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I'm Chris. I'm 22 years old and I'm into a large variety of music, from Metal in its many forms (mostly the extreme ones) to Goth and Postpunk, Reggae, Jazz, Prog, Techno, Ambient and Film Scores. This is where I rave about albums I really like, and other stuff.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients

Album review: Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients (Roadrunner Records, 1991)
Progressive/ technical death metal

One of the debates most commonly brought up when discussing death metal relates to that of Holland's PESTILENCE. Which is better, "Consuming Impulse" and the debut or the albums after (this and "Spheres")? Who is the better vocalist, Van Drunen or Mameli? Opinions seem pretty divided on the matter, with rarely any opting for the middle ground of "I like both". I think "Consuming Impulse" is a great slice of old school death metal and a classic everyone should hear, but I also think with "Testimony..." this band really showed what they were capable of, with more experimental song structures and a slight injection of Jazz Fusion influence as was happening with a lot of this music at the turn of the 90s...mostly thanks to Death and their groundbreaking album "Human", this and other albums that began pushing the envelope at the time.

The most significant difference here is that vocalist and bassist (who never actually played any bass lines on "Consuming"...) Martin Van Drunen is departed, replaced on vocals by lead guitarist Patrick Mameli and the legendary Tony Choy on bass (borrowed from Cynic and who would later play in Atheist). When I first heard this album at a younger and more intolerant age, I hated it mainly because the vocals were "weaker". Let's face it, Van Drunen's vocals on "Consuming..." is one of the nastiest, most caustic performances captured on a death metal album and would be hard to follow up for anybody, yet upon reflection Mameli provides a perfectly good substitute, less extreme but more suiting to the music here...which is also slightly less extreme, but more dynamic and introspective as opposed to the sheer blunt force trauma of a track like "Out of the Body" from "Consuming...". The production quality is smoother and substantially cleaner on this album, which gives it more room to breathe and explore atmospheres. The bass is nice and audible and provides occasional counterpoint to the guitars although the main feature is Choy's undeniable skill at the instrument, effortlessly matching the technical and thrashy riffs.

The structure of the record itself is also different, with 16 tracks of which half are interludes of various kinds used to break up the main songs, such as the weird heartbeat/insect noise of "Blood" and the Choy bass solo in "Soulless". The main highlight of this album for me has to be "Land of Tears", where a fast technical riff gives way to a breakdown using chords that seem uncommon for death metal, leading into a brilliant solo almost reminiscent of Iron Maiden before falling back into the thrashy main riff again. In fact a lot of this album comes across as almost like technical thrash (akin to early Cynic) as opposed to death metal, the guitars aren't down-tuned like on the previous album and they are a lot more melodic. Any flak aimed at the band over this or "Spheres" is completely unjust in my opinion, this is a prime example of great musicians experimenting with a formula that was already beginning to run a little bit dry, and is one of the great progressive metal albums of its time.

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