Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pestilence - Consuming Impulse (1989)

Ah, the spoils of youth. Friday nights as a teen. The unceremonious dumping at the local mall by my family, to walk around in endless loops and socialize with about half my high school, who were there at any given time. When lucky, I was able to bring a friend, or join him when his own family performed a similar ritual. Most of the metal heads were in attendance on the weekend, so it was hardly a death sentence, and there was almost always someone to talk to, but the real attraction was a chance to spend some of that paper route profit, or weekly allowance, on a new metal album. My friend and I would scan the shelves and bins intently, awaiting any new arrival.

The format of choice: cassette. CDs were a blip on our radar that had not yet overtaken our lives, and vinyl was simply a liability for afternoons of skateboarding or shooting hoops. We discovered a great many gems in those years, but more often we would grab legit albums we had gotten the chance to preview (and record) from the local college metal radio show, or through tape trading with friends at school. We scored and scoured Coroner albums. Deathrow. Sodom and Kreator. Tankard and Destruction. Dark Angel and Heretic. It was like an endless beer-bong of inspiration being fed directly to our throbbing brains, eager to ingest all of the information, process it into headbanging release, and then bring it to school, to enlighten our friends and peers, whose idea of 'underground' at that time was Slayer and Testament. We threw around the 'P' word far too often. We were pricks about it. But everyone was.

One rainy Friday, just after Christmas, I found this cassette on the shelf at Record Town.

Now, death metal was not necessarily a new thing to me. I had owned a few Death cassettes, one of which I completely adored (Leprosy). I had also become familiar with bands like Possessed, Carcass, Sepultura and Autopsy, who more or less filled that mold. Earlier in that very same year, I had purchased Slowly We Rot, which had initially scared the fuck out of me, but I had come to enjoy it. In fact, Pestilence was not a new thing to me, as I had a tape copy of Mallevs Maleficarvm which I had been absorbed in for some time. Needless to say, this was going to be allowance well spent. On the ride home, before I could listen to the album, I perused the liner notes of the cassette.

I wondered at its cover art, which it turns out was never the band's intention, but a rushed record label decision that has become iconic regardless. I still use it as the back patch on my denim jacket, after salvaging it from an old t-shirt that no longer fit. I wondered at the blue staff-line images woven behind the lyrics. The band had a new guitar player, Patrick Uterwijk, which I didn't realize at the time. The band had also gone to Harris Johns to produce this disc. If you don't know Harris Johns, well, the man is amazing. He was responsible for numerous classics by Helloween, Tankard, Voivod, Sodom, Coroner and Kreator. All top shelf bands, and all albums with a timeless, if raw sound to them. Yes, all the cards seemed to stack in the favor of Pestilence, and I couldn't wait to get back to my home stereo.

You can probably guess the rest. Consuming Impulse is my favorite death metal album. Ever. It succeeds where so many have not, in concocting the absolute perfect blend of eerie, morbid atmospheres, brutal and irresistible riffs (still very much cognizant of the band's thrashing foundation), and the most amazing performance by Martin Van Drunen on any album of his career, taking the same tortured path as the debut album but cranking it up so far that it sounds like a man literally ON FIRE or dying by some other means as he is forced to vomit into the studio microphone. Like it's predecessor, Consuming Impulse is a flawless, intelligent exercise that jackhammers straight into the memory. The riffs are more than mere barbarism, more than the dream-stuff of neanderthals, but melodic, twisted expressions that haunt and harrow, fully supportive of the dire and hopeless lyrical passages.

Say what you will about Patrick Mameli and the various statements he has made throughout the years. About his tireless quest to continuously evolve this band, seemingly malcontent with each previous work. What he wrote on this album is true proof of a muse tethered to the man's spine. Not some angelic muse bearing a lyre, but a leering, inhuman fiend with scalpels for fingers and formaldehyde for blood. The RIFFs, for fucks sake.

