Monday, May 18, 2009

Pestilence - Consuming Impulse (1989)

Consuming Impulse is the second L.P. from Pestilence. Their first record had more of a Thrash Metal sound but, with their sophomore effort, they created a classic piece of old school Death Metal. Released in December 1989, the original cover featured a group of people eating one another. At the last minute, without the band's approval, Roadrunner replaced that image. Naturally, neither the band nor the fans cared much for this inferior replacement, which does no justice to the masterpiece that it represents.

I discovered Pestilence, thanks to some long-forgotten 'zine, around the same time that I was exploring the old albums from Sepultura, Dark Angel and Death Angel. Malleus Malificarum didn't do a whole lot for me, to be honest. However, upon hearing Consuming Impulse, for the first time, I was very impressed. This was a release that belonged alongside Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy, Altars of Madness, Slowly We Rot, etc.

It all begins with "Dehydrated", which immediately reminds me of the old Death albums, just in the style and production. Martin van Drunen's vocals sound like someone that has crawled out of a grave, possessed by a madness one could only attain by having died and returned to the surface. His is a decaying, yet anguished, sound that is quite distinctive. It is guttural, in a sense, while being far raspier than those who would come later. There is a slow and morbid section, featuring some eerie whispers, after a minute or so. Riff-wise, there are still bits of thrash remaining in the sound, though completely encompassed by death. There are several tempo changes, though the feeling being conveyed is very coherent. There are even a couple of decent lead solos, before the end.

"The Process of Suffocation" begins with a subdued pace, though there is nothing restrained about van Drunen's psychotically possessed vocals. The majority of the song is dominated by riffs that owe more to Thrash than to Death Metal. This continues, with a faster pace, on "Suspended Animation". By the middle of this song, the atmosphere becomes far more horrifying, yet morbid, as the pace slows down and faint traces of keyboards infiltrate the sound, giving the feeling of a horror movie. The guitar solos are far superior to most Death Metal solos, as they still retain some importance, rather than being thrown out in a near-obligatory manner.

A feeling of morbid graveyards and rising corpses, screaming in agony, is present during the opening moments of "The Trauma". The speed increases, slowly, as the song progresses. There are a lot of power chords and thrash riffs, rather than intense speed-picking. This helps in maintaining and older feeling. The sound is really primitive for Death Metal, compared to all the technical bands that came later. Not that there isn't a lot of skill in Pestilence, because there certainly was. All of the components were merged together, seamlessly, to create something beautifully grotesque.

"Chronic Infection" features some fairly catchy riffs, still immersed in an aesthetic of decomposition and rot. After about a minute or so, the pace slows down and there is something to give the effect of a funeral bell, joined with Martin's tortured vocals, spawning a true sense of morbidity and unease. The style that he utilizes is something that seemed to be lost in later bands of this sub-genre. As more and more vocalists jumped on the extremely deep and guttural bandwagon, they missed the opportunity to truly add something to the experience, by becoming so generic and typical. On Consuming Impulse, Martin van Drunen proves that a Death Metal vocalist can still convey some sort of feeling, which he does very well.

This is followed by "Out of the Body", which begins with a mid-paced thrash riff and a drum roll (a song that was later plagiarized, to an extent, by Broken Hope). This is one of the most memorable tracks on here, speeding up quite a bit, before returning to the opening riff. On this one, the lyrics tell a horrifying tale, while not falling into the realm of self-parody, as many others do. They deal with terrifying and grotesque subjects, yet they do so without draining the effectiveness from such ideas. Mid-way through, there's a very nice guitar solo, completely suiting the atmosphere.

"Echoes of Death" is almost reminiscent of Slayer, in the early moments. The song is filled with riffs that wouldn't be out of place on a release such as Leprosy. A couple minutes in, there's a brief keyboard bit that adds to the aura, again, much like the score of a horror movie. This one is competent, yet pales a little by comparison to what follows.

The next song is "Deify Thy Master", which is another one of the most recognizable songs on the album. Very twisted melodies start things out, creating a sense of tension. Everything about this is done to perfection. The macabre harmonies coincide with screams of pure, terrified insanity. The tempo of the song speeds up at just the right moments, causing your heart to race and adrenaline to begin pumping. This is one of the most intense songs of the entire record, just from the feeling being conveyed.

"Proliferous Souls" is next. This instrumental is very calm and serene, something very much needed after the previous song, as your heart is dangerously close to bursting out of your chest, at this point. It serves well to slow your pulse, while allowing your mind to drift through the utter blackness that surrounds.

The album reaches its conclusion with "Reduced To Ashes". Slower, doom-filled riffs begin this dismal song. After a funereal build-up, the speed increases. This one features a decent amount of tempo changes, as well as interesting riffs and lyrics that tell the tale of witches being burned at the stake, during medieval times. After a few minutes, a mid-paced thrash riff dominates the sound, joined by a bit of double-bass. This ends, suddenly, with a return to the faster riffs and a brief lead solo. It is an interesting song, but you may feel drained after the previous couple songs. By this point, you are simply ready to collapse.

Consuming Impulse is, probably, the only essential Pestilence album. The one before is nothing like this, really, and the ones that follow take more of a progressive approach. Of course, the most important factor is that Martin van Drunen is replaced on vocals by lead guitarist, Patrick Mameli. His successor takes a far less original approach, opting to emulate John Tardy, of Obituary. Regardless of this, Consuming Impulse stands as a monument to a once-great band; one of the true classic masterpieces of 80s Death Metal and something your collection needs in order to be complete.