Home > Music > Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum (1988)

Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum (1988)

frontOn their earliest demos, Pestilence occasionally reminds me of Sentence of Death era Destruction. By the time of their debut, though, Pestilence had undergone some degree of complication, much like their German contemporaries. On Malleus Maleficarum, Pestilence occupies not only the grey area between speed/thrash and death metal, but injects substantial technical flourishes into that mixture. Later albums would see them briefly immerse themselves entirely in death metal before learning to love guitar synthesizers, but here, Pestilence’s sound is fairly basic.

While it sounds somewhat traditional, Malleus Maleficarum relies heavily on extended monophonic riffs. It gets me to thinking – a lot of the relatively early ‘underground’ metal recordings abandoned harmonic backing; by 1988, though, not many had pushed the complexity of their riffs to the extent Pestilence displays here. Furthermore, the ones that had often were in less intense genres of metal. Either way, Pestilence uses the trademark ‘Kreator riffs’ as part of their musical substrate (the use of constant harmonic intervals for dissonant effects, especially in scales), further cementing their connection to the German thrash scene. The ties go beyond mere musical elements – for instance, Kalle Trapp served as producer here only a few months after having helped Destruction with Release From Agony.

Other musical elements help to make Pestilence sound like an exaggerated version of these bands I keep comparing them to. For instance, the aforementioned Kalle Trapp gave this album a very nasty production, with tons of low end and heavy reverb on the drums. Not particularly high fidelity, but I’d describe it as complete metalhead bait in context of the times. However, Pestilence also indulges in melodramatic, complicated songwriting that the bands I’ve compared it to rarely, if ever gave much consideration.  For instance, they seem to have quite the taste for lengthy intros; unlike a lot of bands in the intro business, though, these intros are musically related to the songs they introduce. The ideas they play around with are actually developed later in the songs’ lengths. You’d think this wouldn’t be a hard concept, but you’ll find plenty of random asides in other records (read: compositional fat). The emphasis on mood, along with the relatively large amount of riffs and musical ideas per song render Pestilence’s songs very tight and devoid of filler.

Overall, I’d say that theatrics and melodrama (which always comes with the risk of missing its mark and becoming cliched) is employed to great effect on Malleus Maleficarum. Part of this is the vocalist – Martin van Drunen hadn’t quite developed his distinctive tortured scream-growl yet, but he still employed those important variations in timbre that separate the best death metal vocalists from the rest. When he departed the band after Consuming Impulse, his replacement (guitarist Patrick Mameli) was relatively able to match his timbre, but this important element was lost. On the other hand, Pestilence’s ’90s works did see a great push into new realms of instrumentation and arrangement, so they were at least able to adapt…

Highlights: “Antropomorphia”, “Extreme Unction”, “Commandments”, “Bacterial Surgery”

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