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Perhaps it is because I was first introduced to Pestilence through their most ambitious and excellent record 'Spheres', but everything I have heard from this Dutch death metal band since has underwhelmed and disappointed me. Ironically enough, 'Spheres' was also the album that effectively killed Pestilence for the better part of two decades; the fans generally disapproved of the more jazz-based direction they were headed in, and the commercial flop cost the band its livelihood. The band only recovered from their discouragement recently, releasing the comeback album 'Resurrection Macabre' in 2009. Sadly though, it sounds like the scars of 'Spheres' rejection are still bleeding. Even on Pestilence's latest record 'Doctrine', it is evident that the band has now cornered themselves in a fairly generic and tame death metal sound. Perhaps in an effort to appease their fans and prevent a repeat, Pestilence has become a band that is afraid to stand out.
Based on a somewhat long-winded intro track of a man chanting in Latin, the artwork and album's title, one might get the implication that this is some sort of concept piece about Christianity. Mind you, even that might be reading into what 'Doctrine' has to offer a little too much. Barring the unnecessary dialogue piece, each of these tracks is a self-contained expression of mediocrity. Of the ten death metal tracks here, there is not one that stands out. Pestilence are reborn as a bland technical death metal act, although many of the guitar riffs here lack complexity. The guitar parts are rarely melodic, yet too predictable and cold to be considered heavy or exciting. At moments where there is a clear opportunity for Pestilence to do something really great, they shirk back and go for something expected, another few measures of chugging riffs, perhaps? To band mastermind Patrick Mameli's credit though, his guitar solos sound fantastic, essentially playing jazz in a metal setting. This slight fusion is only evident in the all-too scarce leads on 'Doctrine' though. The rest only seeks to underwhelm.
The vocals of Mameli have not necessarily deteriorated all that much from the band's heyday, but there is far too much of a focus on his growls here. Besides that they are mixed too highly, the guitars seem to roast on the backburner quite a bit of the time while the Schuldiner-esque vocals rasp away. The problem here is that it leads to much of the album's instrumentation building around vocals and providing 'back up', rather than grabbing hold of the reins and consistently impressing me from a technical level. The young blood drummer Yuma Van Eekelen performs very well though, pummeling away at the kit and giving a nice fire under the stale casserolle that Pestilence has become.
2011 certainly has not been the proudest year for death metal, and its sorry to see a band that was once so great, become so frightened to do anything new. The same fans who rejected Pestilence's progressive inclinations will probably find themselves pleased with 'Doctrine', but the new material of this band is unnecessary by any other means. 'Doctrine' has not been the biggest disappointment of its genre this year- after all, who can forget about that tragic Morbid Angel album- but there needs to be the will to do something new in this band before I can find myself interested in anything new they do.