Legendary Dutch death metal band Pestilence is re-issuing its two demos from 1987 on a compilation entitled The Dysentery Penance, out in CD/digital on November 30, 2015 with the vinyl to follow in early 2016. The two demos, “The Penance” and “Dysentery,” show the formative years of the technical death metal style later to evolve from Pestilence.
To be released on Vic Records, this new release shows yet another death metal band reaching into the vaults so that new generations can experience the sense of possibility and discovery as these bands forged ahead in uncharted waters to create the new death metal style.
Pestilence avoids controversy poorly. After the legendary Consvming Impvlse, the band went on to produce a series of albums culminating in the synth-sounding jazz-heavy Spheres, which remains one of metal’s most divisive albums: people either love it or hate it, with few in the middle gray areas.
Then after years apart, Pestilence returned in 2009 with Resurrection Macabre followed two years later by Doctrine. These albums showed Pestilence trying more for a contemporary style of modern technical metalcore (sometimes called “tek-deth”) without as much of the crazy instrumental embellishment of past albums. Now, possibly from a better state of balance within the band, Pestilence unleash Obsideo.
Obsideo returns to a long-running controversy in this band which is not metal-versus-jazz as many would think, but among two types of metal. Specifically, the album Malleus Maleficarum showed Pestilence reining back the death metal of their later demos, and trying for a death metal infused with American-style speed metal. Think Kreator covered Megadeth and you have roughly the same style, although in Pestilence’s case this revealing a longstanding tendency with the band: eschewing the phrase-based riffs of death metal for more rhythmic variations on chord progressions in the speed metal style, then filling in the space with leads.
But if we were to extrapolate Malleus Maleficarum into the present, updating its 1980s speed metal on the cusp of death metal with the metalcore-inspired insistence on variety and riffs that ride a vocal rhythm on the nose, we might find the blueprint for Obsideo. It’s more repetitive and confrontational, simpler and less nuanced, and reflects more of the industrial and hardcore influence into metal of the late 1990s. In addition, songs have fewer fireworks in terms of song structure, but more in lead guitar, which is often used as transitional material in song or for kinds of extended fills to denote layering in riff motif.
Fortunately the space-age jazz-fusion guitar of Spheres has returned in the lead guitar department. While not every lead is quite as distant from normalcy as those, these are more confident, both proficient and playful, showing these musicians at a point where they’ve absorbed the changes in their own ability and can put them to better use. Often a song will snowball with power chord riffs but flesh out its mood with leads, and then fade out into the use of similar themes in the lead to take over the direction of the song.
Production sounds like a chunkier, bassier version of Spheres but doesn’t have the compressed and blasted feel of the two comeback albums. This album shows metal at an interesting place as it tries to recap the thirty years of growth since heavy metal transitioned to speed metal, but on the whole, Pestilence have done a good job of it. This is more listenable than their last two, seems more compelling and personal, but also brings musicianship back into the mix in a way that coincides with these musicians’ instrumental focus.
Pestilence will be remembered as one of the heroes of death metal, but many have stated reservations about their more recent output, which seems unduly influenced by the modern metal movement, including tek-deth and alt-metal, which always seem to go hand-in-hand.
“Necro Morph” shows the band dialing back from the modern metal fringe and making what’s basically renovated speed metal with modern metal touches, avoiding the true randomness of tek-deth. The counterweight to that is that this makes the music more repetitive, which forces the vocals to overcompensate to give it textural depth.
That approach might make sense if the vocals were sung, but it’s an unfortunate choice here. Pestilence has always excelled at instrumentals, not vocals; when your strongest instrument is the guitar, why make a vocal-heavy style? Second, this puts the emphasis on a style of growled/shouted vocals that don’t have that much variation, which requires comedic emphasis that in turn puts weight on the lyrics to be “interesting,” which in rock-n-roll-speak usually means “ludicrous.”
Further, putting the main thrust of the band’s effort into rhythm guitars that support vocals has dumbed down the riffs themselves, which have gone from interesting phrases that use both partial chords and single-string picking to constant power chords that form uniformly repetitive walls of sound interrupted strategically by rhythm for the Meshuggah-style jazz “offtime” effect.
When the solo does appear, it’s a beautiful thing, because these guys not only play their instruments well (which is cheap, as millions play well) but have a good ear for music that is both sonorous and pushing the edges of what we would consider organized sound. Can we have some more of this, please?
If anything, Pestilence should recognize that their audience is not “the kids,” who will always want something dumber than Pestilence can provide, but the maturing listener who wants something with a bit more meat than the mostly rock-based pop metal that dominates the airwaves. You can’t get successful by imitating what works for others, and Pestilence must find their own path.
Dutch death metal band Pestilence confirm that they will release their latest album, Onsideo, through Candlelight Records on 11th in North America. Produced by vocalist/guitarist Patrick Mameli, the album is the band’s first recording for the label and first new material from the four-piece since 2011.
Obsideo sees Pestilence as a four piece, with guitarist/vocalist Patrick Mameli joining original guitarist Patrick Uterwijk, bassist George Maier and drummer Dave Haley to create a technical and aggressive sound. “We have gone beyond our human limits to achieve the highest form of brutal music,” said Mameli, who claimed the album consisted of “ten of the most demanding songs written in death metal.”
Following a lengthy absence, Pestilence resurrected itself in 2009 with Resurrection Macabre. Since then the band has toured and explored options for its new sound, which incorporates eight-string guitars and modern metal influences into its classic death metal sound.
Consuming Impulse, the band’s 1989 release, remains a highwater mark for death metal for its intricate assembly and integration of complex riffs and multiple themes. Since that time, the band has drifted toward more socially-acceptable forms of technical music.