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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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Monstrosity is famous for housing members that went on to more famous regional outfits, Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation most prominently among them. Missing the momentum of its more marketable regional peers and not as prolific in its output Monstrosity has established itself as a reliable act by delivering a handful of albums full of high-precision death metal that is both technical and pummeling in equal measure. “Imperial Doom”, the band’s only record for Nuclear Blast Records, is its least distinct being very redolent of Malevolent Creation.

The band was formed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida by former Malevolent Creation members Lee Harrison (drums) and Jon Rubin (guitars) with vocalist George Fisher, who had left his old band Corpsegrinder and moved from Maryland to Florida, in 1990. Mark van Erp (bass guitar) quit his other band Cynic to fully commit to Monstrosity. Jason Gobel, also of Cynic, functioned as a session musician for the “Imperial Doom” recording sessions, but never was a formal Monstrosity member. “Imperial Doom” became retroactively famous for having an all-star Tampa, Florida line-up consisting of current/future members of illustrious institutions Malevolent Creation, Cynic, Solstice and Cannibal Corpse.

‘Definitive Inquisition’, ‘Immense Malignancy’, ‘Horror Infinity’, and ‘The Burden Of Evil’ were re-recorded tracks from the 1990 “Horror Infinity” demo tape. Notable is that Lee Harrison’s work behind the drums is more straightforward compared to later Monstrosity albums, although he is far more proficient in terms of fills and flexibility than many more visible drummers of the day. ‘Ceremonial Void’ has some of best soloing of the record, and the song gives Cannibal Corpse a run for its money. The lion’s share of the record was written by Lee Harrison and Jon Rubin. Mark van Erp co-wrote ‘Definitive Inquisition’ and ‘Burden Of Evil’ with Lee Harrison. Monstrosity was the first big opportunity for George Fisher after leaving Corpsegrinder in Maryland and relocating to genre hotbed Tampa, Florida. Frank Mullen of New York death metal contemporaries Suffocation donated vocals to ‘Vicious Mental Thirst’. Fisher returned the favor by guesting on two tracks from “Effigy Of the Forgotten”, the debut of Mullen’s own band on then-relevant label imprint Roadrunner Records.

“Imperial Doom” was recorded at Morrisound Studio in Tampa, Florida with Jim Morris producing. The Morris production is typical of the era in its concrete bass-heaviness and crunchy, earthy tones. The production has a grittiness that later Monstrosity production lacked, and the imposing bass guitar tone is especially commanding. The grotesque horror canvas by Dan Seagrave is among his best – and Monstrosity would struggle on future product to match the iconic imagery by Seagrave presented here.

Jason Gobel was replaced by Mark English for the European tour in support of the album. Gobel would later feature on Cynic’s legendary debut “Focus”. English would eventually make his return with Monstrosity at a much later stage. Fisher would figure into the second Monstrosity album “Millennium” before being installed as the new frontman of Tampa-by-way-of-Buffalo outfit Cannibal Corpse. Through out all its different reconfigurations Lee Harrison (drums) would remain a constant. Easily eclipsing many of its regional peers Monstrosity never received the accolades they deserved.

For the majority of its career Monstrosity was troubled by personnel changes, and falling out of favor with the popular tastes of the day. While not exactly inferior to any of its future output “Imperial Doom” is the most stock Tampa sounding in both composition and production. Monstrosity would not develop its characteristic sound until after “Imperial Doom”, which served merely as a blueprint. Allegedly “Imperial Doom” sold excess of 50,000 copies worldwide. Monstrosity was bound for superstardom but disagreements with its label and personnel trouble would relegate it to a second-tier status despite its obviously immense technical expertise.