Entering the Underground #11: Malformity Wreak “Monumental Ruin” on Death Metal Conformity
Atlanta’s Malformity have a history that goes back a lot farther than most of the bands I cover in this column. Though their new album Monumental Ruin is their first one, they formed all the way back in 1991 at the absolute peak of death metal’s commercial viability. That was not necessarily the most fortunate time for them because death metal fell off the radar quickly thereafter, and by the band’s first demo in 1995 label support for death metal had become nearly nonexistent.
Malformity ended up breaking up after the Black Holes to Heaven demo came out but were not done with death metal. Reforming in 2014, the band quickly established that their dominance over death metal was far from gone, and their first proper studio EP Lectures on the Apocalypse and 7” single "The Rapturous Unraveling" that came later continued the thread of local domination that they’d begun under the name “Lectures on the Apocalypse” some years before.
With this year’s Monumental Ruin the band prove that experience and pedigree can be more important than youthful passion. The blend of influences is significantly more varied and interesting than the vast majority of contemporary death metal; in a genre full of imitators locking themselves in specific boxes (“we’re Demilich worship!”, “we play caveman death metal!”, “we are cavernous death!”) Malformity have combined all of the bands they loved back in the day to create a sound that is very much their own.
There are many easy and obvious comparisons to be made, and a specific riff might recollect Bolt Thrower or Carcass. Despite that, the overall compositions of the songs flow in interesting and unexpected ways, and there’s a particular focus on certain songs on atmospheric leads and melodies that beguile in a way that’s disappointingly absent in most of Malformity’s contemporaries. Each listen reveals new things to focus on, and at this point I honestly can’t believe the album hasn’t exploded because it’s one of the best I’ve heard in recent death metal. Blast it loud while you read the interview that I did with the band below.
You guys formed back in 1991 and had a nearly twenty year gap between breaking up in 1995 and coming back together in 2014. What made 2014 the right time to come back together?
Malformity: When Malformity split up in 1995 we remained friends and kept in touch while doing our own things in different bands. In 2006 Dan (guitar/vocals) and Craig (drums) formed Lectures on The Apocalypse with Billy on bass. This is truly how today’s Malformity came to be. We played shows as a three-piece as Lectures and gained some momentum in the Atlanta metal scene. Dan tried getting Glenn (guitar) to join on second guitar for a while, and in 2012 Glenn felt the time was right for him to accept, making us a four-piece. In 2013 Billy quit and Dan knew that Eric (bass/vocals) was available so we asked and he came on board. After a few months we changed the band name to that of Dan and Eric’s old band Malformity since we had two of the original members of that band back together. Many outside the Atlanta metal scene believe we spontaneously reformed Malformity after a nineteen to twenty year hiatus, but that is not the case. The band existed as Lectures for a number of years before taking on the name Malformity. Our final show with Billy was actually Eric’s first as well. We played the first half of the set with Billy on older material, and then we played the rest of the set with Eric on the newer songs. It wasn’t long after that we played our first show using the name Malformity.
Do you feel like switching names impacted any of the momentum that you had gained locally?
The name change helped by being much more memorable than Lectures on the Apocalypse. The name itself didn’t bring over any notoriety from the old demos at the time because very few people were aware of the history of Malformity. And we were still friends with all the local promoters so the name change didn’t impact our getting onto shows. The scene was small enough that it didn’t take very long for word to spread that this was a name change rather than a new band.
We certainly gained a lot more traction after the name change though due to having Eric on board. The 2nd set of vocals and overall energy he brought really beefed up our sound. He also brought a new set of influences to the sound and helped shift the songwriting into new directions. He has been a driving force in keeping us moving forward with writing, recording, and staying sharp in practices so the band as a whole just became a lot more noteworthy after the name change.
How much of the new album was old material from the ‘90s versus new material?
The song “Lifeless Mindless” came directly from the 90s demos with a few changes. “Monument To Decay” contains some of Dan’s ideas from the 90s, but after Malformity split in 1995, and which never quite fit with any other band Dan played with. “Into Ruin” contains one of Eric’s 90s riffs. The new album Monumental Ruin contains three songs from the Lectures days, and besides “Lifeless Mindless,” all the others we wrote together with the current lineup. The “Lectures on The Apocalypse” EP contains all material from the Lectures days hence the title.
Would you guys ever want to re-record or re-release the old material from the Black Holes to Heaven demo in full?
In full, probably not. We’ll do another 90s song for the next recording, but have not yet decided which. There’s a lot of good material in those songs, so we could take riffs or sections from those songs and work them into new material. Some of those songs are good as-is, and some could use a little re-working. It’s all fair game.
