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Pestilence has had a bit of a rough time trying to reestablish itself as one of death metal's prime gods since reforming in 2008. The Dutch legends take the musical direction of "Doctrine" and continue the groovy, mechanized elements of mid-paced beatings with fusion themes à la "Spheres" throughout "Obsideo," which I'm wary to call the crown jewel of Pestilence's second life, feebly triumphing over the sterile "Resurrection Macabre" and the faux-technical nonsense of "Doctrine," and definitely the most intriguing piece of music Patrick Mameli has created in twenty-odd years. "Obsideo" mostly has the right idea and overrides many of the issues that plagued "Doctrine," but Pestilence is still caught up in an accustomed arduousness which ultimately makes "Obsideo" a wash.
"Doctrine" was an album with a few neat riffs and ideas clogged by clumps of tedious technical jargon, inadequate vocals, and directionless songs—the whole damn works. Nearly every flaw of "Doctrine" appears improved on "Obsideo" while continuing to progress the musical foundation of “Doctrine” almost verbatim, which is nice because I felt the concept of that direction needed a little fleshing out, and at least deserved another shot. The crunching grooves, rhythmic technicality, sweeping guitar work, abstract percussion, delirious bass plucking, and Mameli's barfing vocals all return to the fold, only now there are more death metal sections that pick up the pace a bit with blast beats and the like, and Mameli's growls sound far better than his unrestrained barks on "Doctrine." That's what I like about "Obsideo."
What I don't like about "Obsideo" is how poor it is as a compositional collection of material, meaning there is almost nothing that stands out or any degree of drama to it whatsoever. For the endless multitudes of riffs and grooves that overload every piece, Pestilence somehow finds a way to shut down any sort of relevancy that would’ve recharged an experimental band trying to get back up on its feet. I'm fond of the ripping madness of the title track, "Displaced," and the heavy-as-balls "Necromorph," which are all noteworthy anthems, but they're all pretty much the same; one could cut out a riff here, and place a riff there, and it wouldn't disrupt the core of "Obsideo." All ten songs are interchangeable, really—it's an album of Xeroxed music that seldom dips or soars beyond its cookie-cutter mold.
The tunes past "Soulrot" have almost nothing memorable to show, and don't even get me started on the lazy, sluggish riffing on "Laniatus," which would've fit right into the equally-redundant "Doctrine." Let me back up a bit: "Obsideo" isn't terrible, or even a bad record. In fact, as I said earlier, it's the best Pestilence album Mameli and company have released since zapping this death metal mammoth back to life. However interesting and nice those futile observations may be, the spark of "Obsideo" fails to gloss over the issues within the album’s one-trick blueprint of technical showmanship and peculiar rhythms. At least Mameli is giving the norm the finger and doing his own thing like usual, but that's really all there is to say about "Obsideo."
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
As with so many old bands to have reformed in the past decade, the subsequent works of Dutch death metal maestros Pestilence have been shaky at best. "Obsidio" is the third of these works, following on from 2009's "Resurrection Macabre" and 2011's "Doctrine", two records that have hardly stood favourably against their earlier efforts, notably "Consuming Impulse" and "Testimony of the Ancients". "Obisido" is more on the mark but the degree of similarity heard across the album is a hindrance to its success.
Once the sound of the heart monitor ceases to beep in the introduction to "Obsideo" and the pandemonium is unleashed, the rapid fire style of rolling drum fills and frequently changing riffs backed up by a typically massive production is first heard. It remains so 'til the bitter end. Pestilence's legacy has always been based around compositions residing at the more complex end of the DM spectrum, rather than sheer untamed brutality, which today is borne by the hyperactivity of these ten tracks sounding akin to Anata's choppy style, mixed with the compactness of Death's seminal "Human". I make this last reference based as much on the short lengths of all these tracks, more than the songwriting panache within them; only the opener with exceeds 4 minutes (at 4:04), with all nine others falling between 3:10 and 3:57. I'd rather a band play to their strengths instead of adding filler for the sake of it, but to see such consistency rarely suggests little in the way of variation.
The time that is taken is filled to the brim, however. There are riffs everywhere, often interspersed with flailing and discordant solos as in "Displaced" and "Saturation", or soulful melodic closing to awfully-titled "NecroMorph" (a track which boasts a truly horrible spoken word intro). I can't help but have the feeling though that the composition of these riffs would allow one to pick up a riff, drop it elsewhere on the LP and it would hardly sound out of place in its new location, such is the overall performance.
The openings to "Distress" and "Saturation" provide these songs powerful bases through which to diverge into great songs, but even at their best on the album Pestilence fail to make a lasting impression, with bouncing Fear Factory-esque riffs bringing very staccato verse rhythms which have never been easy to love at the best of times. Touches of Decapitated's brand of DM exist at times too, in the reverberating soloing of "Aura Negative" and "Superconcious"'s aggressive rhythmic chops which bear a resemblance to the Poles.
