiah’. ‘Fragments Of Resolution’ is the sole dirge-tempo track of the album, and gives Morbid Angel a run for its money. On his swansong appearance with the band frontman George Fisher, who would soon decamp to join the much more marketable Cannibal Corpse, is in fine form. His ascending-descending vocal lines, much to Harrison’s credit as a songwriter, are legendary.

All music was written by Jason Morgan and Lee Harrison, except ‘Manic’ and ‘Stormwinds’ were written by Lee Harrison and Mark Van Erp, ‘Manipulation Strain’ and ‘Slaves and Masters’ was written by Jason Morgan, Lee Harrison and Mark Van Erp. The latter also has the only lyrical contributions from frontman George Fisher with this band. ‘Manic’, ‘Stormwinds’, and ‘Slaves and Masters’ were re-recorded from the self-distributed 1994 “Demo ‘94” tape. ‘Seize Of Change’ was written by Jon Rubin and Lee Harrison. The album features guest vocals by Jason Avery on ‘Devious Instinct’, ‘Dream Messiah’, ‘Fragments Of Resolution’ and ‘Slaves and Masters’. Avery, a veteran of local death metal unit Eulogy, would come to supersede Fisher who moved on to bigger opportunities with fellow genre specialists Cannibal Corpse.

“Millennium” was recorded and mixed at Morrisound Studio with Scott Burns handling the production. The Scott Burns mix was found unsatisfactory, and the album was remixed at Criteria Recording Studios by Keith Rose and Scott Kieklak. Compared to the gritty and lively “Imperial Doom”, “Millennium” sounds rather dry and sterile. Harrison’s drum tones have gained in range and textural depth but don’t possess the same amount of body as they did on the band’s debut. Monstrosity inadvertently became a victim of 1990s computer generated imagery with its Richard Dunn canvas. Unfortunate early digital art aside “Millennium” is a formidable genre exercise.

Despite cementing Monstrosity’s status as one of Florida’s most accomplished units “Millennium” never quite catched on as records of the time from the likes of Deicide, Malevolent Creation, or Morbid Angel. Widely regarded as one of the best Florida death metal acts the output from Monstrosity isn’t as profuse as some of its more popular and prolific brethren. Its outstanding and consistent level of high quality product has only been matched by Waldorf, Maryland icons Aurora Borealis or Poland’s Lost Soul. Reliability, despite the fluidity of its line-ups, aside Monstrosity is still considered a second-tier band despite its penchant for perfection, and aversion towards making artistic compromises. For that reason alone Lee Harrison and his cohorts deserve accolades for remaining true to their vision, and keeping their collective integrity intact where lesser bands would've fallen before similar hardships.