Following widespread mixed reviews of 2007’s Spiritual Apocalypse, Monstrosity retreated into the shadows for just over a decade. While members also form contemporary acts Terrorizer, Deicide, and a number more, the quartet put the group in question on hold for a great number of years. However, to the pleasure of their dedicated fanbase, they announced the release of another full-length titled The Passage of Existence which released last Friday. Here’s a review.
The history and primordial nature of the group serves as reason alone to be excited for this release. Founded in 1990, Monstrosity was part of that second wave of early death metal, which moved away from the thrash-influenced paths of groups like Death, Entombed, Grave, and Pestilence. This second wave took death metal to even further lengths, incorporating octopus-like drumming, a retracted emphasis on catchy song writing, and managed to establish a number of sub-subgenres such as technical, progressive, and brutal death metal. Monstrosity finds their place somewhere between old-school and technical death metal, with an emphasis on slower, cryptic lead guitar solos. This direction is further explored with The Passage of Existence.
Being one of the hallmarks of any form of death metal, the percussion displayed on any particular album is fairly important for me. While any basic drum beat will get practically anyone’s head bobbing as a result of our inherent built-in metronomes, the overproduced, eclectic drumming style of many new death metal bands tends to emphasize skill over musical flow. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with demonstrating your ability on a couple of fills or during a live set solo, but there’s some modern material that just seems to be engulfed by a constant necessity to pound the drums in an overtly-technical manner. Luckily, founding drummer Lee Harrison’s performance straddles that fine line between expressing technical skill while managing to play in unison with the guitars and vocals. The percussion on The Passage of Existence is clear, monstrous, and sonically-appropriate.
Furthermore, there is a certain quality of self-awareness on the record. From the cryptic wandering solos, to the various slow and cosmic interludes, there is a clear effort to instrumentally emulate the album’s lyrical themes. Just as the cover suggests, the listener is meant to feel as if they are being introduced to some sort of odd new world through a looking glass. Songs like “Radiated” and “The Proselygeist” feature these very Spiritual Healing-esque lead guitar solos that wander along the note scale with a found purpose yet also with a seeming lack of direction. Flowing along with this common theme as mentioned above in similar fashion to the percussion, the solos emphasize an aspect of melody and purpose rather than pure technical skill. Monstrosity was clearly going for a particular cosmic atmosphere with this record, and they pulled it off quite nicely.
The album is a tad long running at just under an hour, which, with its associated negatives, is really the only downside of this release. I found myself consistently desiring the final note of this record, simply due to the fact that a full listen requires a fair bit of time. Such is not an issue with attention span or anything, however, as albums (or songs) like Dopesmoker can be my cup of tea if I’m in the required mood. Death metal just doesn’t suit such a release length, as the listener eventually becomes fatigued with the lack of sound innovation. While Monstrosity surely put a creative emphasis on slowing down the solo sections, developing different ideas on separate tracks, and otherwise breaking up the release, there are only so many ways you can switch it up. I won’t even recommend which songs I would remove, as there really aren’t any poor numbers on the album (albeit some stand out more than others).
The song “Maelstrom” tends to show off this album best, in my opinion. While there are some more traditional-sounding numbers on the release, “Maelstrom” opens with (I hate to say it, but bear with me) a metalcore/nu metal flavoured riff, and the rest of the song follows suit. The descriptive subgenre tag is hinted-at in the essence of the construction and time signature of the riffs, with a high-pitched guitar squeal every few seconds à la Lamb of God. The unique riff works very well within the song, especially considering that the tune’s aura follows suit for its entirety. The gem is a spotlight on an otherwise static album and offers a fresh feeling for the listener. Again, its not metalcore/nu-metal, its just inspired as such; listen below.
The Passage of Existence is otherwise a standout, well-made, and free-flowing modern death metal album. I’ll give this one bonus points for being from a nearly-thirty year old band, as releases from old-timers like these tend to flake in comparison to their early work. Monstrosity have however pushed through that mysterious correlation between old age and bad music and have emerged strong with their newest release in over ten years. Despite benefitting from a tracklist trim here and there, releasing too much music is not a bad complaint to have under your bullet belt.