Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pestilence - Obsideo (2013)

Much like Resurrection Macabre was an amalgam of the first three Pestilence records in the 80s and 90s, Obsideo seems a combination of its two direct predecessors with a lot of the Spheres fusion jazz poking through in the lead guitar choices and backing ambiance. While not as steadfastly groovy and modernist as Doctrine, it certainly forwards that aesthetic by ironically tempering it with components from the bands' past, specifically the 90s when they were so forward thinking that they dropped off just about everyone's radar. Don't get me wrong: this album still has loads of simplistic, churning groove/death rhythms which stir the conscience much like they'll stir a mosh pits' collective limbs, but there is a slightly more adventurous shadow being cast by the past here, and it's the reason I've been so back and forth on Obsideo since I started listening to this. At times I've found it quite brilliant, and at others I struggle to give a damn...it's unlikely to sway the divisiveness Pestilence has faced since its regrouping strongly in one direction or the other.

Very clearly, all the cries of 'sellout' and 'cash in' and other nonsensical accusations that have surrounded the group since their 21st century rebirth have by now (or should now be) subsided, because the music they've been putting out is hardly accessible to either the mainstream metal audience or even the trending death metal crowds of the present era. It's not easily pigeonholed into brutal death, or old school death, or really anything other than to say that it's fucking Pestilence. Patricks Mameli and Uterwijk are not touring compulsively across the world on major packages, they're not being carted around in limousines while they log in remotely to their offshore banking accounts, and they're not releasing lazy industrial metal albums because they suddenly don't give a fuck. Obsideo might not be their best material, in fact very far fucking from it, but it's not like they're just constantly recycling Consuming Impulse, one of the greatest albums ever, to appease the highly critical vest-metal fashionistas that seem to hate anything which doesn't proscribe to a particular set of popular nostalgic standards, which is odd since the majority of said critics weren't even able to walk yet when Roadrunner dropped Testimony of the Ancients.

Oh, there IS recycling here, the majority of the rhythm guitar patterns paraphrased from prior albums, but not in a matter that speaks of trying to turn a quick buck. I simply think Pestilence has run itself against a wall in attempting to constantly reinvent its pummeling post-modern aesthetics, and that has translated into the sheer redundancy in chord choices which are nothing new to anyone following the band since 1991. I had half expected Obsideo to be highly experimental, to push their sonic envelope much like Testimony's 'refinement' of the 80s records, but instead it clings too tightly to its predecessors, and lacks the songwriting punch of Resurrection Macabre, which was exceptionally energized and memorable other than the strange choice to repeat the choruses at the beginnings of the tunes. I still spin that album a lot, especially for that one-two combo leading it off, whereas the more recent Doctrine earns only an occasional curiosity spin. After about a half dozen treks through Obsideo, I feel I very well might consign it to that same fate...it tries pretty hard, and it's ultimately worth hearing, impossible not to headbang to if you've got a personal connection to Mameli's riffing style, but it does come up short on those transitive, unforgettable moments that defined their earlier incarnations...

Bear in mind that there are new dudes entering the fold here, most notably David Haley of the Australian tech killers Psycroptic, Ruins, Blood Duster and The Amenta, who naturally proved attractive due to his high level of skill and attention to details. He does a fantastic job here, his fills and tempo mastery helping to really enhance what are evidently a very simple set of chugging, oft discordant rhythm guitar riffs, complex only in that they avoid a number of the genre tropes and set up the sporadic, jazzy leads which Pestilence has been shoveling upon us since Testimony and Spheres. I'm not familiar with the new bassist Georg Maier, but he's definitely got an agile style here which brings to mind Tony Choy, only with the benefits of the more muscular modern definition in the low end mix. The rhythm section certainly feels mechanical in nature, loud and in a few cases brickwalled, but I think with a record as once-futuristic as this that industrial precision is not at all unwelcome in its execution. Put bluntly, Obsideo sounds absolutely fantastic if you're not afraid of death metal records sounding like they were recorded in 2013 and not 1993. I mean I love that stuff too, to this day, but Pestilence is not a band that I really need to dwell too much on studio reversion (though they are clearly doing this in the riff construction).

Much has been said of Mameli's vocals and how they compare to his esteemed predecessor, one of the greatest death metal growlers of all time (who continues to forge on in that capacity with Hail of Bullets, Asphyx and Grand Supreme Blood Court). That said, even if he's no Van Drunen, Patrick is simply gruesome on this album, his guttural the one 'wild' contrast to the absolute control the musicians have over their instruments. Occasional higher-pitched snarls are used to double up on his standard pitch, but really it's that low end, ugly sustain to his voice that complements the box-like palm-muted grooves and airy, winding solos. He seems to improve across the album, with tunes like "Super Conscious" and "Saturation" having the most impact. Believe me, as much as I prefer the first two albums musically, the shift in front men was never really a problem unless you just hated half of Mameli's foot-in-mouth rants over the decades. To be fair, it's no surprise at all that he alienated a chunk of his audience with his standoffish comments, but he's hardly a hack on the microphone, and I say that not based solely on the studio performance, but also in having seen him live a few times.

As for the riff-set, you've got a lot of those transmigratory, time signature warping palm mutes colliding all over the place with Haley's devastating capabilities. Like I hinted above, the bottom line on this disc is not exactly difficult or technical in terms of the number of notes being strewn over the beats, but more concerned with repeatedly jerking you around, boxing in your eardrums and planting a boot in your gut. Leads are more alien and playful, naturally, like a lot of the 80s fusion guitarists that inspired the original members, but that does not always make them particularly inspiring or interesting, since we've been down this road before. I believe there is enough chugging force to the down-tuned guitars that fans of niches like djent and nu metal seeking something more unusual might feel this record, but that's not to say it belongs to either of those categories, it just doesn't have any apprehension at using whatever modern techniques or tools are available to it. All told, whether or not the grooves 'lay into you' will determine whether you love or hate this: say, for instance, the advance track "Necro Morph" and its semi-familiar Pestilential rhythmic step...did you feel that? Did you neck just shake? Yes? Pursue further. No? Forget this exists.

My neck shook, my temples throbbed, my fists clenched, and I felt fully immersed in the experience WHILE having it, but 20-30 minutes later I just didn't seem to care, much the same as I responded to Doctrine. It's a good album, but from a band that for 21 years gave me nothing but great albums (even a couple that I'd still consider flawless, timeless examples of distinct death metal), it doesn't feel completely adequate. Certainly not a letdown, because after Doctrine I did not have high expectations, but I felt like they'd go for something more bizarre this time out (like a Spheres) and it still seems they are tinkering with the same rhythmic toys. A band like Pestilence might be better served moving continuously forward...regardless of what or who they leave behind. Back to space, boys! We'll catch up. Resurrection Macabre already paid their early years ample tribute, and that and Doctrine are really too recent to demand their own...which Obsideo ends up being, though it's as taut and professional as you might hope for.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (the test of time, already lost)


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