Pestilence, “Testimony of the Ancients” (1991)

pestilence_testimony of the ancients

I feel like the Andy Rooney of death metal at this point and if I start complaining about how today’s kids don’t respect their death metal elders, shoot me full of lethal cocktail and roll the corpse into the river.  Wait… is that too soon?  No disrespect meant to one of the great curmudgeons the world has ever known.

Listen while you read

This was Pestilence’s third album and the first one with decent artwork, thanks to Dan Seagrave and his Paintbrushes of Mystery. Compared to the “ant face” of Consuming Impulse, even a static painting of some chained metallic sphere is an improvement. It looked great on the cover of the vinyl; the cassette tape version is cropped a bit…


But who gives a shit about the artwork, right? It’s all about the technical death metal and Pestilence dishes it out like a soup kitchen on smack. The music was mostly written by Patrick Mameli (vocals/guitar) and lyrics by Marco Foddis (drums). Patrick Uterwijk held down the other guitar spot; Tony Choy was on loan from Cynic for the bass because Martin Van Drunen split to form Asphyx. Tony was an inspired choice on bass; not that his work is particularly brought up in the mix (it’s a Scott Burns recording, so… yeah) but he’s comfortable with the non-metal influences Mameli brought to the table and frankly the dude can bend, tear, spindle and mutilate the bass and still make it sound good.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about the technical nature of the music on this disc. Yep, it’s got some jazz-ish phrasing, some ideas outside the typical structure of a metal song, but come on—it’s hardly the Weather Report of death metal. That’d be on the next Pestilence album, the rather stunning Spheres.

To give this its due, this was clearly a different flavor of metal for the time. “The Secrecies of Horror” opens the album and after a super quick “intro” it’s all massive riffing and frantic drumming. This is technical death metal, a blueprint for future constructions. Mameli’s ideas are all over the place, the lyrics are semi-ridiculous, but it just works. “Twisted Truth” starts slower, almost blues death metal if there can be such a thing, before going apeshit haywire at the end. “Lost Souls” is a burner, more of a thrash thing. “Land of Tears” finishes off side one and that second riff is just speedy goodness incarnate.

“Prophetic Revelations” is like a lost Morbid Angel song searching for its Azagthoth; lots of lava, especially that huge opening riff. Then we get “Testimony”, which I’m hoping is still in the set list because, damn, what a massive song. Choy gets to show off briefly before “Presence of the Dead” and “Stigmatized” finish it off. Foddis’ drumming is pretty damn fun all the way through “Presence of the Dead”. And check out where “Stigmatized” goes—again with the jazz/blues influence—before launching back into full-throttle thrash.

Patrick Mameli reformed Pestilence a few years back and they’ve since released a string of new albums, as lethal as ever.