"Dehydrated" opens in a grinding salvo of brutal vocals and flesh churning guitars, and through the phrasing of the guitars, one can feel those last minute, desperate attempts by the mind to reckon with the body's environment before all moisture is finally drained to leave the barren husk. The bridge is laden with a slow building momentum as Van Drunen's heavy breathing morphs back into his blood-soaked intonations. Congratulations, you have just had your skull kicked in for the first of nine times on this album. "The Process of Suffocation" continues, with yet another variation on how to lose your breath, delivered through seamless, brutal thrash that balances a bevy of bombastic chords with a taunting, two-note melody. The solo here is entirely off the hook, bringing back the best of Slayer's sporadic style, while the grinding bridge and closing thrash hook have more meat to them than a Super Bowl tailgate party. "Suspended Animation" continues, with a glorious, melodic depth to its surging verse, and an amazing breakdown at 1:40 where the guitars retch and writhe like serpentine assassins, and an angelic choir-like synthesizer cuts through the mist of decay, before a thrashing climax ensues with more insane leads carving incisions upon the listener's cerebral cortex.

The blood is no longer liquid
No palpitations of the heart
Stone cold hardened intestines
There will never be a new start

Yeah. It's not through with you yet. "The Trauma" is one of the most terrifying death metal arrangements ever, with carefully affected drum swells behind the sparse verse vocals, soon transforming into a huge groove and continuing to gain momentum until the brilliant chorus, in which a laconic sounding voice is countered by Martin Van Drunen howling 'Trauma', shadowed by the creepy chords. "Chronic Infection" is a raucous display of how a groove in death metal, when properly manifested, can lay waste to entire cities like a nuclear storm. Notice how the vocals are almost 'rap-like' here, and yet incredibly incendiary before the chimes arrive over the very doomed rhythm at 1:05, and Van Drunen's growl echoes into oblivion. There is sick, and then there is SICK. This goes beyond that, to TERMINAL. And then the band brings its mosh favorite, "Out of the Body", with the intense and desperate melodic bridge riffing and the cycling, unforgettable bludgeon of the main verse riff. Just try and sit or stand still to this. And that riff around 1:45? Forget it.

I admit that I originally found the final 'third' of this album to be less standout than the rest, but time and wisdom have slowly slaked the stupid out of me, and you'll find it is no less impressive. "Echoes of Death" creates an astounding force behind the simple splash of chords across the vocals in the verse, and then the grimy thrashing begins, with another screaming synthesizer line that leads into the next verse. "Deify Thy Master" is nearly as frightening as "The Trauma", with a similar wah wah effect over its bleeding intro chords while the rhythm guitar rolls alongside it like a juggernaut of festered flesh. The breakdown/chorus is once again incredible, and shows us once more just how effective death metal can be when you don't forsake the actual songwriting for brutality alone. Also of note, the killer, clinical slowdown thrash at 1:30. Instrumental "Proliferous Souls" offers you a brief, 2 minute pause to 'relax' while the organs shimmer and the guitars wank off slowly before the final, crushing weight of "Reduced to Ashes" arrives, through some of the most powerfully chugged chords I have ever heard on an album. The rest: pure, forceful heretic incinerating violence.

The question of the interrogators
Extorted the false confessions
Broken upon the will they ended
Without even knowing the accusation

Nostalgia can only partially color my feelings for this album, for it exists on a pedestal of craft and brutality that I simply do not hear anymore. And believe me, I've been listening. I listen to all I can. I've been waiting 20+ years for something to come along and knock this titan off its rocker. I've heard the arguments for Morbid Angel, Death, Autopsy, Immolation, Vader, and countless others, but there are single songs on this album I enjoy more than the sum of certain of those bands' entire careers, and I say that after hearing this a thousand times or more, at a point where I should be far beyond bored with it. Consuming Impulse is by no means the only flawless death metal effort by my own standards of rating albums. I venerate Left Hand Path, Realm of Chaos, Leprosy, and many more. But if it came down to the wire and I was told I could take a single death metal record into the afterlife, or to a desert island somewhere, this would be the one I grab, without hesitation. I probably have not done this album justice. But I'm happy to have tried.

Highlights: The mall where I bought the album closed long ago, first converted into an ice skating rink, and now a new shopping plaza with a Starbucks and Borders. Bright women and caramel macchiatos are a plus, but this album is a ++.

Verdict: Epic Ants Crawling On My Face [10/10]
(respiratory ailments, suffering cries)

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