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Consuming Impulse (1989)
 

Consuming Impulse is the second L.P. from Pestilence. Their first record had more of a Thrash Metal sound but, with their sophomore effort, they created a classic piece of old school Death Metal. Released in December 1989, the original cover featured a group of people eating one another. At the last minute, without the band's approval, Roadrunner replaced that image. Naturally, neither the band nor the fans cared much for this inferior replacement, which does no justice to the masterpiece that it represents.

I discovered Pestilence, thanks to some long-forgotten 'zine, around the same time that I was exploring the old albums from Sepultura, Dark Angel and Death Angel. Malleus Malificarum didn't do a whole lot for me, to be honest. However, upon hearing Consuming Impulse, for the first time, I was very impressed. This was a release that belonged alongside Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy, Altars of Madness, Slowly We Rot, etc.

It all begins with "Dehydrated", which immediately reminds me of the old Death albums, just in the style and production. Martin van Drunen's vocals sound like someone that has crawled out of a grave, possessed by a madness one could only attain by having died and returned to the surface. His is a decaying, yet anguished, sound that is quite distinctive. It is guttural, in a sense, while being far raspier than those who would come later. There is a slow and morbid section, featuring some eerie whispers, after a minute or so. Riff-wise, there are still bits of thrash remaining in the sound, though completely encompassed by death. There are several tempo changes, though the feeling being conveyed is very coherent. There are even a couple of decent lead solos, before the end.

"The Process of Suffocation" begins with a subdued pace, though there is nothing restrained about van Drunen's psychotically possessed vocals. The majority of the song is dominated by riffs that owe more to Thrash than to Death Metal. This continues, with a faster pace, on "Suspended Animation". By the middle of this song, the atmosphere becomes far more horrifying, yet morbid, as the pace slows down and faint traces of keyboards infiltrate the sound, giving the feeling of a horror movie. The guitar solos are far superior to most Death Metal solos, as they still retain some importance, rather than being thrown out in a near-obligatory manner.

A feeling of morbid graveyards and rising corpses, screaming in agony, is present during the opening moments of "The Trauma". The speed increases, slowly, as the song progresses. There are a lot of power chords and thrash riffs, rather than intense speed-picking. This helps in maintaining and older feeling. The sound is really primitive for Death Metal, compared to all the technical bands that came later. Not that there isn't a lot of skill in Pestilence, because there certainly was. All of the components were merged together, seamlessly, to create something beautifully grotesque.

"Chronic Infection" features some fairly catchy riffs, still immersed in an aesthetic of decomposition and rot. After about a minute or so, the pace slows down and there is something to give the effect of a funeral bell, joined with Martin's tortured vocals, spawning a true sense of morbidity and unease. The style that he utilizes is something that seemed to be lost in later bands of this sub-genre. As more and more vocalists jumped on the extremely deep and guttural bandwagon, they missed the opportunity to truly add something to the experience, by becoming so generic and typical. On Consuming Impulse, Martin van Drunen proves that a Death Metal vocalist can still convey some sort of feeling, which he does very well.

This is followed by "Out of the Body", which begins with a mid-paced thrash riff and a drum roll (a song that was later plagiarized, to an extent, by Broken Hope). This is one of the most memorable tracks on here, speeding up quite a bit, before returning to the opening riff. On this one, the lyrics tell a horrifying tale, while not falling into the realm of self-parody, as many others do. They deal with terrifying and grotesque subjects, yet they do so without draining the effectiveness from such ideas. Mid-way through, there's a very nice guitar solo, completely suiting the atmosphere.

"Echoes of Death" is almost reminiscent of Slayer, in the early moments. The song is filled with riffs that wouldn't be out of place on a release such as Leprosy. A couple minutes in, there's a brief keyboard bit that adds to the aura, again, much like the score of a horror movie. This one is competent, yet pales a little by comparison to what follows.

The next song is "Deify Thy Master", which is another one of the most recognizable songs on the album. Very twisted melodies start things out, creating a sense of tension. Everything about this is done to perfection. The macabre harmonies coincide with screams of pure, terrified insanity. The tempo of the song speeds up at just the right moments, causing your heart to race and adrenaline to begin pumping. This is one of the most intense songs of the entire record, just from the feeling being conveyed.

