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As Dissection fell apart at the peak of its power due to the incarceration of its frontman and creative force, rhythm guitarist Johan Norman went on to create a new band with touring drummer Tobias Kjellgren. The formation initially went by the name Reaper, but eventually settled on Soulreaper, named after one of the songs Norman that wrote for the Dissection swansong “Storm Of the Light’s Bane”, to avoid copyright infringement. A lot more influenced by US death metal than Dissection, specifically “Covenant” by Morbid Angel, Soulreaper, who existed from 1997 to 2004, released two albums. Of these two “Written In Blood” was the first, and probably the best at that.

Soulreaper consisted of Dissection alumni Johan Norman (rhythm guitar) and Tobias Kjellgren (drums). Rounding out the line-up are relative unknowns as Christoffer Hermansson (lead guitar), Mikael Lång (bass guitar) and frontman Christoffer Hjertén. Each of the members had experience with prior bands but none ever amounted to anything substantial. Only frontman Hjertén, a more than capable and versatile vocalist in his own right, had prior experience with early black metal band Mastema, but his presence wasn’t able to elevate Soulreaper beyond mere functionality. Soulreaper debuted on Nuclear Blast Records as a result of the connection that the Dissection alumni had with the label. The brand would not prove strong enough and “Written In Blood” was its only for the German label imprint.

As Norman had a hand in Dissection’s more straightforward death metal oriented songs it isn’t much of a surprise to see him return to that particular well. The genre was winning in popularity again after the second wave (symfo) black metal explosion, and the advent of the more brutal subset of the US death metal sound. Yet as crunchy and functional as “Written In Blood” sounds it’s hardly a revitalization of the genre. Its combination of traditional American aggression with a Swedish melodic sensibility works purely on a visceral level, but on a conceptual level Soulreaper is as bland as its album title and vanilla occult lyrical fodder suggests. Soulreaper suffers from a similar fatigue and regression that Deicide and Morbid Angel experienced in the early 2000s.

The semi-acoustic intro to ‘Written In Blood’ is build around a variation of the central melody to the classic Dissection song ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’ visit the website. There are even more ties to Dissection abound on this album. ‘Satanized’ was the signature song and ideological vessel of the shortlived Satanized, a one-off project from Jon Nödtveidt and Johan Norman that released a solitary demo in 1991. The song was recorded in an earlier form on “My Shadow…”, the lone Decameron album from 1996, the death metal band that Tobias Kjellgren figured into before his involvement with Dissection. The strongest tracks of the album are ‘Seal Of Degradation’, ‘Subterreanean Might’ and ‘Labyrinth Of the Deathlord’. ‘Satanized’ on the other hand stands out for all the wrong reasons, and in just how much it differs from the remainder of the album.

The most interesting, and perhaps most telling, aspect of “Written In Blood” is that its strongest songs were co-written by a member no longer involved with the band. Johan Norman wrote ‘Darken the Sign’ in its entirety, and he had a hand in all other songs of the album as well. ‘Ungodly’ was penned with input from bass guitarist Mikael Lång. The trio of ‘Written In Blood’, ‘Subterreanean Might’ and ‘Labyrinth Of the Deathlord’ were co-written by Johan Norman and original lead guitarist Mattias Eliasson. ‘Seal Of Degradation’ was co-written by Johan Norman and Christoffer Hermansson. It seems only logical that Norman and Kjellgren broke ranks with Dissection as they wanted to branch off into more straightforward and less traditionally influenced direction.

“Written In Blood” was recorded at Gain Productions with Dikk Tator producing, and mastered at the prestigious Cutting Room facility in in Stockholm, Sweden. As expected with Nuclear Blast the production is bass-heavy, crunchy and modern. Especially the drums sound incredibly concrete and powerful. The bass guitar has a rumbling deep tone but it never amounts to anything more than providing the required amount of low end rumbling. The cover artwork was rendered by Robert Ekeroth. The original band logo, which only features on this album, was created by Nicklas Rudolfsson. As most things about Soulreaper “Written In Blood” was good, but just not good enough to appeal to a wider audience beyond the one they had established with their involvement in Dissection.

Soulreaper and its debut were eclipsed by bigger bands and album despite its lineage to Dissection, and the power of a major label behind them. While far from terrible “Written In Blood” wasn’t able to hold its own against other Scandinavian, and European, releases of the time. While possessing enough grit and concrete heaviness to appeal to a more American audience “Written In Blood” lacks in truly unique characteristics to differentiate it from other Swedish acts. Norman’s brief connection with Dissection allowed him to launch his own unit, ultimately Soulreaper wouldn’t prove resilient enough to evolve into an entity worth mentioning. “Written In Blood” is too by-the-book to be in any way mandatory.

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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 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.