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A Shrine of Unique, Ground-Breaking Releases - 100%

bayern, March 2nd, 2017

Malhavoc are one of the ten most original bands in metal history. Period. Having written that, I am quite mystified as to why I’m the only person here who spends time paying tribute to these pioneers. About two years ago I visited this page to review the band’s debut “Shrine”, which is not an EP, but a full-blooded LP with its over 35-min length. Here I am again, two years later, being the only one willing to throw in a few more words Malhavoc’s way. But that’s not a burden; on the contrary, it’s always a pleasure to praise the masters.

The band’s long very diverse “journey” is indelibly connected with James Cavalluzzo, the band’s founder and main driving force through the numerous guises this outfit has put on. The man was up there with the “early birds” producing some of the most violent sounds on Canadian soil in the early-80’s alongside Exciter, Voivod, and Razor. Alas, their ground-breaking significance remained unrecognized after their colleagues all succeeded in producing their official releases while Malhavoc continued toiling in the underground with a long string of demos. So much for logic and justice on the metal arena… Anyway, this didn’t prove to be a problem for the guy(s) to come up with the first genuine progressive thrash/death metal recording in the annals of the genre, the aforementioned “Shrine” which predated similar intricate opuses like the ones of Revenant, Atheist, Nocturnus, Vacant Grave and Hellwitch.

For Cavalluzzo, however, the only option was to move forward, and his awareness of the oncoming trends on the scene brought him in the vicinity of the new sounds as served by the Ministry recordings of the late-80’s which introduced noises, samples, and electronics into metal’s skeleton. These innovations were quickly picked up by other formations, and Cavalluzzo also decided to make some adjustments to his attractive approach to the good old thrash. The album reviewed here largely remains thrash, another complex progressive, deeply atmospheric affair, but because of the modern gimmicks applied it’s hard to pass for the most classic “release” out there.

I guess a major reason why the fans didn’t embrace the band’s enchanting musical landscapes was the vocal histrionics; Cavalluzzo never sings, he just whispers in a sinister witch-like manner, sometimes barely audible, sometimes noisier and synthesized intent on matching the more industrial nature of the respective passage. Vocals, the way the fanbase knows them from other bands and works, are non-existent here, but they nicely add up to the macabre atmosphere which has always been Cavalluzzo’s main agenda, at least on the early efforts. Since I’ve never been a very big fan of the vocal side of metal, I usually make a passing mention of the singing exploits in my reviews unless something really extraordinary goes on behind the mike, I find this delivery strangely compelling, giving the band an individualistic aura later picked by some of the black metal practitioners from the Second Wave. The man is an avid horror film and literature fan, and knowing that the listener would probably understand why Cavalluzzo prefers to whisper scarily rather than spoiling the dense atmosphere with emotional clean croons, or thereabouts.

The opening title-track is a steam-rolling “march” with heavy riffage, supporting keyboards, and the afore-described vocals all these ingredients creating an appetizing symbiosis which also gets an electronic “decoration” later. This is the beginning of a concept based around Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” which carries on on the second cut “S.C.E.X.”, a magnificent combination between scratching thrashy riffs, haunting melodies and industrial samples the latter including excerpts from the films “Heathers” (1988) and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” (1986). This composition is the band’s actual entry into the industrial metal arena, the only place here where the side-effects dominate over the guitars. The Jekyll/Hyde saga is wrapped on with “Second Image” which commences with insistent drum beats before intense dramatic riffage rises like a tsunami with more atmospheric melodic reliefs served regularly to create another irresistible blend which also gets the royal treatment with portions of stylish melodic leads.

“Cruciform” is the single most atmospheric, most sinister number in the history of metal. If there ever is a complete metal soundtrack to a horror film, this song should be the first one to be considered. Actually, the whole soundtrack should only consist of this cut, the original and several remakes of it all done by Cavalluzzo. The creepy keyboards at the beginning already inaugurate a masterpiece along the lines of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (the musical analogue), and when the equally as mesmerizing riffs enter keeping the same minimalistic aura, one will have no choice but to be totally absorbed by this most macabre amalgam with Cavalluzzo adding more to the terror whispering “Cruciform” and other “bitter nothings”, with a beautiful piano tune gracing the final chords. “A Portrait of William Wilson” is, of course, a nod to Edgar Allen Poe the music being dark cavernous thrash with industrial synthetics “disturbing” the cutting riffs, and with twisted ethereal leads hanging in the balance. Minimalism at its finest which gets cancelled by “Age of Desire”, influenced by the works of Clive Barker, another notable horror writer; music-wise this is a downright return to the band’s roots, brilliant technical thrash/death the guys weaving schizoid riff-formulas, changing the pace at will, showing how it’s done to all the progressive/technical death/thrash formations “roaming” the scene at the time. An extraordinary epitaph to this grand opus which is followed by remakes of the first two compositions “Release” turned to “Re-Release” and made faster and more aggressive; and “S.C.E.X.” ornated with additional industrial gimmicks to enhance the already dripping atmosphere.

Depending on the taste, this recording can be considered the band’s magnum opus. Alongside Skrew, and to a lesser extent Die Krupps and Ministry, Malhavoc kept the industrial side of thrash alive through the 90’s, albeit each performing it through their characteristic perspective. Malhavoc were by far the most creative and the most original of the batch constantly pushing the boundaries of the genre as long as they stood within its confines; which wasn’t for very long, unfortunately, since after releasing the leftovers from the album reviewed here under the title “Punishments” (1991), another supreme collection of engaging progressive thrashers, Cavalluzzo gradually lost interest in the genre although “Premeditated Murder” still contained a few fairly aggressive tunes, also strengthened by the addition of several remastered versions of songs from their early days, including “Age of Desire” from here.

Canadian metal has been viewed as one of the most innovative and original branches of the scene (Voivod, Savage Steel, DBC, Dyoxen, Obliveon, Disciples of Power, Annihilator, etc.), not to mention the enormous contribution to death metal made from the Quebec horde, but Malhavoc remain on the very forefront of this impressive group. Not surprisingly Cavalluzzo was invited by none other than the Voivods to help them with the production and the mastering of their only tribute to industrial metal, “Phobos” (1997). The man is a figure to be revered, and although his “twisted mind” at present is producing electronic dancey “desserts”, his bottomless shrine… sorry, creativity may snap at any time, and provide the world with a new tribute to all things horror.