They say you can’t go home again. If the recent track record of Dutch deathsters Pestilence proves anything, it’s that you may get home again, but you can’t stay there long. Pestilence had a few significant contributions to the death genre in the late 80’s and early 90’s, most notably the excellent Consuming Impulse from ’89 (a nasty, vicious slab of ugliness and a top ten all time death album IMHO) and the very solid Testimony of the Ancient release in ’91. Then they radically shifted styles by incorporating copious progressive jazz fusion elements into the Spheres opus and alienated many fans in the process. That essentially closed the book on Pestilence until their 2009 reunion album Resurrection Macabre, which did indeed go home to their early death metal roots and kicked a fair amount of arse too. Now, we get their second post-reformation platter and much to my chagrin, back comes the progressive jazz-fusion elements to muddy the waters (though not to the extent they did on Spheres). This leaves Doctrine a squirming, writhing mutant offspring, half Consuming Impulse, half Spheres and it feels like an album tearing itself apart with inconsistent, incompatible ideas. Needless to say, I’m not very jazzed about this.
After the creepy intro, Pestilence unveils the new vocal approach Patrick Mameli has unwisely adopted in place of the traditional death grunts utilized on Resurrection Macabre. Now he opts for a strange, whining, crazy-person shriek/wail/cackle that I suppose could be a partial homage to original vocalist Martin Van Drunen (Hail of Bullets, Asphyx) but man, is it ever fucking annoying and it had me scrambling to see if it was the same vocalist from before. He sounds like a morbidly obese baby with gas pains and it’s unintentionally hilarious (especially his opening caterwaul/meow). Although lead track “Amgod” starts out with a simple, straight forward, groove-based approach, at 1:18Â the oddball jazzy elements erupt and the bass gets all Primus on your ass and the guitar solo has a decidedly jazz/blues club vibe that feels very out of place within the song. It makes for an unorthodox listening experience to be sure. They do manage to partially offset the experimentation with heavy, ugly riffing and blast beating but the result is still odd and disjointed. The rest of Doctrine strives to walk this same line between funky innovation and brutality with mostly poor results. Tracks like “Doctrine” sound a little like Morbid Angel and are decent, as are “Sinister,” “Dissolve” and “Divinity.” However, tracks like “Absolution,” “Salvation” and “Deception” get too funkified and Primus-y for my gentle death metal tastes (especially “Absolution”). Throughout the entirety of Doctrine, guitar solos seem wildly out of context, overall songwriting feels rushed and incomplete, things never seem to gel and the vocals consistently suck goat ass. As a whole, the album feels like a battle between two halves of a split personality that can only be resolved with a bullet to the brain.
There’s no doubt these guys can play and have serious chops. Jeroen Paul Thesseling’s (Obscura) fretless bass work is wild and runs amok all over the place. Mameli and Patrick Uterwijk use of eight-string guitars results in a very heavy, sludgy, distorted sound with loads of impact. As a unit, they’re tight as hell and can stop and start on a dime. Sadly, the fusion of death and, um, fusion is poorly executed and half baked. On top of that, Mameli shits all over the record with some of the worst death metal vocals of all time. Seriously, they’re so awful and whiney, you’ll find yourself looking for a bratty kid to smack in the gob. Between these two rather sizeable issues, I was rendered unable to enjoy this album despite my fondness for their past exploits.
It seems unlikely that even adventurous music fans who worship at the altar of prog-tastic death acts like Cynic, Cryptopsy, Obscura or latter-day Death will be capable of tolerating Mameli’s horrific bleating or finding this hodge-podge of styles enjoyable. If you like offbeat odds and sods, explore with caution. I’ll stick with their classic albums and their previous non Primus-ized platter. If you have a neighbor you really dislike, go away for a day or two while leaving this playing loudly on repeat. Mameli will personally see to it that they suffer grievously.