Like Patrick Mameli's hoarse shouty vocal style, which approximates those of Obituary's John Tardy but without the same sickly stench, the ten tracks do not offer enough diversity to be remembered as greats, but the solid performance and liberally distributed bludgeoning riffs ensure "Obsidio" is a solid outing for these Dutch old-timers.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Patrick Mameli is intent on making up for the lost time. This is the band’s third installment since the reformation, and not only that, but this album could pass for a masterpiece even back in the early-90’s. “Resurrection Macabre” was a truly excellent comeback release, but the sterile mechanized riffs on “Doctrine” didn’t seem to work so well: apparently the guys’ experimental spirit refuses to lie dormant, but in that particular case it just took stylish bits from here and there, not necessarily their own, without a very careful thought behind it.
But here comes “Obsideo”, and the Pestilence star shines brightly once again. In this case it doesn’t mean that this effort is full of abstract jazz/fusion histrionics ala “Spheres”, nor does it rely too much on inimitable progressive structures akin to the ones on “Testimony of the Ancients”. It does resemble the latter in terms of execution here and there, but the songs are not very long all fitting into the 3-4min parametres which makes this recording a tight, compact technical fist in the face. Still, there are so many riffs offered on each composition that one may get overwhelmed by this constant downpour of blazing twiddling guitars hitting from all sides. The constant overlapping rhythmic patterns create a lot of dynamics even on the mid-paced passages some of which are very close to capture the catchy pounding brilliance of “Twisted Truth” (check out “Necro Morph” and the macabre “Laniatus”).
Still, this album is built around relentless speedy formulas which evoke a feeling of urgency as though Mameli wasn’t quite happy with the sterile hypnotic turn things took on “Doctrine”, and he was now intent on generating as much energy as possible form this new vehicle in order to catch up. He by all means succeeds in his mission to pummel the listener into desirable oblivion, and the controlled polished extremity at display here will nicely resonate with the fans of the band’s first two efforts, “Consuming Impulse”, in particular since the thrash aesthetics of the debut are not so strongly accentuated on. Mamelli doesn’t push the experimental buttons here although the swirling omnipresent technicality permeating each track here, hasn’t exactly been heard before, stripped from the more ambitious progressive innovations of “Testimony…”, and more meandering and complex than the inspired, but much more immediate bash of “Consuming Impulse”.
In terms of consistency this release beats the last two albums, and with so many things happening within just over half an hour, it resembles the Atheist exploits (both past and present) quite a bit, and is every bit as convincing as the Americans’ “Jupiter”. It’s pretty much exemplary technical death metal devoid of any unnecessary “decorations” (balladisms, sprawling progressiveness, deathcore distractions, djent/math virtuosities, etc.) served in a tight comprehensive manner staying faithful to the band’s reputation as one of the leaders of the genre. It doesn’t repeat any past feats note-by-note, neither does it stray too much from the expected “menu”: it shows talented experienced musicians who have the freedom to do anything they like without trying to conform to any prevalent tastes.
Whether the band will defy the fans’ expectations and push their limits with another “spherical” oddity, or will unleash a speedy technical beast similar to the one reviewed here next time around, is to anyone’s guessing: the “twisted” truth is that the listener will traditionally be enormously entertained even when he/she secretly begs his/her favourite act to stay more closely to the norms (“Norm! What’s a norm?!”, you can hear Patrick Mameli say scornfully…).
Much like Resurrection Macabre was an amalgam of the first three Pestilence records in the 80s and 90s, Obsideo seems a combination of its two direct predecessors with a lot of the Spheres fusion jazz poking through in the lead guitar choices and backing ambiance. While not as steadfastly groovy and modernist as Doctrine, it certainly forwards that aesthetic by ironically tempering it with components from the bands' past, specifically the 90s when they were so forward thinking that they dropped off just about everyone's radar. Don't get me wrong: this album still has loads of simplistic, churning groove/death rhythms which stir the conscience much like they'll stir a mosh pits' collective limbs, but there is a slightly more adventurous shadow being cast by the past here, and it's the reason I've been so back and forth on Obsideo since I started listening to this. At times I've found it quite brilliant, and at others I struggle to give a damn...it's unlikely to sway the divisiveness Pestilence has faced since its regrouping strongly in one direction or the other.
Very clearly, all the cries of 'sellout' and 'cash in' and other nonsensical accusations that have surrounded the group since their 21st century rebirth have by now (or should now be) subsided, because the music they've been putting out is hardly accessible to either the mainstream metal audience or even the trending death metal crowds of the present era. It's not easily pigeonholed into brutal death, or old school death, or really anything other than to say that it's fucking Pestilence. Patricks Mameli and Uterwijk are not touring compulsively across the world on major packages, they're not being carted around in limousines while they log in remotely to their offshore banking accounts, and they're not releasing lazy industrial metal albums because they suddenly don't give a fuck. Obsideo might not be their best material, in fact very far fucking from it, but it's not like they're just constantly recycling Consuming Impulse, one of the greatest albums ever, to appease the highly critical vest-metal fashionistas that seem to hate anything which doesn't proscribe to a particular set of popular nostalgic standards, which is odd since the majority of said critics weren't even able to walk yet when Roadrunner dropped Testimony of the Ancients.
