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Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients
Review: Using keyboards well integrated within their technical death metal format Pestilence inject conceptual framing to their work in the form of an introduction to each of these eight songs, giving pause before their progressive hymns of evolving metal music. Crisp riffing and resonant melodic composition underscore the urgent and primal rhythms here calculated into layers of sequential thematic pairs. While Pestilence imagine they advance with this album, they regress by approximating the mean of a rock/death metal fusion, and in doing so, lose the power that made their music expressive of the unique. It seems they are trying to compete with successful, rock-based acts like Metallica, Tool, et al. C'est la vie.
Lyrically, this is a concept album which deals with "the truth of the existence of man" and has a few Lovecraftianisms as well, appealing to power and fundamental sources of vast change in the universe for a method of escape from the suffocating entropic sameness represented in the repetition of riffs before sacrifice. Its clean lines of lead guitar and offtime, cagily soft-footed tempo acrobatic between points of distinct impact, in framing the narrative of power chords and overlaid leads form an isolation to the piece while establishing coherence within.
Much in the passage that Carcass undertook on Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious, Pestilence return closer to their roots in this halfway step toward jazz theory, rounding out their composition with a focus on depth in harmony and how to violate it to create crashing emptiness and angrily self-stalking doubt; unfortunately, a consequence of this is the adoption of rock-styled riffing, first with the assimilation of expectation-based rhythm, and to support that, the use of harmony to avoid interrupting that rhythm with the internal rhythms produced in the phrasal, protean riffing of death metal. Emphasis on lead rhythm playing and precise textures laced with harmonic accents and cadence shifts cements percussion as the central point of the new sound to this band, and while it suffices the drumming here lapses between technical segments and standard or very obvious patterning.
Simultaneous note playing and variation of chord shapes gives a softer edge and greater space to this music, making its feral rhythms colliding within an ecosystem of detail interaction resonate with isolation and vigilant emptiness. Power chords are used to stress essential points and mold context to each theme, but often lead work or harmonizing progressions anchor these progressive death metal pieces. The essential skill of making something lifelike from a metal riff, and linking these ideas to narrate epiphany, remains on the third album a primary strength of this band. Within the context of this armada of fast and inventive fretwork all blemishes become secondary to the continually growing art of Pestilence.