"Proliferous Souls" is next. This instrumental is very calm and serene, something very much needed after the previous song, as your heart is dangerously close to bursting out of your chest, at this point. It serves well to slow your pulse, while allowing your mind to drift through the utter blackness that surrounds.

The album reaches its conclusion with "Reduced To Ashes". Slower, doom-filled riffs begin this dismal song. After a funereal build-up, the speed increases. This one features a decent amount of tempo changes, as well as interesting riffs and lyrics that tell the tale of witches being burned at the stake, during medieval times. After a few minutes, a mid-paced thrash riff dominates the sound, joined by a bit of double-bass. This ends, suddenly, with a return to the faster riffs and a brief lead solo. It is an interesting song, but you may feel drained after the previous couple songs. By this point, you are simply ready to collapse.

Consuming Impulse is, probably, the only essential Pestilence album. The one before is nothing like this, really, and the ones that follow take more of a progressive approach. Of course, the most important factor is that Martin van Drunen is replaced on vocals by lead guitarist, Patrick Mameli. His successor takes a far less original approach, opting to emulate John Tardy, of Obituary. Regardless of this, Consuming Impulse stands as a monument to a once-great band; one of the true classic masterpieces of 80s Death Metal and something your collection needs in order to be complete.
 
(18 May 2009)

 
 

Released in September 1991, Testimony of the Ancients is the third full-length from Pestilence. In the two years that passed since Consuming Impulse, much had changed within the band. Frontman Martin van Drunen left the group and joined Asphyx, leaving Patrick Mameli to attempt to fill the void as vocalist. His performance on this album would be but one of many elements that reduced this offering to a mediocre and forgettable affair.

The inability to find a suitable person to handle the vocals was not necessarily something that the band could have helped. Perhaps, they tried and simple failed to recruit the right person. Either way, Mameli's dull voice is not the most damning issue regarding Testimony of the Ancients. The worst blunder of all was their decision to travel from the Netherlands to bloody Florida. Just like Napalm Death and Atrocity, the previous year, a European Death Metal band was so enamoured by the hype surrounding this overrated hellhole in Tampa that they crossed the ocean in order to allow their album to be butchered by the always-inept Scott Burns.

Any possible potential that Testimony of the Ancients might have had was immediately thrown into the garbage the very moment that Pestilence decided to let Burns have a hand in the recording process. The sound of this record is the epitome of generic. The guitar tone, the mixing, everything reeks of mediocrity and sounds nearly identical to other albums from this same period that Burns ruined; e.g. Devastation's Idolatry, Malevolent Creation's The Ten Commandments, Napalm Death's Harmony Corruption, Demolition Hammer's Tortured Existence, etc. The differences between the sound of each record are quite minimal, and the third Pestilence L.P. falls into this same black hole of banality. The guitars lack any rawness and the clicky double-bass is enough to drive one mad.

Beyond the extreme detrimental effect of Morrisound butchery, the album possesses other flaws. In general, the basic songwriting is all over the place. There are a few decent pure Death Metal tracks, like "The Secrecies of Horror" and "Lost Souls". But then one is assaulted with filth like "Twisted Truth" and "Prophetic Revelations" that utilize unwarranted groove riffs and really dumb things down. Then there are the more 'progressive' aspects of this wretched album, such as the addition of keyboards and the instrumental interludes between every song, which I find to be very pointless. Songs like "Testimony" and especially "Presence of the Dead" are filled with worthless wankery in the same vein as Death albums like Human and Individual Thought Patterns. Speaking of which, Mameli's voice is yet also very generic and dull, sounding quite similar to Chuck's performance on Spiritual Healing, with a bit of John Tardy mixed in. All in all, he really fails to differentiate himself in any manner, whatsoever.

Testimony of the Ancients is a complete waste of time. There are two passable tracks on this record, both of which are ruined by the production and the lackluster vocals. It's almost difficult to believe that this is the same Pestilence that released the essential Death Metal classic, Consuming Impulse, just two years earlier. This just goes to show that most bands should close up shop after one or two albums, as many just lose their true creative spark and end up releasing sub-standard trash. It also serves as another bit of evidence that Scott Burns was one of the very worst things to ever happen to Death Metal. Avoid this.
 
(8 May 2017)

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