Oh, there IS recycling here, the majority of the rhythm guitar patterns paraphrased from prior albums, but not in a matter that speaks of trying to turn a quick buck. I simply think Pestilence has run itself against a wall in attempting to constantly reinvent its pummeling post-modern aesthetics, and that has translated into the sheer redundancy in chord choices which are nothing new to anyone following the band since 1991. I had half expected Obsideo to be highly experimental, to push their sonic envelope much like Testimony's 'refinement' of the 80s records, but instead it clings too tightly to its predecessors, and lacks the songwriting punch of Resurrection Macabre, which was exceptionally energized and memorable other than the strange choice to repeat the choruses at the beginnings of the tunes. I still spin that album a lot, especially for that one-two combo leading it off, whereas the more recent Doctrine earns only an occasional curiosity spin. After about a half dozen treks through Obsideo, I feel I very well might consign it to that same fate...it tries pretty hard, and it's ultimately worth hearing, impossible not to headbang to if you've got a personal connection to Mameli's riffing style, but it does come up short on those transitive, unforgettable moments that defined their earlier incarnations...
Bear in mind that there are new dudes entering the fold here, most notably David Haley of the Australian tech killers Psycroptic, Ruins, Blood Duster and The Amenta, who naturally proved attractive due to his high level of skill and attention to details. He does a fantastic job here, his fills and tempo mastery helping to really enhance what are evidently a very simple set of chugging, oft discordant rhythm guitar riffs, complex only in that they avoid a number of the genre tropes and set up the sporadic, jazzy leads which Pestilence has been shoveling upon us since Testimony and Spheres. I'm not familiar with the new bassist Georg Maier, but he's definitely got an agile style here which brings to mind Tony Choy, only with the benefits of the more muscular modern definition in the low end mix. The rhythm section certainly feels mechanical in nature, loud and in a few cases brickwalled, but I think with a record as once-futuristic as this that industrial precision is not at all unwelcome in its execution. Put bluntly, Obsideo sounds absolutely fantastic if you're not afraid of death metal records sounding like they were recorded in 2013 and not 1993. I mean I love that stuff too, to this day, but Pestilence is not a band that I really need to dwell too much on studio reversion (though they are clearly doing this in the riff construction).
Much has been said of Mameli's vocals and how they compare to his esteemed predecessor, one of the greatest death metal growlers of all time (who continues to forge on in that capacity with Hail of Bullets, Asphyx and Grand Supreme Blood Court). That said, even if he's no Van Drunen, Patrick is simply gruesome on this album, his guttural the one 'wild' contrast to the absolute control the musicians have over their instruments. Occasional higher-pitched snarls are used to double up on his standard pitch, but really it's that low end, ugly sustain to his voice that complements the box-like palm-muted grooves and airy, winding solos. He seems to improve across the album, with tunes like "Super Conscious" and "Saturation" having the most impact. Believe me, as much as I prefer the first two albums musically, the shift in front men was never really a problem unless you just hated half of Mameli's foot-in-mouth rants over the decades. To be fair, it's no surprise at all that he alienated a chunk of his audience with his standoffish comments, but he's hardly a hack on the microphone, and I say that not based solely on the studio performance, but also in having seen him live a few times.
As for the riff-set, you've got a lot of those transmigratory, time signature warping palm mutes colliding all over the place with Haley's devastating capabilities. Like I hinted above, the bottom line on this disc is not exactly difficult or technical in terms of the number of notes being strewn over the beats, but more concerned with repeatedly jerking you around, boxing in your eardrums and planting a boot in your gut. Leads are more alien and playful, naturally, like a lot of the 80s fusion guitarists that inspired the original members, but that does not always make them particularly inspiring or interesting, since we've been down this road before. I believe there is enough chugging force to the down-tuned guitars that fans of niches like djent and nu metal seeking something more unusual might feel this record, but that's not to say it belongs to either of those categories, it just doesn't have any apprehension at using whatever modern techniques or tools are available to it. All told, whether or not the grooves 'lay into you' will determine whether you love or hate this: say, for instance, the advance track "Necro Morph" and its semi-familiar Pestilential rhythmic step...did you feel that? Did you neck just shake? Yes? Pursue further. No? Forget this exists.
My neck shook, my temples throbbed, my fists clenched, and I felt fully immersed in the experience WHILE having it, but 20-30 minutes later I just didn't seem to care, much the same as I responded to Doctrine. It's a good album, but from a band that for 21 years gave me nothing but great albums (even a couple that I'd still consider flawless, timeless examples of distinct death metal), it doesn't feel completely adequate. Certainly not a letdown, because after Doctrine I did not have high expectations, but I felt like they'd go for something more bizarre this time out (like a Spheres) and it still seems they are tinkering with the same rhythmic toys. A band like Pestilence might be better served moving continuously forward...regardless of what or who they leave behind. Back to space, boys! We'll catch up. Resurrection Macabre already paid their early years ample tribute, and that and Doctrine are really too recent to demand their own...which Obsideo ends up being, though it's as taut and professional as you might hope for.