Malicious – Deranged Hexes
There are no survivors.
The history of metal in many eyes is a history based on successive movements attempting to one up their predecessors in pure extremity. From its origins as the bastard offspring of post-hippie psychedelic/hard rock to its ’90s years as maze of blasting tremolo-picking throat tearing madness much of the genre is built around this idea of pushing boundaries. Technicality, tastefulness, tenacity, strangeness, slowness, atmosphere; there’s always something that could be done and then outdone. This isn’t an entirely accurate way of understanding metal’s evolution over the years but it can be understood as a kind of developmental shorthand; “outdoing your ancestors” tends to be an umbrella that encapsulates a variety of complex changes to a core idea.
An interesting scenario arises in death metal where for over a decade the so-called Old School Death Metal (OSDM) movement seeks to apparently reverse this process, reverting to a time when death metal was (seemingly) less concerned with this musical arms race and the perceived artistic decline it brought. Yet this is a process that cannot simply be willed away by replacing incessant blasting and noodly shredding with d-beats and doom riffs. If you read my Omegavortex review, I mention there that for every movement or style, there is almost always a response to it and in recent OSDM’s case, it comes from a place of thrashing, occasionally blackened ferocity that reaches a level of intensity akin to the latter bands in death metal’s timeline.
Strangely enough, it does so by travelling back to the genre’s early days and in this review, Finland’s Malicious demonstrate this prideful regressivism-as-defiance of current norms with applaudable gusto.
The easiest way to understand Deranged Hexes is that it’s less of a “death metal” album in how we typically understand it but all of the fastest and most furious aspects of late ’80s extremity condensed into a roughly death metal-like form. Its heritage is eclectic even if its lowbrow nature doesn’t really flaunt this, made from a mess of blurring boundaries featuring the mark of bands such as Necrovore, Sarcofago, Repulsion, Possessed, Insanity (Death after Death), Morbid Angel, Necrodeath, and Vulcano. The idea of concrete genres we’re so familiar with today is absent in much of their work, representing an expression of violent excess and existing in the gray areas between the furthest ends of thrash and the messy first strains of death and black metal, even grindcore’s similarly chaotic origins. Malicious attacks with an incessant and ravenous hunger for ever-mounting aggression and tenacity, rarely slowing down for any other reason than to hit you back harder once the blasting starts.
Riffing has thrash’s general phrasing contorted and bent into jagged death metal shapes, warped into a crackling blur by early black metal’s formless violence, and given the unstable abruptness of grindcore’s guerilla onslaught. Every song violently stampedes towards the finish line, occasionally interspersed by chaotic Hanneman/King style solos and creepy pseudo-melodies that help connect these jangly, misshapen patterns like stringy bits of muscle holding together worm-ravaged limbs. It’s simple at heart and the components that made it border the first wave of black metal in their simplicity but the absurd level of aggression, interspersed moments of clarity in melody, give it an honesty horrific and impressive in equal measure. All the songs are borderline walls of sound but peering closer reveals primitive underlying architecture wrapping it into a vaguely coherent whole.
It should come as no surprise that the songwriting is built on an ever-escalating sense of conflict always nearing critical mass. Riffs erupt and enter rigidly horns-locked battle with short digressions into wild soloing or more smoothly phrased higher register technique, breaking up the blurring chords with glaring higher register contrast. Energy builds up in cycles of battling repetition and bleeds off into the soloing or melodies with songs heaving under the swarming, massive weight of all their raging riffage. It is reminiscent of a far less high tech Liers in Wait as they embed these short snippets of fretboard sorcery within raging tornadoes. Malicious also tends to use this amassing sense of intensity to build into longer chains of ideas not repeated elsewhere in the song, a powerful bridge often replete with chaotic soloing to take the frenzy to an overdose of a climax.
The compact simplicity helps to keep the hyper chaotic, frenetic nature of the album in check and it demonstrates a strong familiarity with how to make songs feel fairly fleshed out and resolute in how they carry their ideas to their conclusions, with threads of melody outlining compact structure while soloing detonates volatile masses of swarming build-up. It’s closer to its thrash roots in this sense, working with a mixture of repetition and payoff that could be said to be a descendant of earlier verse-chorus songwriting arrangements simply warped or mutated into a far more barbaric and comparatively amorphous form. In that sense it can sometimes feel that once you look past the admirable, impressive energy that it feels like there could be more added though they carry each song on a mixture of raw energy, making every savage riff pay off to something equally intense.
Malicious has improved much since their earlier material and while this is a very different beast from the almost Unanimated or Gardens of Grief-era At The Gates reminiscent sound of 2015’s Black Fumes, it does carry on the same tradition of sinister melody. Granted, said melody isn’t as central to their sound as much as pounding walls of chaos in a way reminiscent of Funeral Chant or Ascended Dead. They do stretch how far they can take the compact nature of the songs and it’s not hard on occasion to wish there was a bit more connective tissue holding it together and letting them further explore the potential of their contrast between razor wire grating riffs and ghostly, eldritch melodies.
Based on Black Fumes, one could almost think they would have gone in that early blackened melodic death direction à la Eucharist or A Mind Confused albeit with gnarlier rhythms and while I personally wouldn’t demand that they head that way, it would be nice to see that aspect of the band further elaborated on. Here it feels as if it’s hinting at something far more monstrous hiding behind the shroud of putridity that envelops each and every song, interspersed with moments of shimmering and unearthly melody or strange, noisy soloing.
In terms of raw brute force, this stands nearly unrivaled in 2020, outstripping the usual brutal death and war metal outings with its refusal to fall into formless background buzz or tepid chugthuggery while easily leaving the flooded oldschool camp in the dust with how it prizes relentless delivery and atmosphere-via-aggression. At the same time, the songwriting feels a little too contained and it teases you with glimpses of greater potential rather than fully indulging in them, putting it a bit behind fellow late ’80s style mutants like Omegavortex and Infesticide in spite of possessing similar levels of savagery.
In spite of any shortcomings, I still strongly recommend this album as an example of one of the far stronger takes on “oldschool” extremity. Its flaunting of rigid genre boundaries, blurring them into a misshapen mass united by bloodthirsting mayhem, results in a sound that’s even more primal and ancient than the increasingly tame and identity-deprived slurry that is becoming increasingly synonymous with OSDM. They clearly still have room to grow and there’s an interesting variety of directions they could expand in; perhaps Deranged Hexes is simply the prelude to worse perversities awaiting this band in the grim years to come.
Deranged Hexes releases on October 30th. You can preorder and listen to an additional preview here.