Nothing burns with the same intensity as hate born of a once great love. While I worshipped early Pestilence albums like Consuming Impulse and Testimony of the Ancients, I hated their Doctrine release with the white-hot passion of a scorned fanboy. The dramatic back story to this epic tale of spurned love is a simple one. Pestilence began life as a primitive, old school death outfit and really had a lot going for them, but they rapidly evolved into a weird, proggy entity, freely dabbling in jazz-fusion. I didn’t care for the paradigm shift and neither did many of their original fans. When the band reformed after 16 years in limbo, I hoped they would return to their roots, which they more or less did on the respectable Resurrection Macabre. Sadly, Doctrine found them delving into jazz-fusion and prog once again and doing so in an awkward, ham-handed way. As if this new, yet painfully familiar betrayal wasn’t bad enough, guitarist/vocalist Patrick Mameli added insult to injury by delivering one of the worst vocal performances in death metal history, spending much of the album wailing like a penguin in heat with an unlimited supply of HD penguin porn. After that dumpster fire, they’ve come back with a new bassist and drummer to reclaim some of the old Pestilence charm with Obsideo.
This time they offer a much more thought-out, well-integrated merger of their broootal death and their unquenchable affinity for Cynic/Atheist styled prog and jazz elements. They even manage to recapture some long-lost elements of their early sound and that’s a truly unexpected surprise. I still harbor deep-seated resentments, but I’m forced to acknowledge this is way better, far more interesting and actually quite fun in a trippy, schizoid way. It certainly isn’t your typical death metal and it sounds quirky even by tech-death standards. Basically, it’s like a meth fueled Dance Dance Revolution marathon.
Pretty much every song is loaded with twitchy, jittery riffs that spiral and climb this way or that, loopy tempo shifts, off-kilter time signatures, sort of like Voivod meets Cynic, and oh boy, those solos! Most of them feel like pure jazz improv and they’re very unusual. The title track runs amok with stop-start riffing and frenetic drumming that keeps the listener off-balance and uneasy. “Displaced” features a Testimony of the Ancients vibe in the riffs, but only as a jump off point for all sorts of riffy lunancy. “Aura Negative” is based around a simple thrash riff which sends various permutations flying in all directions like a shaken bee hive.
Other memorable antics come during “Soulrot” with its Morbid Angel riffing that slowly drifts into the classic Pestilence sound, even evoking the Consuming Impulse days. “Laniatus” crushes with big death grooves and seems deceptively simple until it too wanders off into odd jazz leads and fluid, spacey solos.
For all their technical flair and musical chops, not every tune pulls off the tightrope act these boys have created for themselves. “Saturation” has ugly, creeping riffs, but lacks the herky-jerky, unpredictable charm of the stronger tunes. “Transition” also falls off the cliff and sounds like a bad remix of a substandard Fear Factory tune. The album’s first half is stronger overall and though things run a scant 35 minutes, a song or two could easily have been chopped.
Original guitarists Mameli and Patrick Uterwijk do all they can to rebound from the poor showing on Doctrine, and Obsideo is one big love poem to the power of wank. Though they lay a foundation of groove riffs, they run all over the map on each song. The solos they uncork are way better than before and even though they’re complete jazz tomfoolery and don’t quite gel alongside the death grooves, it’s always a blast when they appear (something that was NOT the case last time). Mameli’s vocals are also WAY better and apparently he listened to his performance on Doctrine and heard the error of his way. Here he sounds like a mix of Martin van Drunen and John Tardy and while he’ll never be my favorite croaker, he’s more than adequate here.
New drummer David Haly (Blood Duster, Psycroptic) is a Godsend and throws down a whirlwind of dynamic fills and rolls while laying waste to his kit in service of these hyper-kinetic nuggets of mayhem. I found my ears locking into to what the drums were doing way more than usual, and with so much else going on, that’s a testament to his performance. New bassist Geor Baier is also top-notch, but I wish he got more time in the spotlight to shine.
I’ll always pine for the olden days of Pestilence and I’ll never became a full-blown jazz fusion beatnik, but I enjoy Obsideo far more than I expected. I certainly hand it to them for taking the things that hurt them in the past and making them a strength. If you want to hear some really oddball stuff, this is it, but it might not be for everyone. Relationships (and jazz) are hard!