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Man, this album has got some bad reviews since its release back in April this year, so much so that I felt obliged to write a review of it and give my own thoughts. This is because Pestilence is a band I have always liked during its periods of activity since I bought their superb debut record Malleus Maleficarum way back in the winter of 1988 and I can't help thinking that much of the bad mouthing of the band's recent releases (Resurrection Macabre came out in 2009 to a lukewarm reception) is based on the fact that former vocalist Martin Van Drunen (Hail Of Bullets, Asphyx, Bolt Thrower) isn't in the band any more (he hasn't been since the '80s) and the band hasn't gone back to sounding like they did on 1989's Consuming Impulse.
I guess I could throw in the fact that vocalist/guitarist and main man Patrick Mameli made some comments in the metal press which caused upset to some death metal fans back in the late 90s and also showed a slight lack of mental strength when responding to less than favourable comments about a demo track posted on Blabbermouth last year (posted, it seems, by people who seem to have a borderline sexual fetish about Martin Van Drunen). None of this has put Mameli in a good light.
However, the band released Resurrection Macabre after a 16 year hiatus and as ever with this situation there was a huge amount of anticipation from fans (think Cynic, Atheist, Autopsy and, to some extent Morbid Angel more recently) which created a bubble just perfect for bursting. And burst it did. But so what? The fact is Mameli's a great guitar player who plays in a metal band. I really don't care what he says if the music is cool.
So, onto the album itself. Ok, first up, the cover picture. Put simply, it's shit. I would much prefer to see some kind of artwork but this quasi-photo style with an evil bishop-type person in the middle doesn't quite cut it. Ok, we all know that bishops are evil, but this really could have been a lot better.
However, as we all know, you shouldn't judge a book, or in this case an album, by its cover, so let's forget about the evil bishop.
The production is excellent, with a mix that allows you to hear everything that''s going on. Each musician here is extremely good at his art and the production and mix really caters for this.
The first thing that strikes me when first track Amgod starts is how Mameli's vocals have changed since Resurrection Macabre. Gone is the deep guttural growl from 2009 and in comes a rasping, screeching vocal more reminiscent of his style on Testimony Of The Ancients and, ironically, with more than a hint of Van Drunen. Mameli's vocal performance here is like adding fuel to the fire. However, I quite like the style and it works here, giving him a deranged sound which fits well with the music.
Mameli also plays guitar along with longstanding band member Patrick Uterwijk. They have used the Ibanez RG2228-GK 8-string guitar to record rhythm for the album and does seem to have added a depth to the rhythm section although I'm really not a fan of the downtuned sound, it reminds me too much of Pantera, Slipknot, Korn etc. However, Pestilence's music itself bears no resemblance to those horrors and there is no doubt whatsoever that this pair are bordering on geniuses when it comes to playing guitar. The riffs vary between trademark atonal chugging behind mid- to fast-paced thrash drumming, and slow 'proggy' passages of jazz-influenced technical doodling. This may sound horrendous but actually it works. Lead guitar is excellent and while you won't find any shredding here what you do get is well thought out, generally slow, atonal, atmospheric solos. Often a passage of music within a track will slow down in order for a solo to come in. Sounds weird, and in some cases it is, but again, I think it works and, of course, the band has used this style many times before.
Bass guitar is handled by Jeroen Paul Thesseling, an absolute master of the 6-string fretless bass. As with the controversial Spheres album (1993) on which he featured, the bass on Doctrine is very prominent and Thesseling really has his own agenda. He doesn't follow the guitar and drums but instead creates his own jazz-laden lines which sit either over or under the guitar. A good example of the same style is Steve DiGiorgio on Death's Human and Individual Thought Patterns albums (more so on the latter) or maybe more pertinent would be Roger Patterson on Atheist's Piece Of Time album, or Tony Choy (who played for Pestilence on Testimony Of The Ancients and Resurrection Macabre) on Atheist's following album, Unquestionable Presence. As Thesseling played on Spheres maybe it's no surprise that this album bears more than a passing resemblance to that album in some passages of music, however, there is none of the 'gayness' of Spheres (check out Personal Energy and Phileas on that album if you want to see what I mean).
New drummer Yuma Van Eekelen (Brutus, The New Dominion) plays beautifully throughout and his drums, snare especially, are nice and loud but not to the detriment of anything else. His style is very similar to Peter Wildoer who played on Resurrection Macabre but the production gives him a much crisper, tighter sound. Thankfully, there are fewer blast beats than on Resurrection Macabre and the tracks are not dominated by these as Resurrection Macabre was, though there are still a few around (opening track Amgod begins with one).
Trackwise, there are no real stand-outs on here for me but Divinity is a cool song. It's a thrasher most of the way through, with an ingenious short drum fill at 1:25 and a nice blast at 2:09. The thrash break at 2:32 on final track Confusion is also killer. The album is dotted with these bursts of intensity, though the majority of the album is on the slow side and 'spacier' than Resurrection Macabre, though no where near as far out as Spheres.
I think people really need to get over the whole Martin Van Drunen love/Patrick Mameli hate thing and see this release simply as a new album by a band that likes to do things differently and not rehash the same old sound. It's not a great album, but I think it's a good one and well worth checking out - indeed, considering the stuff released by Atheist and Morbid Angel recently it's a welcome relief.
Lowlight: The cover art
Originally written for www.braingell.com