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Like a lot of people (I'm guessing, from what I've heard repeated in a few places) I originally stayed away from this New York-based band (who have been around in various incarnations since the second month of 1992 - although only the original vocalist remains at this point) because of their connection to Mortician, who I enjoy in limited doses but I've never been a rabid fan of after their first demo. Roger Beaujard, the guitarist from Mortician, played drums in Malignancy for a while (he's not a bad drummer by any means, don't let Mortician's drum machine lull you into an opinion of inadequacy on his part), although he had now been replaced. I think most people came to an appreciation of Malignancy by first being attracted to the band because of the Mortician connection, the opposite of what happened to me. However, making anything but a tenuous mental link between the two bands is not exactly warranted. Beaujard is out, and guitarist Kachnic, who I believe came to this band through Beaujard's maneuverings, remains the actual "guiding light" or leader in this band. He may not be "central" in terms of his on-stage persona or his approach to the fans (I know little about this), but it is his guitar playing that is the definitive motivating and coalescing force for this East Coast quartet. At this point, right now, a Malignancy without Kachnic is, for me, unthinkable.
So, being finally prompted, poked, and prodded into the position of hearing this band without inane biases and empty judgments, I could only be pleased. Malignancy play the sort of all-out, technical, progressive, no-compromises brutal death that was first birthed in New York and which has seemingly been refined there (and also in California) for over ten or twelve years now - if not a little longer, stretching back to Morpheus Descends. Bands like Malignancy take the almost "extramusical" symbolic effusions of Suffocation's style, the tweaks, pinch harmonics, abrupt stops, time changes, blast bursts, etc. (the main indicators/percussive elements of the "brutal death" style) and construct their entire approach to death metal using only these fundamentals. Where Suffocation, for example, on "Effigy of the Forgotten" and their debut EP utilized these musical signifiers in addition to more traditional riffing and chord progressions derived from earlier bands like Morbid Angel, Malignancy and the avant-garde of brutal death (I am purposely leaving out Deeds of Flesh here, as they still have a link to a more conventional style of narrative riffing - especially now, with the release of the somewhat atavistic or conservative "Reduced to Ashes") make a clean break with tradition by applying guitar writing that seems to revel only in transition riffs. This bizarre style of playing is so alien to the ears of one raised in the late '80s - early '90s death movement that it often appears to be a different form of music altogether, and I'm not sure that Malignancy or similar bands (Decrepit Birth, parts of Disgorge's (CA) oeuvre, Brodequin, Deprecated) would reject such a notion. The heart-warming truth is that death metal never stopped evolving beneath the wet blanket of black metal's ascendancy, and at this point there are easily a dozen or so leading bands in the brutal death movement across the world who have evolved a style that seems to burst forth into one's ears without precedent, or without a backwards-looking lineage to allow for an easier assimilation of "meaning". For one just getting into death metal at this point in its two-decade long evolution, this new music appears to be almost a random collection of noise bursts and tweaked, frenetic, frantic pinch harmonics in dizzying array of seemingly motiveless technical exercises. The learning curve for an adequate appreciation of meaning and intent in the music is very steep, but this characteristic is just another form of musical rebellion.
Malignancy simply excel at this style and, as I alluded to above, the reason for this is the riffing of guitarist Kachnic. While the drumming on this release is also excellent and joins together with the guitars to form a mind-numbingly bizarre succession of cut off fragments of rhythmic messages, I do not feel that the drumming alone could exist in a vacuum free of the minute, hastily shortened musical paths pointed out by the guitars, although the guitars alone would still make this worth listening to. Like most modern brutal death, it takes one a large number of listens to appreciate the song forms or structures that may (or may not) exist, and as all listens are collaborative (or rather, accretive, slowly building up an understanding of narrative through isolated, standalone experiences of insight or appreciation over time), do not expect to "get" Malignancy's music on the first listen, unless you have trained your ears and mind to pick through this style's bewildering intricacies. Kachnic's style is one of almost constant pinch harmonics allied with short warring bursts of palm-muted chords or 6th-string hits in precisely located segments of percussive concatenation, only rarely rising up into more "traditional" full riffs, trills, or morbid, aloof (detached, holding themselves "above meaning") melodies before diving back down into grinding, repetitive (yet seemingly always changing, the secret of the style) variations on rhythmic death metal figures. I seriously can not compare his style of music-making directly to the ideas/work of any other guitarist, although there are others who definitely can sound like him at times. The end result is music that is alienating, otherworldly, nihilistic (in that it realizes the - some would say "bitter" - truth of music's inability to communicate meaning and seems to press that belief to its logical conclusions, like some forms of industrial noise), often depressing, and almost always suited to the bewilderment and isolation, confusion, or bewitching seduction of one's powers of understanding. Simply put: listening to "Cross Species Transmutation" is like being repeatedly kicked in the head by someone much smarter than you.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there were four young men who lived and worked together on a pinch harmonic farm. Day and night they worked with their pinch harmonics, raising them from birth before selling them to numerous aspiring brutal death/grind bands far and wide. This farm was a special farm; people all across the land knew that the best and strongest of pinch harmonics were to be found here. The four young men treated every pinch harmonic with love and care, tending to them when they were sick and being sure to talk to them and pet them all the time so they'd grow up to be particularly robust and squealy pinch harmonics in adulthood.
