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“…final means of grace, time has taken your life away…”
The debut from the Dutch quartet hasn’t left my top 30 or so since it came out sometime in ’88, and I’ve probably played it enough times to rival the hairs on my head. At the time, many fans construed Malleus Maleficarum as death metal, me included. In fact, it was often hailed as one of three albums to lift death metal into the ‘90s, the other two being the debuts from Morbid Angel and Obituary. Over a decade and a half and a few worn out turntables later, it is now quite clear to me MM is a thrash album that stands waving on the brink of the death approach without actually shuffling over. Martin van Drunen’s hoarse and acidic vocal delivery doesn’t quite have the guttural undercarriage that’s associated with lungs on the busted floodgates of Scream Bloody Gore or the Brazilian export Schizophrenia that was on wagon trains heading everywhere. By this time Eyes of Horror would be the final toast of Possessed, the ep concerned more with elaborate songscripting and a thrashier bend and would be a bit of a departure from the band’s debut. As well, it’s probably the closest to MM’s sound than any of the few full-fledged death metal releases at the time.
Regardless, a fan of his vocal style on this record is what I’ve been. In addition, I have a sweet tooth for the band’s rapidly evolving rhythms, dynamic songwriting sense, nomadic musical structures, and commanding lyrics that harked scientific, anti-establishment, and impious ends.
The album finds its start with the fairly timid “Malleus Maleficarum”, a musical intro of sorts and rhythmically more free flowing than rigid. This seamlessly rumbles into “Antropomorphia”, a track whose main focus is a dramatic chorus and diagnostic lyrics that can resemble those of Carcass at times. “Parracide” is a full-blown sonic propeller that cuts with a chorus and pre-chorus mighty enough to overturn cement trucks. Drunen is frightful in his vocal course, breathlessly taking on thirteen syllable verses like an auctioneer with bronchitis. The barnstorming structures of the first two tracks coalesce into the massive force of “Subordinate to the Domination”. While the song is quite stringent in its arrangement, it also bends to the will of high-wind velocity as well as more peripheral, droning passages for more character…a character that will lead into the saber-toothed beast that is “Extreme Unction”, a spring-loaded, electrified net that ambushes the captive listener with a surge of black-eyed aggression. “Commandments”, another maniac, rekindles the song-spinning properties of the original two tracks, then blows its top near the end, the wily solo of Patrick Mameli lighting the fuse, and with an acrid proclamation of the title the volcano overflows.
Side two is thrown to the wolves by the nasty “Chemo-therapy”. More raspy title bellowing shakes the song’s foundation while ever-changing rhythms rattle the debris. An upsurge of supremacy builds the start of “Bacterial Surgery” and on one ravaging guitar line charges into motion. Part merciless and part sedated severity, the track is probably the most outwardly contrasting on the disk. “Cycle of Existence”’s strength lies in its off-beat, yet inventive main riff, and the addition of momentous rhythm/tempo shifts and a batch of twisted solos balances the forcefulness of the tune. The album’s producer, Kalle Trapp, lends his fingers to the keys of the somber synthesizer, acoustic, and solo instrumental called “Osculum Infame” that comes off a nifty about-face for the band. Rightfully commanding is final track “Systematic Instruction”, driven by shifting structures, aberrant measures, and chorus as tough and thick as rhino hide.
The strengths in this lp need no microscope to locate and no Geiger counter to measure. Truthfully, there isn’t a track present save “Osculum Infame” that couldn’t have ended MM with the power of a star that’s collapsed within itself, each one a capital investment of thrash songwriting and perseverance. While death metal is well known as being the younger, more malevolent brother of thrash, Pestilence’s debut is derived from the same egg. Consuming Impulse, the band’s sophomore effort, would be born in about a year to stand along side the rest of the death metal wonders.
“…I believe in the resurrection, the return of dead on earth…”