I don’t often play video games, but when I do it seems to be the co-op survival mode on Ryse: Son of Rome, at least as of late. The objective is simple: survive as long as possible. The challenge comes with your character bleeding out for the entire time at a pace that quickens as time goes on. The only way to regain that increasingly elusive health is to slaughter hordes of barbarians in gruesome fashion with savage grace. Kill to survive; metal in 2018 is facing a similar conundrum, and has been for years. As the scene gets busier, it bleeds and struggles, much like extreme metal did in the mid-late nineties. Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death showcases the problem ably: extreme bands simply had nowhere left to go. The glut of boring material is exhausting, and it gives the impression of an enervated scene.
Too many popular journalists seem to recognize this, and instead of being passionate about the music and seeking out the best sounds of the underground like tape traders or the magazines of old, they’re content to caterwaul about any instance of crimethink in the scene and put ideology ahead of art. With no real enemies outside of metal like the PMRC, enemies are found within. With no real barriers left to smash, “innovation” via the wanton importation of outside elements or regression to bland Xerox-core is commonplace. Pestilence, releasing their eighth studio record Hadeon this year, seems to feel this climate and have wisely decided to sound like a death metal band who loves making death metal.
Immediately apparent on Hadeon is the conscious return to the more straightforward death metal roots of Pestilence, away from the eight-string prog-death of Doctrine and Obsideo’s filthy, thoroughly modernized technical and slightly proggy death metal. Septimiu Harsan, replacing Psycroptic’s Dave Haley on drums, puts on a stellar performance with an abundance of quick thrash and early death metal beats, much more reminiscent of Consuming Impulse than hyper-technical, jittery, blast-laden modernity. Mameli’s riffing sounds like it’s largely culled from Testimony and flavored with Consuming Impulse and Spheres. The almost djent-y chug of the last two records is all but gone, and Pestilence sounds more energetic than ever. “Manifestations” is a great example of what’s right on Hadeon: thrashy, headbang-able riffing, flavored with the dissonance that’s Mameli’s compositional staple. The guitar solo is less Meshuggah-based wandering and more classic guitar heroics, and instead of taking away from the experimental aspect of Pestilence, it strengthens their connection to the old school, allowing the more subtle weirdness of the riffs, themselves linked directly back to the 90s in an obvious way, to shine. “Timeless” thrashes away with an energy characteristic of a fountain of youth, lurching from aggressive thrashy death metal to treat us to a stuttering break with soloing akin to James Murphy circa Cause of Death over top.
As with most records, Hadeon is not without its missteps. The vocoder in “Ultra Demons” and “Astral Projection” should’ve been left with Cynic’s overrated Focus in the 90s, “The Unholy Scripture” is a boring intro track, and “Discarnate Entity” has a space-y intro that sounds like a discarded Testimony interlude scraped from the cutting room floor. These are minor complaints, as Hadeon is overall a quality record. The move away from Doctrine’s, Obsideo’s, and Spheres’s wanton experimentation doesn’t represent Mameli running out of ideas, but rather the opposite: he’s simply found more to do with the building blocks his band help forge in the 90s, and is focused on writing good songs in that vein instead of going on further exploratory jaunts. The production, ably handled by Mameli and mastered by Dan Swanö, is clear, crisp, punchy, and allows each instrument to breathe and be heard. The attention to detail and a more classic ethos shines through thanks to this, contributing to my enjoyment of Hadeon.
There aren’t unforgettable classics here, nor is this better than Consuming Impulse. What’s present on Hadeon are good death metal songs by a band that helped make the genre what it is today, plenty of opportunities to bang your head, and a pervasive feeling of focused fun on the band’s part. As a fan of the band, Hadeon makes me happy. As a reviewer, I’m forced to be more critical of what’s here; nonetheless, listening to Hadeon for pleasure instead of business will be a treat throughout the year.