Pestilence
Malleus Maleficarum/Consuming Impulse/Testimony of the Ancients/Spheres (Reissues)

Is this déjà vu?  I think it may.  Six years ago Hammerheart Records reissued these Pestilence albums in deluxe 2 cd slipcases.  The bonus content was fabulous and not only did I buy all of these, I purchased an album cover shirt for each of them.  I even did some reviews on Teeth of the Divine, on a few of the reissues.  The bonus content was exceptional as was the layouts and new expanded sound.

With Pestilence on a new label over the last several years, Agonia Records, the label decided to do brand new reissues, sounds redundant, I know.  I only have the digital downloads of these and it appears there was no bonus material added to these reissues.  The main goal of Pestilence mainman, Patrick Mameli, for these new reissues, was to be able to go back to the source material in order to get the best possible sound out of these four original masterpieces.  The remastered sound significantly improves on the overall audio quality of past reissues. The remastering was done by Satanic Audio (Behemoth, Azarath).  So let me talk about each of these albums individually in brief spurts and I will go on record as saying the album which benefited the most from these new remasters is Spheres.

After a few demos Netherlands based act Pestilence, were signed to R/C Records and the debut album Malleus Maleficarum was released in 1988.  10 songs of pretty intense death/thrash metal that put the band on the map.  The Netherlands would become a hotbed for death metal with the likes of Gorefest, Asphyx, Thanatos, and many more, and is still one of my favorite areas for extreme metal.  This album really started the whole hybrid death/thrash movement, if you ask me.  The title track is a damn good instrumental which went right into “Antropomorphia”.  Newcomer to the vocal scene Martin v. Drunen had a quick snappy snarling vocal delivery and yes he sounded like Obituary’s John Tardy, or is it the other way around??  Hmmm, because this album dropped a year prior to Obit’s debut, Slowly We Rot.

Regardless the music displayed on this album, at times is unbridled, unrestrained, and a little sloppy, but this all added to the charm- “Extreme Unction” I am looking at you, ya bastid.  Many other songs were fleshed out more, such as “Bacterial Surgery”, with some excellent double bass drums, courtesy of Mr. Marco Foddis.  The guitar work of Patrick and Randy Meinhard was still impressive and the music goes perfectly with the torture driven album cover.  The remaster is louder, more in your face than past reissues and crisper.  Check out the power of the remaster, especially on the last track “Systematic Instruction”.  The song has speed, power and some mid-paced moments and the drums hit hard with the remaster, as does the vocals and instruments.

This album got Pestilence noticed and then a year later the proverbial atom bomb dropped with Consuming Impulse, the band’s second album.  Minhard was out and Patrick Uterwijk, a better guitarist, entered the picture and this album went full-throttle death metal and still is one of the heaviest death metal albums ever.  10 songs again and this was actually my introduction to Pestilence.  I was at a show in NY and a friend of mine had ripped it from a cd onto cassette and he let me hear some of it on his Walkman.  I was like holy crap this is heavy AF.  Then while going to a show my friend bought the album on cassette and we listened to it while going to the show.  The next day I purchased it on cd, then I found out a few weeks later about their debut album and picked that up a few months later.

This album is a perfect death metal album and “Dehydrated” wasted no time, as it marched out of the starting gates, with a heavier guitar sound, Martin using lower vocal registers and Pestilence adding some doom to the mix.  When the slow down happens with some of the best vocal patterns known to man – look out!: Vultures circling in the sky, Peeling the flesh from a corpse, Blankened bones are all that’s left, Dehydration as the death cause.  This is quoted from my memory and over 30 years later every fucking time I hear this part I pick up houses, curl them and then launch them into outer space.  This part is untouchable.  It’s not like the rest of the album did not kill as well, the next song “The Process of Suffocation” with the scorching opening drum patterns and varying tempo shifts to “Out of the Body”, which is still played live to this day, really Pestilence out did themselves on this and the album cover with the ants on the dudes face is still considered one of the most striking album covers.  The new remaster pushes the guitar sound to the front a bit more and the drums have an even more resonating deep bass sound to them.

