Thursday, May 11, 2017

Malevolent Creation - The Ten Commandments (1991)

Malevolent Creation's debut L.P. was released by R/C Records, in April 1991. With The Ten Commandments, the band delved deeper into Death Metal, though without completely shedding their Thrash roots. The overall result is a rather average and monotonous album, with fewer highs than lows, and utterly pales in comparison to other releases from this year; e.g. Dismember's Like an Ever Flowing Stream, Butchered at Birth from Cannibal Corpse, of the various debut full-lengths from the likes of Darkthrone, Edge of Sanity, Sentenced, Grave, Asphyx, Unleashed or even the flawed sophomore effort from Morbid Angel, Blessed are the Sick. 

The first strike against this album is easily detectable before even pressing play, as the liner notes indicate that this was recorded at Morrisound and produced by Scott Burns. As one would expect from this, The Ten Commandments possesses a very flat and lifeless sound. Considering the fact that much of the record is dull and forgettable, this only exacerbates the issue. The songwriting is often uninspired and feels random, with many riffs seemingly interchangeable. The only song to really stand out from the rest is "Premature Burial", which is undoubtedly the strongest offering on this L.P. Following the doom-laden "Memorial Arrangements", the first real song bursts forth with very palpable fury. That track features dynamic songwriting, memorable riffs and enough testosterone to kill a horse. Afterward, it is like the band went on auto-pilot and are just going through the motions for the rest of Side A. Not only are the compositions below-average, to go along with the generic production, but even the performance feels lackluster. Tracks like "Remnants of Withered Decay", "Multiple Stab Wounds" and "Impaled Existence" are tedious to listen to, failing to offer the same kind of intensity and aggression as "Premature Burial". It should also go without saying that there is hardly a trace of dark atmosphere to be found throughout most of the songs. 

As well, the vocals are often pretty annoying. Hoffman's voice sounds strained and keeps going from the harsher Death Metal vocals to more of a Thrash Metal vocal style, as he utilized on the previous demo. Once in a while, this variation works in some way, but it is rather annoying for the most part. It's made worse by the fact that there are too many lyrics and it sounds like he is struggling to squeeze a novel's worth of text into a three or four-minute song. As a result, the vocal patterns are cluttered and ineffective. 

Side B picks up a bit, though slowly. "Thou Shall Kill!" is only mildly interesting, while the thrashier approach of "Sacrificial Annihilation" helps to demonstrate where the band's true calling lies. They were much better off mixing the Slayer and Dark Angel influences with Death Metal, rather than attempting to focus solely on the latter. "Decadence Within" is one of the better ones on here, though the bar was set pretty low with the previous five songs. While the re-recorded version of "Injected Sufferage" (from the 1989 demo) is pretty decent, my personal preference would have been to include "Epileptic Seizure". The closer, "Malevolent Creation", is probably the second-best song on the whole album. It featu res some epic riffs and goes on to remind the listener of the intensity that this band is capable of, when inspired. 

From the very first time that I ever heard The Ten Commandments, til this very day, my overall impression is one of disappointment and wasted potential. Even if the whole record could have at least maintained the consistency of Side B, it would have been an uphill battle. Already, by 1991, the Death Metal scene was flooded with tons of bands that were much better than Malevolent Creation. These guys were average at best and follow-up albums like Retribution and Stillborn, illustrated just why their name did not merit mention alongside the luminaries of the genre. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients (1991)

Released in September 1991, Testimony of the Ancients is the third full-length from Pestilence. In the two years that passed since Consuming Impulse, much had changed within the band. Frontman Martin van Drunen left the group and joined Asphyx, leaving Patrick Mameli to attempt to fill the void as vocalist. His performance on this album would be but one of many elements that reduced this offering to a mediocre and forgettable affair. 

The inability to find a suitable person to handle the vocals was not necessarily something that the band could have helped. Perhaps, they tried and simple failed to recruit the right person. Either way, Mameli's dull voice is not the most damning issue regarding Testimony of the Ancients. The worst blunder of all was their decision to travel from the Netherlands to bloody Florida. Just like Napalm Death and Atrocity, the previous year, a European Death Metal band was so enamoured by the hype surrounding this overrated hellhole in Tampa that they crossed the ocean in order to allow their album to be butchered by the always-inept Scott Burns. 

Any possible potential that Testimony of the Ancients might have had was immediately thrown into the garbage the very moment that Pestilence decided to let Burns have a hand in the recording process. The sound of this record is the epitome of generic. The guitar tone, the mixing, everything reeks of mediocrity and sounds nearly identical to other albums from this same period that Burns ruined; e.g. Devastation's Idolatry, Malevolent Creation's The Ten Commandments, Napalm Death's Harmony Corruption, Demolition Hammer's Tortured Existence, etc. The differences between the sound of each record are quite minimal, and the third Pestilence L.P. falls into this same black hole of banality. The guitars lack any rawness and the clicky double-bass is enough to drive one mad. 

Beyond the extreme detrimental effect of Morrisound butchery, the album possesses other flaws. In general, the basic songwriting is all over the place. There are a few decent pure Death Metal tracks, like "The Secrecies of Horror" and "Lost Souls". But then one is assaulted with filth like "Twisted Truth" and "Prophetic Revelations" that utilize unwarranted groove riffs and really dumb things down. Then there are the more 'progressive' aspects of this wretched album, such as the addition of keyboards and the instrumental interludes between every song, which I find to be very pointless. Songs like "Testimony" and especially "Presence of the Dead" are filled with worthless wankery in the same vein as Death albums like Human and Individual Thought Patterns. Speaking of which, Mameli's voice is yet also very generic and dull, sounding quite similar to Chuck's performance on Spiritual Healing, with a bit of John Tardy mixed in. All in all, he really fails to differentiate himself in any manner, whatsoever.

Testimony of the Ancients is a complete waste of time. There are two passable tracks on this record, both of which are ruined by the production and the lackluster vocals. It's almost difficult to believe that this is the same Pestilence that released the essential Death Metal classic, Consuming Impulse, just two years earlier. This just goes to show that most bands should close up shop after one or two albums, as many just lose their true creative spark and end up releasing sub-standard trash. It also serves as another bit of evidence that Scott Burns was one of the very worst things to ever happen to Death Metal. Avoid this.