One of the foundational acts of death metal, Pestilence began recording in the late eighties and started providing more complex, musically expository translations of death and speed metal ideas in several classic albums. With 1993's "Spheres" they spent their progressive urge in a highly technical but heavily synthesized album that gained little acceptance among death metal bands; declaring it a loss, the remaining members charged off bitterly into jazz fusion bands.
flag of the Netherlands Pestilence - Dysentery (1987)
Pestilence - The Penance (1988)
Pestilence - Malleus Maleficarum (1988)
Pestilence - Consuming Impulse (1989)
Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients (1991)
Pestilence - Spheres (1993)
Pestilence - Live at Dynamo Open Air 1992 (2001)
Pestilence - Chronicles of the Scourge (2006)

Production: Respectable garage production.

Review: The first Pestilence demo shows us a band inheriting the early genetics of death metal, namely Slayer and Possessed, mixed with Sepultura, Master and European metal acts. The result is death metal vocals over music that has more in common with Slayer and Destruction than the death metal to come; it is how this material gradually moves closer to death metal and then falls away from it that creates the most interesting aspects of the story of Pestilence.


1. Against the Innocent (4:02)
2. Delirical Life (4:50)
3. Traitor's Gate (4:26)
4. Throne of Death (4:06)
Length: 17:24

Pestilence 'Dysentery' death metal 1987
Copyright © 1987 Self-Released

The first song, "Against the Innocent," has Slayer-style fills and solos over Possessed-style vocals and verse riffs, with Kreator-like rapid breaks between riffs. Unlike later Pestilence, its gestalt is not formative, and it sounds like a new band trying on the clothes of others and adapting them without being able to recreate them. As the demo goes on, we see more of this. "Delirical Life" combines the rhythms of "Necrophobic" from Slayer and "Satan's Curse" from Possessed; "Traitor's Gate" is pieces of Seven Churches mixed with the fills and transitions of Reign in Blood; "Throne of Death" sounds like older Slayer combined with the harmonizing technique of Destruction.

These songs acquit themselves well, especially over time, but they are as blocky and unformed as an architect's first sketch, in that they know roughly what parts need to go where, but are uncertain how to smoothly connect these parts, and so end up borrowing from the forges of their mentors. Hearing the Possessed-clone vocals and the Slayer-inspired rhythms provides an insight into this band who, like Destruction and Rigor Mortis and Slayer themselves, started halfway between speed metal and death metal and struggled over that status for the rest of its career.

The Penance

Production: Respectable garage production.

Review: A year after their first demo, Pestilence returned with more instrumental proficiency and a new vocalist who promised to give them the death metal definition to their vocals and push them further into the genre, although they did so through its early adopters and so were able to retain much of their speed metal lineage.


1. Into Hades (Intro) (0:58)
2. Before the Penance (6:48)
3. Affectation (3:28)
4. Fight the Plague (4:01)
Length: 15:14

Pestilence 'The Penance' death metal 1988
Copyright © 1988 Self-Released

The intro, clearly inspired both by Sepultura's Schizophrenia and the Tubular Bells intro to Possessed's Seven Churches, segues into songs very much like the first album except for a better understanding of harmony resulting in less linear songs, and a greater devotion to death metal technique in strumming, which in turn reflects how they were able to composite riffs into verse, chorus or transitional pieces of song. "Before the Penance" is like the Slayer/Possessed hybrid of the previous demo crossed with Metallica, with similar "Necrophobic"-inspired rhythms to "Delirical Life." Unlike American bands, European bands aimed for a tendency that became a founding part of power metal, which is the extremely catchy chorus repeating the song title, and this inclination blooms here with songs that give a nod to Kreator and Destruction in their repetition balanced by the unbalanced tendency toward wildly divergent song structure, even if for only a third of each song. "Fight the Plague" uses the same rough rhythm as "Live, Suffer, Die" from Nuclear Assault, and may even reference the song "The Plague" which used a similar acoustic guitar arpeggiated pattern as its introduction.