Testimony of the Ancients dropped in 1991 and some line-up shifts took center stage with Van Drunen rolling out to Asphyx and Tony Choy entering in to take over the bass guitar duties and Patrick taking on the vocals, which he continues to present day.  I love all the Pestilence albums – ALL of them, but it seems like Testimony is considered, by many to be their finest album.  For me, with the shifts in line-up, the band progressing in their song writing and musical ability, this album was the natural progression for them and the shift they needed to make in order to stay relevant in the ever increasing and saturated death metal scene.  Going down to Florida’s legendary Morrisound Studios fleshed out a tighter and crisper Pestilence and Patrick’s vocals, maybe had a flair of Chuck Schuldiner to them, but also did not stray too far from Van Drunen.

Nevertheless, I was a first day buyer of this cd and I was like hot damn Patrick has a set of pipes, damnit.  The band included multiple intrumentals/interludes on the album with a whopping 16 tracks, which was pretty much unheard of in the death metal community, at the time.  The interludes were short and the album’s run time at 43 minutes was perfect.   “The Secrecies of Horror” crushing right out of the starting gates and the band becoming even catchier with their song writing and the main opening riff and Patrick’s growl before getting right into the song, is pure classic and set the stage that Patrick loved this band and with the shifts in line-ups was not about to have the band fold.  He was a man with a mission and there is so much genius on this album, with the ethereal guitar soloing on “Twisted Truth” or the crushing opening of “Prophetic Revelations”, almost a little poly-rhythmic in nature, this opening is one of the most memorable moments in death metal, I feel.  Every song rules and “Stigmatized” is still one of the best Pestilence songs ever recorded.  The album cover went towards a more spacey feeling and away from the typical death metal covers, at the time, and was perfect with the new and improved technical sound of Pestilence.  This remaster makes the crispness of the original recording even more biting, much louder and the solos, which were already upped in the original mix, will decapitate anyone within a 2 inch radius of a speaker.

Spheres dropped in 1993 and the Pestilence fanbase became torn as Patrick went into a more hybrid mix of technical jazz fusion death metal.  I will go on record as saying I did not like this album when it was released.  Maybe it was due to the raw production, but my brother, who was a guitarist, loved the album.  To be perfectly honest with you it took me 10 years to finally appreciate the genius of this album.  In 2003, I have no idea why, I flipped on the album and it clicked, so for the last 20 years I have made up for that 10 year span I did not listen to Spheres, 100 fold, trust me.  Jeroen Paul Thesseling entered as the new bassist and Pestilence disbanded in 1994 because the public was so hyper critical of the album, in reviews and the fans as well.  The guitar synths really benefit from this new remaster.  Listen to the opener “Mind Reflections” to hear them buzzing through your speakers.  A thing of beauty.

The music on Spheres is still energetic and fast, but also mellower moments.  “Personal Energy” with the spacey feeling and emotive atmosphere is actually a beautiful musical piece with varying vocal tones.  Listen to this song in the summertime, at night and gaze up at the stars, if it’s a clear sky.  I have done this multiple times in the last 2 decades and you will see what I mean when I say this is a beautiful musical piece with some of the most intricate drumming by Marco Foddis and from the melodies, vocal patterns, synths, the musical landscape, of this track, makes this a top 10 Pestilence song for me.  The original artwork, by Dan Seagrave, was rejected by the band, but made its way as the cover for the MetalMind gold disc remaster in 2007.  I like the original cover, but it was a little too cartoony, and the eventual cover the band went with, for me, was the way to go.  As I stated earlier Spheres sounds crushing with this remaster and there are so many nuances and sounds that just cut through so much more now.  I was so thrilled when Pestilence burst back onto the scene in 2008 and the 2009 reunion album Resurrection Macabre was a crushing album and destroyed everything in the solar system.

So there you have it.  If you do not own the Hammerheart deluxe reissues, you may not want these new remasters.  I am not here to tell you how to spend your money with these albums, which have been reissued several times in the past.  What I can definitively tell you is these first four legendary Pestilence albums never sounded better and hopefully this does not become a George Lucas type of thing where Lucas seems to always tinker with the original Star Wars Trilogy.  These are landmark death metal albums and each album is different from the next.  Great band and great sounding reissues!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Frank Rini
July 31st, 2023

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