There’s something to be said for finding a core sound and generally sticking within its bounds. No one expects Cannibal Corpse to suddenly start adding power metal vocals any more than they’d expect Blind Guardian to invite Dani Filth in for a guest spot. If you’ve got that kind of identity (and celebrated legacy), stick with it. Even bands well into their careers sometimes have to take an interesting approach to stretch out; Defeated Sanity basically had to reverse Brundlefly their sound to split it into its seemingly disparate parts.
There’s also something to be said for mashing some typically contrasting vibes together and knowing you’ve got the band chemistry to pull it off. Such is the case with New Jersey’s Replicant, who at different times on sophomore full length Malignant Reality are leveling you with alien dissonance, taking you down proggier paths, or outright commanding you to shake your money maker with some of the cheekiest and most infectious grooves in recent death metal memory.
At the other end of the spectrum is the band’s penchant for a sleazy, nasty groove. Replicant eschews the near-nu death groove of something like World Demise and more typical brutal slams in favor of something that could most accurately be called Two-Thirds Speed Demilich. The wide intervals and octave-hoping in “Chassis Of Deceit” ought to elicit the same type of smartass grin that you know you made the first time you heard Nespithe. But the Jersey sass of guitarist Peter Lloyd goes beyond the warped Demilich influence, and instead of cheapening the record’s darker moments, the attitude heard in every pinch harmonic and dive bomb just enhances the overall dynamics (not to mention the fun).
The contrast isn’t just to show off that Replicant is good at multiple approaches, but essential to the overall vibe. For example, bassist/vocalist Michael Gonçalves’ haggard, tortured growl/scream ‒ which has much more life and personality than on the previous full length ‒ matches greatly with the more aggressive or dissonant parts but seems in direct contrast to the Jersey attitude. Then there’s the band’s use of tempo. “Coerced To Be” slows the groove riffs down to speeds so slow that they lose all ass-moving quality and instead become lumbering, creepy-crawly beasts. It’s all meant to be a mite unsettling and unbalancing. When you can’t immediately discern the music’s intentions, the whole thing becomes that much more menacing (and again, that much more fun).
At other times Replicant adds a touch of prog, sometimes in the form of complex songwriting (softer or techier passages in some songs), a jazzy bass solo (closer “The Ubiquity Of Time”) or simply in the album’s construction. Many songs seem to feed directly into another, while mid-album instrumental “Rabid Future” has shades of doomy Opeth and some wickedly cool siren-y guitar lines. Sure, the Morbid Angel-y syncopations in the wicked “Ektoskull” show that Replicant also knows how to play it relatively normal, but those types of passages are more glue than the bulk of the substance. Besides, it’s more fun ‒ not to mention unique ‒ to see where a small seed of weirdness can take you.
The band’s comfort from years of playing together also pays obvious dividends on the album. Lloyd and Gonçalves have been in bands together for over a decade, a relationship that shows in the jump in quality from 2018’s already quite good Negative Life to Malignant Reality. And despite drummer James Applegate having only joined the other two in 2019, he has a knack for whatever his stringier bandmates want to throw down, be they blast-ridden passages or greasy grooves. With the exception of the occasional overdub, solo, vocal layering, or violin, Replicant’s sound is pretty close to pure Death Metal Power Trio as you’ll find, and that kind of comfort is as crucial no matter what approach is happening at any given time.
Admittedly, the seemingly contrasting approaches might not appeal to fans that want to be bludgeoned with little or no complication (and the near-50-minute runtime doesn’t exactly lend itself to being immediately accessible), but for the rest of us, those absolutely sick, pit-ready grooves more than serve as an adequate hook. Replicant finds great balance both between and within the dissonant and catchy/groovy sides of death metal, and anyone that has ever found themselves wondering about a hypothetical New Jersey offspring of Gorguts and Demilich ought to find a ton to love with Malignant Reality.