One day, one of the young men, Ron Kachnic (who had become quite talented with his guitar) found a very special pinch harmonic. That pinch harmonic was appropriately named Pinchy, and Ron spent all his time with that pinch harmonic. They would eat together, play together, work together, and Pinchy would even sleep at the foot of Ron's bed. They were as close as a man and a pinch harmonic could ever be. The other members of Malignancy Farm found it strange but sweet; Ron had found a friend, and the rest of the men warmed quickly to Pinchy, employing him as a sort of mascot for their ranch. Truly, things were looking great for Malignancy Farm. One day, though, Ron had an idea that would change EVERYTHING at the farm. He was sitting on the carpet, playing fetch with Pinchy, when his voice tentatively arose:
"Guys? We've been farming these pinch harmonics for a long while. We know all the ins and outs of the pinch harmonic business. And it's been a wonderful business indeed, full of laughter and merriment for all. But I feel that we've overlooked some of our talents. Not to toot my own horn, but I've become awfully good with my guitar over the years. Roger, I know that you're quite the drummer, and Lance can thump on his bass like nobody's business! And we all know that Danny has the loudest and growliest voice in all the land!" The boys chuckled, as that much was obvious; Danny awoke them every morning with his booming and gurgly voice. Ron continued: "What I'm saying, guys, is that we've been selling our pinch harmonics to brutal death metal bands for a very long time now. But I love these pinch harmonics, and wouldn't we certainly know what to do with them better than anyone else?"
Roger gave Ron a curious look. "Ron, am I thinking what you're thinking...?" Ron just smiled back and said, "Roger, you sure are. I think we should start our OWN brutal death metal band, full of pinch harmonics and chug riffs and tom fills for all! What do you say, guys? Let's start farming these pinch harmonics for ourselves and have some fun!"
And so, Malignancy, stalwart members of the New York death metal scene, were born. The band got right to working, practicing any time they were free from the chores of the farm. After a few quite successful releases, they labored on what would be their best work yet: an EP called 'Cross Species Transmutation', which would be the squealiest and filliest release yet. They knew it wouldn't be easy to make such a release; it would take lots of pinch harmonics and lots of time to write out all the intricacies of the songs they felt inside them. But they reveled in the challenge and knew it would all be worth it soon.
Day and night they worked on the EP, and it began to take shape. 'Cross Species Transmutation' was a highly technical and spastic death/grind record. Tempo changes abounded, frequently moving from slow chugging to hyperfast tremolo picking and blasting in the blink of an eye. The meat of the album was based on fill-laden stop/start drumming under churning, heavy riffing based on convoluted and atonal chord structures, with gurgling vocals in the vein of Terminally Your Aborted Ghost adding yet another layer of sonic brutality. The band refused to ever settle down into a groove; this EP was going to be a difficult and taxing listen, with song structures that never stopped changing and evolving.
And of course, there were pinch harmonics, whole armies of them dotted all over the EP! There were pinch harmonics embedded in places they couldn't possibly go, so many of them that Ron's fingers couldn't possibly be capable of playing them so quickly! But there they were, written out and, like the rest of the album, played perfectly and smoothly despite how unsmooth the music was. The band made this music seem effortless, despite how mind-bogglingly technical it was. In fact, it was so technical and unique that there really were no bands that sounded much like them at all, apart from maybe the previously mentioned Terminally Your Aborted Ghost. But even that band could settle into a groove or simple riff once in a while, which Malignancy staunchly refused to: there would be complexity and only complexity throughout this disc!
