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Pestilence’s career has been marked by evolution; their debut album –“Mallevs Malleficarvm”- even if it’s very thrashy is a hell of a nice slab of incipient death metal. “Consuming Impulse” condensed the raw, evil and dark atmosphere coining an even heavier album, and so on. “Testimony of the Ancients” might be one of the best death metal albums ever recorded, its technical prowess is undeniable, Tony Choy’s addition to the band opened a whole new level in complexity to the band’s musical textures. “Spheres” was even more experimental, drifting away too much from the death metal shores if you ask me, but at least is an honest effort towards the making of more sophisticated music. The “new” albums, even if they aren’t as experimental as the last have something new, the use of 8 string guitars. It affects dramatically the band’s sound, giving it a darker and more nostalgic edge, that affects modern day Pestilence’s live performances making them richer, because of the adaptation of old songs to new tuning.
This album however, despite being released in 2006, covers up one show from 1989, one from 1988 and one unreleased track. The first show sounds like shit, Van Drunen vocals are almost unrecognizable, yet they are along with the drums the most distinguishable elements in this stupid wall of noise. Guitars sound so muddy they are buried in themselves, because there is no bass guitar or another instrument to outshine them, they plainly suck. Bass is non-existent, as in Van Drunen-era albums. Songs themselves are extremely good, and the performance itself is not that bad, but still it has its flaws… at some times music sound like pulled by an ox instead of a fucking bulldozer, as it should. This, along with the horrible recording quality makes the record very difficult to get through entirely, its tired for your brain to be constantly trying to make sense out of the noise, rather than just enjoying the show. 88’s concert is even worse, sounds like a bloody rehearsal more than a lame recorded show. The set list is pretty much the same, to me this show’s inclusion was unnecessary. The last track isn’t a live recording, but it sounds painful too. Guitars have some weird noise over them, like a layer of white noise (?) at least you can hear the riffs more clearly, it’s a nice song. I don’t know why it didn’t make it to the album it was written to.
In conclusion, this doesn’t make justice to a Pestilence live performance (I saw them live this year and they kick ass) and I’m pretty sure they kicked ass back then too, but the quality of the recording is too damn low. I can’t understand how a band with such a long path trodden can release a live album this bad.
It's pretty hard to imagine the downside of releasing a Pestilence live album, even if its almost two decades past due, and the live shows in question were recorded in the late 80s. In fact, if I kept a short list of live album demands from any metal acts, this is one that would be close to the top. And since Metal War was likely releasing this album straight to the collectors and old school death metal maniacs who were still lauding and supporting the Dutchmen after all these years (before the 2009 reunion effort Resurrection Macabre), one cannot really fault them for releasing these performances as is, with no modifications.
But sadly, Chronicles of the Scourge turns into a double edged sword with regards to the actual quality of sound. The material here is culled from two live performances: the first (10 tracks) at Holland's 'Kix Festival' back in June, 1989, and the second (8 tracks) from an earlier German performance in November 1988. All the songs are very much identifiable to their source material, with a chunky and dark live tone, but having actually seen the band perform in North America back in the day, I can honestly say that the quality of the recording does not do them justice. For one, Van Drunen's vocals sound rather terrible on both performances, in particular the Dutch show, where he sounds a lot deeper and raspier, almost like another vocalist. His vocals are captured with more clarity on the German performance, but even then they don't sound all that great, and the overall tone of the band feels rather cruddy and blocky. The drums and guitars are audible, and something low that resembles a bass is racing along beneath them, but if I wasn't already intimately familiar with the band's earlier albums I would have a hard time following it all.
Since the band had limited material out in an official form back in these days, their set list was drawn from only the debut Malleus Maleficarum, with a few tracks from Consuming Impulse. This means a little of an overlap in the track listing, with "Parricide", "Chemo Therapy", Subordinate to the Domination", "Cycle of Existence", and "Antropomorphia" all appearing twice. To this extent, the more recent performance in Holland benefits from having some newer material: "Echoes of Death", "Out of the Body", "Suspended Animation" and "The Trauma", but they all sound rather raw and fresh, especially with the off-putting vocals. Though they don't benefit from Martin Van Drunen's presence, the live tracks added to the 1994 Mind Reflections compilation sound better than these in every imaginable way, so we'll have to just appreciate those until the inevitable reunion tour DVD/CD.
However, Metal War were not negligent of this live compilation's rather limited appeal, and decided to include a few rarities that it might be more easily digested. This includes the raw and gritty instrumental "Consuming Impulse", which did not appear on the album, but is quite a tasty, menacing morsel, albeit rough (it seems parts of this track might have been dissected and reconfigured for the Resurrection Macabre album). Beyond this, they included an entire bonus disc called The Consuming Rehearsals from 1989 which is pretty cool, if extremely rugged, with the vocals difficult to make out. Interestingly, "Testimony of the Ancients" appears with the material that would actually appear on Consuming Impulse, as well as the "City of the Living Dead" acoustic intro that appears on one of the live performances.
Chronicles of the Scourge is sadly not the ultimate fan package Pestilence fans of old might have been awaiting, and not even a good one. But the label at least attempted to make it something other than a ripoff. The bonus rehearsal material is nice, the live material not so much, and nothing here would distract you from simply spinning Malleus Maleficarum or Consuming Impulse in its place, but if you're a collector of live or bootleg material from your favorite bands, it might be worth buying only for a sense of completion. Otherwise, just try and see the damn band live, even if YOU are a few decades over due. I hear they are back together...