After a month of mulling it over I’ve asked myself any number of questions pertaining to the value of ‘Exitivm‘, the ninth and latest full-length album from Netherlands-borne death metal installation Pestilence, yet most all of them amount to bartering my fan-to-artist ‘relationship’ with little regard for what exactly the producer, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter maestro Patrizo Mameli, wants from the equation as an artist. As a die-hard fan I’ve been lukewarm to most every release beyond ‘Spheres’ and in approach of ‘Hadeon‘ in 2018 you’d gotten the rawest and most honest response I could’ve managed for an album that’d finally relented and returned to the classic thrash influenced death metal style that’d placed the band on the map in the mid-to-late 80’s. I’d kinda gotten what I wanted and it was cool, just alright. Thrilling as maniacal and organically scratched-out death/thrash metal will always be, ‘Exitivm’ appears to suggest the artist is carefully measuring commercial interest/established fanbase with his own interests in modern music, which have long leaned towards the cold machinery of cinematic technical death metal and the “danceable” factor of 90’s groove metal. Do I really think the Pestilence camp is that calculated in terms of style? No, in fact the more time spent sitting with this new record the more it revealed itself as a clean and commercial death metal guitar record with its pieces jammed out within severe templates setup to meet a certain quota of attack, complexity, and movement with no serious fealty to the ‘old school’ that defines the brand itself. They’re not really messing around but, we’re getting a clangorous and keyboard-hounded thrashing technical death metal album nonetheless and… it is -good- for what it is but at this point the experience is all muscle memory; I’d even go as far as to say it is almost all muscle and mosh without any love lost between Mameli and all but his most devout fandom. It is his band, his vision and you’re either on board as a fan or swimming back to shore.

I appreciate that mindset, though the results have varied in quality for my own taste over the years. Instead of recapping my thoughts on their earlier career, again, or explaining in detail what I’d not liked about the three albums prior to ‘Hadeon’ I’ve resolved to emphasize the idea that this is not a direct follow-up to the previous record but it does call back to their glory days in a similar fashion. Why obsess over the legacy of an artist who refuses to sit in one place and stagnate? If there is no escaping fan egotism on my part or, an examination of egotism in others when it comes time to analyze a “legacy” death metal artist savored by so many then, the right choice is to move forward and see where my taste potentially lines up with the artist. The primary goal here on ‘Exitivm’ centers upon building momentum via technical mechanisms of force for the purpose of chopped-out and high speed grooves and the chosen texture of guitar distortion and keyboard-heavy approach of ‘Testimony of the Ancients’ is the right place to start in terms of seeing eye-to-eye on what Pestilence have done right in the past and what makes ‘Exitivm’ rightfully part of the larger discography. So, it makes perfect sense that the first single from this album “Morbvs Propagationem” introduces ‘Exitivum’ on common ground. Just as I’d loved the Nocturnus-esque presentation of the songs (not interludes) on ‘Testimony of the Ancients’ I’ve gotten the same feeling here and this is inarguably intentional. The lyrical focus offers no such parity though, back in 1991 lyrics centered around ancient wisdom, otherworldly revelations and the tribulations of being defined by one’s actions whereas today the subject is cataclysm, societal/environmental destruction, global dictatorship, and ruminations on modern mental isolation and uh, aliens probably. Mameli has never lacked for subject matter but he’s definitely packed quite a lot to say into this album’s presentation, a negative and paranoid worldview that probably isn’t as dead serious as it comes across.

Deificvs” comes directly after as both the third track and second single and here the spongey staccato riffs Mameli is generally known for are the main feature. No doubt the association will be with ‘Spheres’ for this one due to the atmospheric placement of the keyboards and the main voicing of the rhythm guitar tracks. This is also our first hit of terribly boring mosh riffing at the ~2:15 minute mark as they transition into the leads. The song itself is pure exhibition and tension meant to help build the early fervor of the full listen though I didn’t appreciate the mid-90’s mosh riffing in reprise at ~3:25 minutes. This piece is most indicative of what ‘Exitivm’ pushes out on a regular basis at slightly varying tempo and alternating between riff-accentuating keyboard hits and the more atmospheric support they provide for patternation. Every song lands under four minutes, each tend to feature a similar number of riffs and crack into at least one solo. All of this lands just fine, I mean at first it’d expressed a bit of tunnel vision for a certain type of riff but the tides slowly shift over the course of the album. Peaking again around “Pericvlvm Externvm” with a sort of circularly swinging riff-type that’d catch my ear regularly, and then again with my favorite piece, the title track “Exitivm”, which is satisfyingly elastic in its robotic movement, atmospheric spreads and shredding solos. This is the satisfyingly weird side of Pestilence that we’ve gotten little of beyond 1994 or, not enough at least.

Where I think Pestilence lands the most direct punch is in keeping these songs short, groovy and reigning in the album to about 40 minutes long. By crunching out direct to the point pieces that are mildly technical and largely anxietous they’re in good keeping with the theme the album presents and the result matches up well with the expectations of style nine albums creates. Other than the nicely overdriven guitar sound and sharp, brutal drumming from former God Dethroned drummer Michiel van der Plicht there aren’t a ton of real surprises or drop-dead awesome moments on this record. It sounds exactly like you’d expect Pestilence to sound after 35 years and numerous revisions to the line-up, polished and provocative but also restless and panicked in response to a doomed planet. If you haven’t bought a record by these guys since 1994 I don’t know if this is the softest landing from that point, ‘Hadeon’ will ease you in far better, but the quality here is on par with that previous record and there are enough nods to their classic days that ‘Exitivm’ may win old heads over. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Agonia Records
RELEASE DATE:June 15th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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