Unlike the first demo, these songs show the foundation which was to later expand. "Affectation" contains most of the material that made it into "Cycle of Existence" for Malleus Maleficarum, and fragmentary, transitional, two-chord budget riffs and fills throughout the demo migrated into the next two albums. What matured for the albums was the sense of fitting the pieces together in a more elegant, situationally-adaptive solution than riff-chorus-transition songwriting borrowed from Slayer, and the smoother integration of death metal tremolo technique lending itself to phrasal riffs that later become more of a mainstay for this band.

Malleus Maleficarum
Production: Reasonable, sort of chalky and flat but relatively effective.

Review: With the rhythmic heft of speed metal carrying the emergent textures and collisive riffing of death metal, Pestilence create unique song and melodic shapes around which to proliferate derivation and synthesis in highly articulated formations of motion and tone that convey an abstract sensation of experience to their hearing.

Pounding undulation of drums in the speed metal style matches cadence to a chanted vocal which is hoarse in the style of early Sodom more than death metal, howling a near-hiss of vocal overprojection, beating out the heartbeat tradition of speed metal/death metal in the crossover style of Germany in the middle 1980s. Lead guitars drift into experimental and death metal territory with highly chaotic solos that through the unconnected stimulate the fusion and regeneration of ideas in sound. While some riffs bear heavy metal heritage and many are familiar from second-tier speed metal bands, the grandeur of articulation is emphasized in scenario defining phrases which as in classical music are distinguished by their balance of harmony within melody more than coherence to a central harmonic structure.


1. Malleus maleficarum / Anthropomorphia
2. Parricide
3. Subordinate to the domination
4. Extreme unction
5. Commandments
6. Chemo therapy
7. Bacterial surgery
8. Cycle of existence
9. Osculum infame
10. Systematic instruction
Length: 38:29

pestilence - malleus maleficarum (the witches' hammer) - death metal 1988 roadrunner
Copyright © 1988 Roadrunner

Instrumentation and arrangement are precise and concepts stridently independent and resurgently antisocial in redefinition of social virus to match mental illness in the sublimated iconography subtextually encoded in phrase shape and song narrative. While each player contributes significant concrete and aesthetic fragments of the whole, of worthy note are the rigid and belligerent vocals of Martin van Drunen of the then-fledling Asphyx, which matching this declarative music drag a serrated edge of morbid reality relevant to the individual outside of social logic.

Consuming Impulse
Production: Generic, mediocre, sort of flat but allright.

Review: Advancing further into the death metal style grants this band more room to experiment with structure and in doing so, to affirm the strength within its songwriting and to use the assumption of that communication to further permeate a matrix of memes into listener consciousness which reassembled form the interlocking details that create symbolic representation of reality. Less strident and of consistent dynamic of tempo than its predecessor, this album through better production and more control of rhythm guitars portrays a heavier ambience as well.

Growth of technical riffing styles abounds, as in perpetuity a simpler pattern finds itself split and then recombined into a hierarchy of combat representing a theme, matched to wary drumming which lunges into direct blasts before returning to any of several states of jazz-style suspension based on double-hit principles. The guttural screams of van Drunen mark time and encourage the bounding rhythm to expand toward impact as labyrinthine songs culminate toward self-deconstruction.


1. Dehydrated
2. Process of suffocation
3. Suspended animation
4. The trauma
5. Chronic infection
6. Out of the body
7. Echoes of death
8. Deify thy master
9. Proliferous souls
10. Reduce to ashes
Length: 37:20

pestilence - consuming impulse - death metal 1989 roadrunner
Copyright © 1989 Roadrunner

Flickering fingers of fast harmonic technique foreshadow the obsession with pitch harmonics that would later inundate American bands, and within a series of tempo breaks Pestilence excel within the alternating rolling and explosive rhythms of death metal working itself toward unrighteous fury. Lyrics emphasize moribund topics and nihilistic acceptance of death as a cessation of consciousness, forcing the rawness of the experience forward in descriptive text with reasonable awareness of science.

While clearly still of the previous generation to death metal in that its speed metal intentions appear in riff rhythm and structures Pestilence transform their heavy metal origins here with the beginnings of a clearer obsession with theory, although the chaotic knowledge they seem to have absorbed favors metal styles more than imitation of a specific genre. Variation in tempo and texture colors theme with mood. In innovation perhaps early by some years, this band continued the art of death metal through articulate riffing programmed into effective sequences joining emotion to knowledge in will against death for the lawless and gentle gifts of creativity.