Finally, with the songs written, the band headed to a fine recording studio to put their music onto plastic. The engineer did a great job with the EP, capturing the intensity of each member's performance and allowing every instrument to be heard with perfect clarity and tonal quality. Finally, with the EP done, the band had it pressed and began to sell it to a very positive response from all their fans. Music critics marveled at the density of the pinch harmonics and the exquisitely technical compositions the band made, and also appreciated the brevity of the release; at just over fifteen minutes, the complexity of the music didn't wear itself out or ever become stale. The band was proud of their accomplishment, and the fans were happy.
And so the four young men on the pinch harmonic farm still continue to raise and love their pinch harmonics to this day. One day, they might turn over running of the farm to other, younger workers, but for now, they are still the true experts of pinch harmonics, and are loved throughout the land for raising the strongest and squealiest pinch harmonics in the land. Pinchy still runs around the farm, squealing with delight, and it could be said that on Malignancy Farm, things are truly peaceful.
The intro is a perfect setup for the album’s content. It represents an once quiet laboratory that’s promptly destroyed by something vicious, maybe the sickening result of some experiment on transmutation. After reducting the lab to an absolute mess, the criature gains the streets, ready to slash and chew anything that crosses its way.
That description fits perfectly with any musician involved with this album, but the vocals are probably the most real incarnation of a ruthless, seeing-red beast. Few death metal albums have such a powerful performance. Technically, they are extremely guttural, unintelligible death metal growls with little to no variation (except for a rare scream and minor pitch changes). But somehow, they aren’t your generic, filler-like vocals. Danny Nelson develops a style that fits perfectly with the disordered nature of the music: Unleashed, feral and sometimes plain scary. Just listen to the 12 seconds growl at the start of “Post Mortem Perception”. Now tell me it doesn’t sound as demented and grotesque as Lord Worm first vocals at “Crown of Horns”. And as passionate and memorable.
As for the musical structures, Malignancy have the concept of “chaos” in absolute domain. It doesn’t sound disjointed and gratuitous, but really complicated and well-composed, full of clashing riffs, drumming and the vocals. The main pillar for this formula’s sucess is the creativity, present in the way they write their riffs and arrange them. Speaking of the riffs, I should give them an A+, just because of the total abuse of pinch harmonics. These are usually employed for effect, but here Malignancy adopts them to develop a very original and dominant riffage style. When combinated with some rare tremolos (1:20 to 1:38 of Mortality Weakness, for example), the result is great. The counterpoint is made by some well-applied brutal slam riffs (that oddly enough aren’t the 2695th ripoff of “Liege of Inveracity”’s breakdown) that when allied to the vocals and blistering drumming (see “Fibroid Embolism”, probably the best track here), conjurate an absolutely destructive power.
Another strong point of the album is the production, a great example of well-thought death metal production. Although the sound is clear, it’s not as lifeless as, say, the most recent Nile album. It has enough low end and the instruments are simply impeccable. The album’s opressive and “out-of-control” atmosphere owes a lot to the extremely sludgy tone of the guitars when slamming, the screechy pinches (not something stupid as Necrophagist or the new Origin, that unfortunately decided to incorporate the stupid “bleeping” guitars) and the puncturing drums. Speaking of them, the performance has variety and doesn’t let down when it comes to mantaining aggression and keeping the music interesting.
Overall, this is a lost gem. Catchy while intelligent, original and extremely brutal, it represents all the good things death metal has. Great job.
This is a great sampler EP. Everything is perfectly done, expertly mixed, all of the instruments are in the right places, and everything is very tight. Every band member plays to his ability, and it shows through brilliantly in practically every song. The vocals in particular are bestial, Lord Worm-esque growls, screams, and bellows which fit perfectly with the over-technical (not in a bad way) and schizophrenic playing style. I find old Malignancy works to not even be in this caliber due to the production that prohibited a lot of older Malignancy EPs and even Intrauterine Cannibalism from being excellent. This however is crystal-clear and completely comprehensible despite the sheer amount of time changes, cervix-snapping breakdowns and whirlwind guitar frenzies (PINCH HARMONICS TO THE MAX) jammed into this 16 minute mosh fest.
Actually, don't mosh to this. You will die.
Also, the scream/growl in the beginning of Postmortem Perception is reason enough to own this.