Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Malignancy - Cross Species Transmutation

Malignancy - Cross Species Transmutation
2003, United Guttural Records

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 leadings 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.