Testimony of the Ancients
Production: Pretty clear, sort of synthetic.

Review: Using keyboards well integrated within their technical death metal format Pestilence inject conceptual framing to their work in the form of an introduction to each of these eight songs, giving pause before their progressive hymns of evolving metal music. Crisp riffing and resonant melodic composition underscore the urgent and primal rhythms here calculated into layers of sequential thematic pairs. While Pestilence imagine they advance with this album, they regress by approximating the mean of a rock/death metal fusion, and in doing so, lose the power that made their music expressive of the unique. It seems they are trying to compete with successful, rock-based acts like Metallica, Tool, et al. C'est la vie.

Lyrically, this is a concept album which deals with "the truth of the existence of man" and has a few Lovecraftianisms as well, appealing to power and fundamental sources of vast change in the universe for a method of escape from the suffocating entropic sameness represented in the repetition of riffs before sacrifice. Its clean lines of lead guitar and offtime, cagily soft-footed tempo acrobatic between points of distinct impact, in framing the narrative of power chords and overlaid leads form an isolation to the piece while establishing coherence within.


1. The secrecies of horror
2. Bitterness
3. Twisted truth
4. Darkening
5. Lost souls
6. Blood
7. Land of tears
8. Free us from temptation
9. Prophetic revelations
10. Impure
11. Testimony
12. Soulless
13. Presence of the dead
14. Mindwarp
15. Stigmatized
16. In sorrow
Length: 42:58

pestilence - testimony of the ancients - death metal 1991 roadrunner
Copyright © 1991 Roadrunner

Much in the passage that Carcass undertook on Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious, Pestilence return closer to their roots in this halfway step toward jazz theory, rounding out their composition with a focus on depth in harmony and how to violate it to create crashing emptiness and angrily self-stalking doubt; unfortunately, a consequence of this is the adoption of rock-styled riffing, first with the assimilation of expectation-based rhythm, and to support that, the use of harmony to avoid interrupting that rhythm with the internal rhythms produced in the phrasal, protean riffing of death metal. Emphasis on lead rhythm playing and precise textures laced with harmonic accents and cadence shifts cements percussion as the central point of the new sound to this band, and while it suffices the drumming here lapses between technical segments and standard or very obvious patterning.

Simultaneous note playing and variation of chord shapes gives a softer edge and greater space to this music, making its feral rhythms colliding within an ecosystem of detail interaction resonate with isolation and vigilant emptiness. Power chords are used to stress essential points and mold context to each theme, but often lead work or harmonizing progressions anchor these progressive death metal pieces. The essential skill of making something lifelike from a metal riff, and linking these ideas to narrate epiphany, remains on the third album a primary strength of this band. Within the context of this armada of fast and inventive fretwork all blemishes become secondary to the continually growing art of Pestilence.

Production: Clear and synthesizer ridden without the real ambient space it needs to make that world. Compressed, greyed out.

Review: A prevalent jazz fusion and pride in newly-learned technical skills fronts this album as a near justification for experimentation in atmospheric metal and jazz harmony, turning the self-indulgent into a forum for great flexibility in vertical tone motion within metal/ Otherwise death- and speed-metal pattern riffs etched to the offtime precision rhythms of this band support its weight through diligent constructivism, linking idea and visceral reality with each change in a systemic butterfly effect of meme propagation.

Surreal in the breathtaking expansion of compositional fragments into coherent statement, this album achieves each slice of the metal existence from highest to lowest. Depth in harmony and pensive extended soloing hold court alongside explosive power chord riffing, mixing ideas through melodic continuity and an emphasis on the modes and harmonies of metal music. Of shock to many were the MIDI guitars used on this album which enable musicians to create from a guitar the voices of many instruments, leading to an absurdist collage of jazz-toned guitar and complex synthesizer nebulae drifting past in the endless night of expected rhythmic continuity.


