Pestilence – Exitivm Review

I’ll forever have a soft spot in my wrought iron heart for Dutch death act Pestilence. Their 1989 magnum opus Consuming Impulse blew my mind all over the wall with its gnarly death metal assault and I still play it regularly. I haven’t completely loved any of their second career stage releases however, as their style has parked somewhere between OSDM and prog-death with jazz elements, making things a bit too awkward for my tastes. That said, 2013s Obsideo was good if weird, and 2018s Hadeon was a respectable shift toward more straightforward death metal. Ninth album Exitivm is now set to drop with an almost entirely new lineup from last time, with founding guitarist Patrick Mameli the sole survivor. With the new band comes a new approach, stepping away from the directness of Hadeon and returning to the Obsideo sound while adding symphonics and trying to retain some portion of their OSDM roots. In this they are only partially successful and what we get on Exitivm is a mixed back of sci-fi nuts and self-sealing stem bolts.

Exitivm features the kind of angular, discordant sound Pestilence toyed with on and off for decades. There’s a very modern coldness and sterility to the sound and overall package. It’s like an OSDM van run through a Fear Factory carwash and given a complete detailing by Voivod. After the way overlong intro piece fades and “Morbvs Propagationem” seizes control you’ll hear the newfangled symphonics and orchestration. This element doesn’t feature in a major way here, used more as an accent to their proggy death metal approach. Riffs corkscrews and morph into alternate forms and many have a strong Morbid Angel feel to them. Solos are wild and jangly, twitchy and nervous. Patrick Mameli’s vocals are solid and not that far removed from Martin Van Drunen, though they do grow tiresome with prolonged exposure. The song is heavy and bruising and it works, ending up one of the best on offer. Other cuts make greater use of the symphonics. “Deifcvs” for example approximates a techy, sci-fi version of Septicflesh and it’s decent, but nothing to write home about. Things get doomy and dirgey on “Sempiternvs” and this formula hits the sweet spot. There’s an unstable, herky-jerky feel to the song as it lurches from thrashing death to grinding doom and several places in-between, as tortured, discordant solos pepper the journey. This is an example of the modern Pestilence sound at its best and I want a whole album of material at this quality level.

You’ll encounter other decent tracks as Exitivm snakes along. “Mortifervm” is heavy and aggressive with a Hail of Bullets vibe to the riffs and enough energy to command attention. Likewise, penultimate cut “Immortvos” has enough intrinsic Voivod-isms to make it weirdly entertaining. Sadly, too many tracks underwhelm or simply fail to register at all. “Pericvlvm Externvm” is aggressive but does little to stand out or make me engage, and “Inficiat” is a chuggy and tedious affair that sounds like a million other chuggy and tedious affairs. There’s a papable coldness to the title track but it too fails to resonate. At a trim 40 minutes Exitivm still feels long despite the songs all sitting in the 3-minute window. There’s several weaker tracks that could have been cut to make the album a tighter, better spin. The production is fairly successful, giving everything a futuristic feel, and the guitars have genuine weight and impact. The symphonics are laced in adequately but overall don’t add a lot to the mix, feeling a bit tacked on and cheesy.

All death metal lives and dies by the Almighty RIFF, but this kind of tech/prog variant trvly needs outstanding leads and ripping guitar-work to land properly. While there are some top-notch moments, too much of the foundational riffing is merely adequate. New guitarist Rutger van Noordenburg has plenty of ability and he and Mameli are capable of great things, and great things do happen, just not often enough. The atonal, unsettling solos on “Morbvs Propagationem” and “Sempiternvs” are first-class and leave a real impression. The riffing on both these cuts is also above average. There’s even a trace of vintage Cryptopsy in the former. More riffage of this caliber is needed however and it isn’t delivered. New bassist Joost van der Graaf (Ex-Sinister, ex-Dew-Scented) delivers a solid low-end rumble, though he isn’t always as audible and clear as he could be. There’s no shortage of talent in this new lineup, it’s just an matter of the writing showing the best and worst of Pestilence with the end product being too inconsistent.

Exitivm is essentially an OSDM metal album gussied up with symphonics and prog/tech touches, and when it works it shows great potential. It just doesn’t work regularly enough at a level that makes for an enjoyable album. I give Pestilence full credit for trying new things and not just releasing slight variations of Consuming Impulse. That said, I’m going back to Consuming Impulse. Exitivm indeed.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Agonia
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: June 25th, 2021

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