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Holland's Pestilence is generally regarded as one of the leaders of the late-'80s/early-'90s death metal scene, following closely behind Death as innovators in the genre. Combining elements of Slayer, Celtic Frost, Venom, and the Possessed, Pestilence was an underappreciated and short-lived outfit that, along with peers Sepultura, Atheist, and Morbid Angel, helped broaden and redefine the definition of death metal.
Originally consisting of drummer Marco Foddis, bassist/vocalist Martin van Drunen, and guitarists Patrick Mameli and Randy Meinhard, Pestilence formed in the mid-'80s, and cranked out two excessively raw, garage-quality demos, Infected (three songs, 1986) and Dysentery (four songs, 1987). The group's promising and heavily Slayer-influenced combination of shifting double-time tempos, precise guitar work, and suitably morbid subject matter attracted the attention of Roadrunner Records, which signed the band and released its first full-length record, Malleus Maleficarum, in 1988. While the album was essentially a less-refined, altogether uglier version of German or Bay Area thrash metal -- defined by van Drunen's rapid, hoarse shouting -- it wasn't until 1989's Consuming Impulse that Pestilence found its creative niche. With Meinhard out of the fold and replaced by six-stringer Patrick Uterwijk, the group's increasingly impressive songwriting dynamics became tighter and more focused; while the band's rapid, precise tempo changes and nimble, downright evil-sounding, minor-key guitar work would help pave its ascent into the nether regions of death metal, it was van Drunen's newly developed, deranged, tracheotomy-patient growl that made the raw and highly entertaining record an over-the-top classic. (Van Drunen would later admit that his sub-par bass playing resulted in Mameli's recording all the bass tracks on Consuming Impulse, although the album's liner notes say otherwise.) However, mounting inter-band tensions found van Drunen departing Pestilence prior to the recording of 1991's Testimony of the Ancients, the frontman apparently not gelling with Mameli and Uterwijk's more progressive leanings. (Van Drunen would go on to front Dutch band Asphyx for three records, 1991's The Rack, 1992's Crush the Cenotaph EP, and 1993's Last One on Earth, as well as providing vocals for Comecon's Converging Conspiracies record (1993); he also fronted English death-grind mavens Bolt Thrower for a short time in the mid-'90s, although he never performed on any of the outfit's recordings before illness forced him out of the music business.) Mameli took over vocal duties for Testimony of the Ancients -- produced, notably, by famed Florida-based death metal knob-twiddler Scott Burns -- and the group recruited highly skilled bassist Tony Choy from Florida prog-deathsters Cynic (he also filled the bass slot for fellow Floridians Atheist for a while) for the album's recording and subsequent tour. A full-blown concept album, Testimony was a more technical, intellectual product than its predecessor, and featured the band's most refined musicianship and production values to date.
Bored by the guttural, blood-and-gore stylings of an increasingly stagnant death metal scene, Mameli, Uterwijk, and Foddis -- who didn't hesitate to voice their increasing interest in jazz fusion -- put out a reactionary, uncompromisingly odd creation with album number four, 1993's Spheres, which featured new bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling. Wanting an atypical producer for the genre, the group tracked down Steve Fontano, who helmed the board for Cacophany/Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman's jazz/new age solo material, to co-produce the album. Boasting increasingly strange arrangements; off-kilter, jazzy rhythmic structures; and an abundance of synth-guitar textures from Mameli and Uterwijk, Spheres left most of Pestilence's fan base cold, and alienated the group from its label, which reportedly strongly disliked the record.
Fed up with the close-minded atmosphere of the scene and industry in general, Mameli dismantled Pestilence shortly after the release of Spheres. Roadrunner would posthumously release Mind Reflections in 1994; essentially a record company cash-in, the album was a best-of compilation featuring tracks from all four Pestilence platters, a rare compilation song ("Hatred Within"), and six heretofore unreleased live tracks recorded at 1992's Dynamo Open Air Festival in Holland. Dutch label Displeased Records later re-released Malleus Maleficarum (which never saw a proper European release) in 1998 with the Infected and Dysentery demo cuts tacked on as bonus tracks. ~ John Serba
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