1. Mind reflections
2. Multiple beings
3. The level of perception
4. Aurian eyes
5. Soul search
6. Personal energy
7. Voice from within
8. Spheres
9. Changing perspectives
10. Phileas
11. Demise of time
Length: 33:17

pestilence - spheres - death metal 1993 roadrunner
Copyright © 1993 Roadrunner

Self-indulgent in the way almost any music with a drop of progressive blood tends to be this music exceeds its own boundaries while reaching somewhat too far, and not achieving either end of its journey. Death metal interrupted by the soothing timbres of modern jazz instrumentation clashes with its own desire to disrupt, and the attempts of musicians to work freeform jazz within pop music formats as commonly occurs produces here a jarring and unsettling distraction. Sparse in arrangement of basic components, songs do not live up to the metal expectation of dynamic, yet fail to manipulate it further than on a basic level of intensity switched with a polar direction.

All things negative said, this album remains one of the premier items in the Pestilence discography for its ambition and the creativity of songwriting in fourth generation music from one of the founding acts of death metal. Its space rock and jazz influences become secondary to the nearly perfected diligence of riff building, making the utterly simple function for complex effect with all extraneous motion removed. In this and in the subconscious hope this album breathes a pained desire for clarity and normalcy within the intense alienation of death metal, yet in its musical language alone achieves it.

Chronicles of the Scourge
Metal War

Production: Airy and then muddy live sound, but discernible music.

Review: For those who appreciate the lure of classic-period Pestilence, making music halfway between the proto-death of Destruction and the upcoming technical death metal of Morbid Angel, this live album provides a delicious insight into both songs in progress and what the experience of a Pestilence concert might have been. With two shows, from 1988 and the following year, in reverse chronological order, this CD presents an opportunity to study this essential Dutch band in their formative habitat.


Live "Kix Festival" - Veghel, Holland 24/06/1989
1. City of the Living Dead / Antropomorphia
2. Parricide
3. Echoes of Death
4. Subordinate to the Domination
5. Commandments
6. Out of the Body
7. Chemotherapy
8. Cycle of Existence
9. Suspended Animation
10. The Trauma
Live Bochum, Germany 18/11/1988
11. Antropomorphia
12. Parricide
13. Subordinate to the Domination
14. Cycle of Existence
15. Extreme Unction
16. Chemotherapy
17. Bacterial Surgery
18. Systematic Instruction
Unreleased Bonus Track
19. Consuming Impulse
Length: 78:12

Pestilence 'Chronicles of the Scourge' death metal 2006 Metal War Productions
Copyright © 2006 Metal War

The difficulties of executing technically involved material in the havoc of a club run too often by disinterested, incompetent and/or intoxicated staff remain underrated by those who have not experienced what it was, in the early days of death metal and in the small clubs that would support it. True to form, this live capture of two Pestilence shows gives insight into the evolution of songs from their first two works, if one is willing to filter through the noise. The 1988 show is a muddied, louder recording, but the 1989 show possesses reasonable clarity. Starting with an introduction played much as a neoclassical heavy metal band might have, the band then tears into classics from both Consuming Impulse and Malleus Maleficarum; the earlier show, second on the disc, consists entirely of songs from the former.

As with many death metal albums, rhythms are less precise than in the studio, which is to the advantage of these riffs which take on a rushing malevolent quality like early Slayer, where lead guitars and rhythm leads are less steady on the chronologically second recording. Both recordings showcase a thicker sound than the more sterile studio productions, showing how this band could compete with overseas acts in terms of the amorphous assessment of "heaviness." While the second show exhibits a young band attempting to master their most ambitious works to date, sometimes barely in tune and unsteady in the playing of leads and fills, the first show demonstrates the raw confidence and energy of some musicians who want to subjugate the world with pure sound. Songs are mostly in finished form; expect slight revelations in how these songs grew from fundamentals to wholes, but for those fascinated with this period in death metal history, this CD is a welcome treat.

Mind Reflections

Production: Louder overall sound than original early albums, otherwise seems good.

Review: Pestilence were born into a time when death metal was just emerging from its formative material, and they birthed a hybrid style that maintained a focus on the melodic aspects of speed metal while death metal was detouring into detuned rhythm music, and finally, came back with the beginnings of a new style after they -- and other bands, like Carcass, Entombed and Death -- got tired of being called musically illiterate and brought their music back into line with mainstream rock composition, in the process losing the phrasal riffs that motivated narrative composition that brought metal closer to classical or folk. Mind Reflections chronicles this process by picking some of their stronger material to showcase as one entity.


