Pestilence

Malleus Maleficarum

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Although their later, better-known and better-executed efforts would have them remembered primarily as a progressive death metal band, Pestilence's first album, 1988's Malleus Maleficarum, found the Dutch quartet still treading what, at the time, was very much thrash metal terrain. In hindsight, though, it's easy to recognize this album's place alongside contemporary examples like Possessed's Beyond the Gates, Sepultura's Schizophrenia, and Sadus' Illusions (to name but a few) as a borderline transitional link between the two metallic subgenres. In effect, these intermediary qualities included vocalist Martin VanDrunen's exclusive use of atonal barks and gurgled rasps rather than even remotely attempting musical singing; Patrick Mameli and Randy Meinhard's subtly heavier and blockier guitar assault; and drummer Marco Foddis' notably more varied and intricate rhythmic foundation, which set the bar higher for the entire quartet's technical complexity -- a sign of things to come. There was almost no sign, however, of other key components of early death metal, like, say, the gore-infatuated lyrics written by pioneers Death and Autopsy (this album's "Bacterial Surgery" was no doubt an accidental coincidence), and which would definitely play a part in Pestilence's highly regarded sophomore turn, Consuming Impulse. Instead, this first effort's representative tracks -- "Patricide," "Chemo Therapy," "Cycle of Existence," -- dealt with thrash metal's more realistic (if still largely negative) subjects, while forfeiting most every notion of melody, lest it come in the shape of certain song intros ("Antropomorphia," "Commandments") or the atmospheric synthesizer and acoustic guitar-built oddity "Osculum Infame," which was in fact assembled by album producer Kalle Trapp. In summary, it was mostly youthful inexperience and still maturing songwriting abilities -- not getting lost between two styles or lack of instrumental ability -- that defined Malleus Maleficarum as a formative document in the span of Pestilence's career, and of special interest only to their most dedicated fans.

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