Is there any archival material that hasn’t made it to an official recording from back then?
No, all the material from the old, old days has made it onto a Malformity recording in one form or another. Every completed song written by Malformity up through 2020 is on all our releases. Of course we have lots of riffs and ideas we continue to draw from, but much of it is relatively recent.
How has the scene changed, for better or worse, since the old days?
Dan Ratanasit: This isn’t an easy question since that’s 30 years worth of time to consider, but I’ll give it a shot. It seems metal is much more popular today than in the 90s. I worked a college metal radio show in the 90s and I remember when the marketing companies started to avoid the word “metal” but now that’s all changed. The death metal bands we loved back then like Morbid Angel, Carcass, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse etc. always had a following, but they’re just as popular today if not more so, because the younger crowd enjoys them right alongside the older crowd who experienced those same bands at small club shows back in the day. I saw Napalm Death and At The Gates in 96 for a $7 cover, and today those bands are seeing much bigger crowds and much better sales. In 2002 or so, King Diamond toured with Nile and the show here didn’t have the biggest crowd, but now he packs out big venues with a huge stage production. At the same time we still have our smaller underground scenes, and thankfully that has not changed. The intimacy still exists where you can enjoy a smaller metal show of dedicated fans out on a work/school night. Technology also made things far more accessible now where it’s much easier to spread the word and the music for smaller bands than it was back then with tape trading and paper zines. That was a great time for sure and whether any of this is for better or worse all depends on your own perspective.
What about the label experience, since you’ve been around through it all?
Dan: We don’t have much experience with labels from the artist’s perspective so we don’t have much to say about any differences over the years. Glenn played in bands that worked with labels in the early 2000s, but said he had minimal dealings with the labels himself. I remember in the mid 90s when major labels dipped their toes into death metal when Columbia worked with Earache for a brief time. When we saw Carcass in 94 or 95 a label rep came on stage between bands to announce giveaways and other promotional material. It was really strange to see that at a death metal show and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that again since.
How does it feel to have put out your first album after so many years, and what does it mean for you guys?
It’s a great accomplishment for us to finally get this material out there. We worked hard on all of this so the release is a major milestone for us. We gained a lot of knowledge as well that we’ll use towards the next recording. One of the hurdles to getting this finished was all the shows we had been playing. We spent so much time rehearsing for shows it left us little time for things like creating tempo maps and learning recording techniques. So that’s one thing we learned: how to manage our time effectively as a band. And hopefully the release gains us some more recognition where we can get us on some bigger shows and festivals.
There are some really cool melodic sections on the album that don’t have a lot of direct contemporaries I can compare to, and songs that have a lot of atmosphere without losing death metal’s inherent aggressiveness- for example, on “Immolated Archetype” or “False Dichotomy”. Where does that come from?
Thank you for the cool observation! It’s largely just how the music naturally comes through in our writing and collaborating as a team. Quite a bit of the early stuff that influenced us has those same qualities of incorporating melody while retaining the heaviness (Left Hand Path, Clandestine, Necroticism, Like An Everflowing Stream, Screams of Anguish, Karelian Isthmus, etc.). And we all have varied tastes in music so that naturally plays a part. When you combine all those influences among four individuals, it morphs into something that is our own. Of course sometimes unintentionally the influences show a little too obviously and we won’t deny it when someone points it out, but we definitely make an effort to prevent that from happening
What’s next for Malformity?
We’re busily writing material for the next album. We’ve learned a few things along the way that should help with the compositions and arrangements. We are also eagerly awaiting the vinyl test presses for Monumental Ruin. We just got word from Unspeakable Axe that the pressing plant just got the stampers, so that’s one step closer to releasing the album on vinyl! We’re also going to try to book a few short tours. We all have careers and families so getting away for long periods of time is not easy.
Do you have anything else to talk about or promote?
We have a lot of new merch available so please check out our Bandcamp page! https://malformity.bandcamp.com/merch. And actually the album release show for Monumental Ruin was just announced today. We’ll be playing right here in Atlanta with Father Befouled, also from Georgia, Exaugurate (members of Ectovoid and Cruciamentum), and Metaphobic, another death metal band from Atlanta. Dan actually plays bass in Metaphobic with some of the guys from Paladin and Obsolescence. The first demo was released recently and the debut full length should be ready in 2022. Glenn also plays bass in a grind project called Putrefaction Sets In with members of General Surgery, Lymphatic Phlegm, and Expurgo. Their album will be released later this year. Check these bands out! Thanks for the interview and hopefully we’ll see a lot of new faces on the road in 2021 and 2022!
Monumental Ruin released April 19th, 2021 via Unspeakable Axe Records.