1. Out of the Body (4:40)
2. Twisted Truth (4:04)
3. The Process of Suffocation (2:41)
4. Parricide (3:49)
5. Mind Reflections (3:22)
6. Dehydrated (3:09)
7. Land of Tears (4:48)
8. Hatred Within (6:47)
9. The Secrecies of Horror (4:56)
10. Subordinate to the Domination (4:18)
11. Dehydrated (live) (3:31)
12. Chemotherapy (live) (4:27)
13. Presence of the Dead (live) (5:54)
14. Testimony (live) (4:30)
15. Chronic Infection (live) (3:58)
16. Out of the Body (live) (5:09)
Length: 70:02

Pestilence 'Mind Reflections' technical death metal 1994 Roadrunner
Copyright © 1994 Roadrunner

A single new song, "Hatred Within," joins this collection, but it offers little insight into Pestilence past the demos, as it most closely resembles "Delirical Life" from their Dysentery demo, which itself in vocal pacing and song structure resembles Slayer's "Necrophobic." This track, like early Pestilence attempts, attempts to fuse the raw rhythmic power and architectural design of Slayer songs with the melodic aspects and abrupt transitions of European bands like Kreator and Destruction. As a result, it offers an interesting insight into the origins of most progressive death metal, but also shows it to us in a form that has not broken from the form of its influences to create a language of its own, so for most listeners will be less than an event.

Intelligently, as the style is hard to integrate with others, this CD picks only one song from Spheres, but offers four songs from Consuming Impulse and two live versions of songs on that album, only one of which is represented in studio form (the live songs are incredibly clear soundboard recordings with remarkably studio-like mixing, apparently from the same session as the 1992 bootleg). Three songs from Testimony of the Ancients and two live, and two studio and one live from Malleus Maleficarum round out the collection with a heavy balance toward the more iconic earlier material, arrayed sensibly throughout the compilation so that newer material blends into the old and shows the fan the continuity of what this band attempted regardless of how the end result appeared. As death metal again questions its direction, this summary release gains new value in its perspective on how these bands struggled for legitimacy and where the answers they found in turn took them.

Production: Crisp and full live production which captures a vocal/instrument balance similar to that on studio recordings. Six tracks from this recording showed up on Mind Reflections.

Review: Plunging into the network of time, we can see 1992 as a nodal point for death metal, which was just reaching its peak without yet incurring the dissent and neurotic confusion that comes from the introspective external comparison which successful things encounter once they have surpassed initial barriers and must define themselves not in reaction to stimulus, but as reflections on themselves and whatever positive -- meaning goal, not reaction -- aims they have set for themselves.


1. Dehydrated (3:30)
2. Chemotherapy (4:27)
3. Presence of the dead (5:54)
4. The process of suffocation (3:17)
5. Lost souls (4:06)
6. Twisted truth (4:25)
7. Testimony (4:29)
8. Chronic infection (3:58)
9. Stigmatized (5:25)
10. Out of the body (5:08)
Length: 44:26

Pestilence 'Live at Dynamo Open Air' technical death metal 1992 bootleg
Copyright © 2001 Bootleg

This time found Pestilence in camouflaged crisis as their desire to be more musical drove them into conventional rhythm and harmony, lessening the impact of their music and threatening to revert it to glorified speed metal. Just a year past releasing Testimony of the Ancients, Pestilence were attempting to transition into a style of music that got more respect for musicality and probably, wider distribution than death metal. As a result, they play their older material more aggressively but with more emphasis on edged and muffled strumming, making it into a form of technical speed metal toward which they also bend their newer material, accelerating it and giving it a similar edge.

To their credit, Pestilence play an energetic and technically accurate show with an even split between Testimony of the Ancients and their older work, massaging both groups toward a mean that sounds more adapted to the faster, melodic technical music that was emerging in the wake of speed metal's final years. Much of the technique of current power metal can be absorbed from this demanding but bouncy set, and we can see a branch in the tree of death metal forming as Pestilence pulled away from their older aesthetic and tried to go with something both new and old. While some of these tracks later made it onto Mind Reflections, it would be excellent to see this recording get a legitimate release.

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