Pestilence @ DNA Lounge
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Metal's touring packages this year remind me of the Senior PGA tour. Grey-haired warriors that still have game are taking to the road and playing for audiences split between young fans and elders worried about the value of their 401(k) packages.
My concert-going looks culled from a pile of 20 year-old ticket stubs: D.R.I. active again after Spike's long recovery from colon cancer; Saint Vitus, who are gracing my hometown with a second show this summer; and Fear Factory, who rose to prominence when the elder George Bush was president. Pentagram is taking a belated victory lap, and Autopsy reunited to play the Maryland Deathfest and is now planning a new album. Exodus never got off the bus.
Add Pestilence to this lengthy list. The Dutch death metal cornerstones released a ho-hum album, Resurrection Macabre, in 2009. They were supposed to play MDF last year, but visa problems forced them to return to the Netherlands. This summer, 16 years after their last U.S. appearance, they finally arrived.
They also brought along a cadre of bands, perhaps too many for one evening. Sacrificial Slaughter started the long night with a short set of classic death metal, simple but effective. Nashville's Enfold Darkness offered an interesting contrast: moments of grind and tech death that lapse into free-form jazz. Vocalist Justin Corser bore an uncanny resemblance to a young Salvador Dali.
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Vital Remains followed, opening with "Icons of Evil" from their last album. The band, all hired guns except for founding member Tony Lazaro, sounded good enough, but sorely missed the presence of guitarist and drummer Dave Suzuki. The multitalented Suzuki, who could riff like Ralph Santolla and drum like a multi-armed Kali, was the reason Dechristianize and Icons were powerful, and the band seemed sorely lacking without him. Warbringer closed out the lengthy opening. Their albums aren't worth repeat listens, but you can't deny their energy and enthusiasm.
One thing in particular separated Pestilence from the openers: tone. Fat, rich tone is an elusive thing. Bolt Thrower has it, and Asphyx (featuring one-time Pestilence vocalist Martin Van Drunen) has it. Tony Iommi and Tom Warrior almost invented it. When it comes to death metal, it's what separates the adequate from the extraordinary, bands like Obituary from also-rans that increasingly rely on Grand Guignol covers and lyrics.
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Despite a lengthy absence, Pestilence still has a striking sound that engulfs like a cocoon or a parasite. Even when frontman Patrick Mameli took one of his many solos, the sound never flinched; you were still ensnared.
Pestilence isn't a band that rocks out – they are rigid and stoic on stage. The most interesting thing to watch was the band members' hands; Jeroen Paul Thesseling (also of Obscura), who plays a fretless bass, has a fluid style that reminded me of a concert cellist.
The band wisely steered somewhat clear of their recent album, although opener "Horror Detox" sounded better live. The material from Consuming Impulse was best – particularly "Dehydrated" and "The Process of Suffocation". Pestilence didn’t avoid their once-controversial and now lauded album Spheres and played the "The Level of Perception" early in their set.
Pestilence did impart a valuable lesson. Technical chops are good. But having a distinct and deep sound, one that moves listeners to the bones, has a better chance of getting you a headlining tour after two decades on the shelf.