Reviewing bands with that were influential in their genres decades ago is always difficult, as you’ll always have a certain portion of listeners that have the notion that new material will never match the classics before even hitting play. This is especially true in cases like Pestilence, where one founding member has kept the band alive or reformed it and had different lineups from one album to the next. I’ve tended to take a dual approach to reviewing in this case, making comparisons to the past as it makes sense while really trying to judge albums on their own merit, and this is where Pestilence has had their ups and downs since Patrick Mameli reformed the group in 2008. 2018’s Hadeon surprised me with its ability to take some of the groovy and sometimes progressive riffing from the band’s pivotal albums and wrap them in a modern production that had an alien and cold tonality similar to technical death metal. Three years later Mameli has once again assembled a completely new lineup and released Exitivm, which retains the swirling songwriting Pestilence is known for and injected a healthy dose of synths reminiscent of 1991’s Testimony of the Ancients.
I was interested in diving into Exitivm and seeing what this latest generation of this long-running band had to offer, as Mameli has recruited some worthy musicians that have worked with the likes of God Dethroned, Dew-Scented, and Bloodphemy in the past. That certainly shows in the technical prowess on display, as this incarnation of Pestilence continues to move seamlessly more complicated arrangements and simpler grooves that recall the ferocity of death metal’s earliest days. Rather than launching right into the action Exitivm takes its time with the extended intro song “In Omnibvs” which lets the sci-fi and cold, industrial slant from Hadeon break through with booming orchestral elements. Once the death metal kicks in proper the band doesn’t let off the gas for the remainder of the album, and it often sounds as though Mameli and company are pulling equally from the band’s earlier death/thrash days and the progressive tendencies of Testimony of the Ancients and Spheres. Pestilence has really done a great job at nailing that colder, machinelike tone that will have you picturing alien and robotic landscapes as you listen along, and that’s one element that’s stood out to me about their most recent efforts. However, despite the fact that there are some dizzying leads, neck breaking grooves, and scorching solos that grab you on that first listen, the songwriting here does start to blend together a bit by the end and there isn’t the same identity at the individual song level compared to either the band’s classics or Hadeon. I do appreciate the return of the synths and symphonic elements though, as they weave in and out of the guitar and bass work to create very alien soundscapes that do help to make Exitivm more enjoyable.
Patrick Mameli has handled vocals since Testimony of the Ancients, so regardless of how well versed you are on Pestilence’s discography his sharper edged and raspier screams should have a sense of familiarity to them. In recent years his performance has seemed to get even more powerful, as each verse booms outwards with an immense amount of force. It’s particular noticeable on Exitivm as Mameli’s voice gets enhanced by the synths which seem to carry his screams outwards into space, and when combined with the slightly lower passages and almost spoken word sections it fits the mechanical tonality perfectly. This is one area where I think the last two Pestilence albums have absolutely nailed it, and it’s great to see another long-running death metal vocalist that hasn’t lost any bite whatsoever.
Although the songwriting starts to fall into some similar sounding patterns by the end, there’s still quite a bit to like about this album. This era of Pestilence continues to emphasize technical hooks and clinical sounding grooves with hints of progressive instrumentation, all wrapped in a more modern production. Admittedly despite the injection of the symphonic elements I still found that Hadeon grabbed me more on an individual song level and I think that’s still the best the reformed version of the band has put out, but the atmosphere and solos are still enough to draw me back. Exitivm is available from Agonia Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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