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Over the last couple of years Queens, New York death metal act Hypoxia has been carving out a respectable niche for itself. Even though they hail from the Big Apple Hypoxia has always been a Florida death metal band at heart. Cannibal Corpse and their “Vile” seem to be the key influence. “Abhorrent Disease” is never overly fast or excessively technical. It primarily rides on pit-friendly grooves, thrashy bursts, and fiery soloing. As much as we enjoyed their debut “Despondent Death” in 2015 it failed to leave much of an impression in the years that followed. It didn’t receive much coverage in the specialized press and it looked to be lost in the shuffle. Now, four years later, Hypoxia returns with “Abhorrent Disease” on Selfmadegod Records which should at least help them in terms of visibility. There was never any doubt that Hypoxia would return, but it was more of a question whether or not they would be able to fulfill the potential of their meat-and-patatoes death metal.

Hypoxia is one of those increasingly rare bands that plays death metal, pretty much without any of the conventional prefixes. They play death metal without resorting to the retro or old school qualifiers. It's a welcome return to those bygone days when bands could be easily classified and sub-subgenres weren't as clearly etched out and delineated as they are today. Hypoxia joins European underground acts as Anasarca, Ekpyrosis, and Ferum that proudly fly the banner for traditional death metal. "Despondent Death” was good enough for what it was but didn’t leave much of an impression otherwise. “Abhorrent Disease” seeks to remedy that and is chunky, thrashy, and groovy without having any big hooks to speak of. Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation clearly served as inspirations but it never gets quite as muscular in its riffing nor as primal in its savagery. Helping in no small part is dyed-in-the-wool veteran Mike Hrubovcak, one of the most expressive frontmen on the American death metal scene.

In the intervening four years since their debut a few things have changed in the Hypoxia camp. The driving force is still drummer Carolina Perez and guitarists Carlos Arboleda and Nadher Tabash with Monstrosity and Divine Rapture frontman Mike Hrubovcak remaining in their respective slots. After the 2015 release of “Despondent Death” bass guitarist Mikaela Åkesson moved back her native Sweden where she now resides with Kolsva-based black metal band Gast. On loan from Monstrosity (at least for the recording sessions) is Michael Poggione. Perhaps it was a bit ambitious to expect Perez’ sometime Castrator colleague Robin Mazen (who’s busy enough touring around the world with her main band Gruesome, no doubt) to make herself available for the sessions. While Hypoxia stays within well-trodden paths it’s evident that everybody greatly enjoys playing the music that they do. What Hypoxia lacks in innovation, it makes up in sheer enthusiasm and gusto for the material. They never pretend to reinvent the wheel but this easily trumps any recent Cannibal Corpse or Deicide record.

What kills “Abhorrent Disease” for the most part is how the album is structured, often to the detriment of the overall pace. ‘Dark Desires’ is a weak opener that is redeemed only by the fact that it’s followed by lead single ‘Condemned to the Abyss’. Then it’s another two songs or about 8 minutes before the next choice cuts arrive. ‘Enslaving Cage’, ‘The Awakening’, ‘Despise’, and ‘Perverse Instinct’ are chunky death metal tracks heavy on “The Bleeding” influence as all four are compact, catchy and have a good hook or solo. Had the album opened with a song as ‘Despise’ or ‘Perverse Instinct’ its impact would have been significantly greater than it is now. In its current form “Abhorrent Disease” isn’t exactly frontloaded with tracks that immediately captivate the listener. To get to the quadruple kill salvo that are tracks 5 to 8 you’ll have to wade through a mostly uneventful opening four tracks. There are far too few tracks as ‘Enslaving Cage’, ‘The Awakening’, and ‘Withered’. ‘Failures Of the Festering Flesh’ would probably have functioned better as a mid-album breather, which doesn’t remove from its atmospheric qualities. We have a sneaking suspicion that “Tomb Of the Mutilated”, “The Inexorable”, and “Retribution” were in regular rotation or part of the line-up’s regular musical diet although “Abhorrent Disease” at no point attains the incendiary level of raging intensity of either.

Where Hypoxia falters most damningly this time around is on the production end. It’s an improvement over the last time but we’re not quite sure what is rubs us the wrong way. Perhaps they were aiming for that Sunlight sound as pioneered by Tomas Skogsberg and Joe Cincotta wasn’t up for the task? The crunchy guitar tone and clanking drum production certainly betray the Stockholm influence. The bass guitar on the other hand is produced like any modern death metal record in that it’s airy, rubbery and clean sounding but without much of a body or any weight behind it. It’s not that Poggione isn’t heard, he most certainly (and thankfully) is, but unlike, say, Demilich, Resumed, or Gorefest, does his bass playing hardly contribute to the overall low-end heaviness. Perez’ kickdrums are also strangely bereft of weight, clicking gently away in reckless abandon. It makes you pine for the warm toned organic productions on Embodied Torment’s “Liturgy Of Ritual Execution” or Deeds Of Flesh’s seminal works “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi” or “Path Of the Weakening”. What is great this time around is the artwork. Whereas the artwork for “Despondent Death” look kind of video gamey and thus goofy; “Abhorrent Disease” looks like a horror scene inspired in equal amounts by Deceased’s “Surreal Overdose” and Malignancy’s “Inhuman Grotesqueries” with Carnivorous Voracity’s “The Impious Doctrine” for that extra horror oomph. Andriy Tkalenko from Daemorph Evil Art Dominion outdid himself. If only Hypoxia was produced by somebody like Ron Vento, Zach Ohren, Erik Rutan, Jason Suecof, or Pete Rutcho.

The biggest issue that Hypoxia faces, at least in our humble estimation, is that it’s neither here nor there. “Abhorrent Disease” is never as cutthroat and hellish as vintage Angelcorpse or Sadistic Intent, as traditionally influenced as Deceased or “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” Dissection, nor as charmingly primitive as long-suffering Brits Benediction or more typically thuggish NYDM institutions as early Pyrexia and Internal Bleeding. It’s as if Hypoxia is intentionally holding back for whatever reason. Castrator, Carolina’s sometime side-project with Mallika Sundaramurthy from Abnormality, is ten, no, a hundred times more bloodcurdling in its intensity than Hypoxia is here. Either something was lost in translation from the rehearsal space to the recording studio or Hypoxia has lost what little fire was in its belly when “Despondent Death” was received to the sound of crickets in 2015. Either way Hypoxia is in dire need of an adrenaline injection or they need to overhaul their songwriting as these cuts wobble around with no clear direction. Whatever the case, Hypoxia is better than this. “Abhorrent Disease” is a step in the right direction but this won’t be remembered as one of the must-hear NYDM records of 2019.

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...