Thursday 20 June 2024

ALBUM REVIEW: Pestilence, "Levels of Perception"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length (Re-Recordings)
Date Released:26/04/2024
Label: Agonia Records

“Levels of Perception” track listing:

1. Horror Detox (re-recording)
2. Mvlti Dimensional (re-recording)
3. Mobvs Propagationem (re-recording)
4. Sinister (re-recording)
5. Dehydrated (re-recording)
6. Dominatvi Svbmissa (re-recording)
7. Land Of Tears (re-recording)
8. Necromorph (re-recording)
9. Deificvs (re-recording)
10. Twisted Truth (re-recording)
11. Sempiternvs (re-recording)
12. Ovt of the Body (re-recording)

The Review: 

Pestilence are one of the greatest death metal bands ever. The greatest death metal band from mainland Europe, certainly. They were progressive before others. They embraced the melding of genres when others wouldn’t or couldn’t. In Patrick Mameli, there exists a contradictory and bullish figure. A man capable of extreme music and music of extreme complexity and beauty. The martial arts enthusiast looks and lives like his music sounds; uncompromising, full on and intense. Make no mistake, Mameli is Pestilence in the same way that Lemmy was Motorhead or Dave Mustaine is Megadeth.

Re-recordings by bands of older materials are usually done for one or a couple of several reasons. It can be that the band was screwed by their label(s) and need to reclaim their own material. It can be to improve on the sonic quality- or lack thereof- of the original. It can be to re-work/re-imagine the songs and give a fresh reading to the fans.

Or it can be, simply, unclear. Much like the production and mix deployed across this set of 12 excellent pieces of music. While the Cavalera brothers can easily point to the lo-fi production values for their reasons to re-record “Morbid Visions” (fair enough) and Testament can put out “First Strike Still Deadly” as a kind of updated-smorgasboard of their earlier work, the fact is that Pestilence albums have always sounded, for the most part, excellent (criticisms for “Doctrine”s tuning and use of eight string guitars aside). “Consuming Impulse” still sounds raging to me. “Testimony of the Ancients” sounded great. “Hadeon”, decades later, is just crystal clear and beastly.

Mameli has served this up as a kind of re-recorded best of and as a compilation, I can’t fault the song choice.

Their latter-day work is expertly produced and written. Patrick Mameli is a musical visionary, no doubt. He is an innovator in the death metal genre and can be seen as a musical genius without living peer in the tech/prog/fusion-metal world. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that “Spheres” has been understood as a brilliant melding of death metal and jazz. Similarly, albums like “Hadeon” and “Exitivm” are just incredible; vicious, dissonant, atonal, strangely memorable and featuring inhuman dexterity from the musicians involved.

Let’s look to the music first: a version of “Dehydrated” from “Consuming Impulse” is here! Versions of “Land of Tears” and “Twisted Truth” from “Testimony…” are here. “Necromorph” from “Obsideo” is here… the track listing is eclectic and career spanning. A strong start.

“Horror Detox” from “Resurrection Macabre” kicks things off and is a vicious burst of death metal. “Sinister” from “Doctrine” is a real rager, as well. “Multi Dimensional” from “Hadeon” and “Mobvs Propogationem” from “Exitivm” are both really strong tracks. In fact, the song selection is great- I mean, all Pestilence albums are at the least good. Some are simply incredible.

I can confidently state this: the songs are excellent. The musicianship is jaw dropping at times. Some of the passages in tracks like “Land of Tears” blow my mind, thirty years plus after I first heard them. However, and this is a big however; the sound of this record does not compare- in any way- to the sound on any album I have mentioned so far.

When I first listened to the version of “Horror Detox” here, I thought it was a demo. It’s weirdly muffled and boxy. Through headphones, it sounds like everything is competing with everything else in the centre of your head. It almost has a mono like quality to the sound. This is at its most glaring when listening to it next to any competently produced/mixed/mastered album of the metal genre. I’d been listening back through the back catalogue prior to listening to this and when I finished “Hadeon”, I pressed play on this and… wow. It’s a huge step down and a real lo-fi shock to the system. It sounds like it hasn’t been mastered at all, such is the lack of brightness and lack of listenable sheen. It’s also quiet. Really quiet.

It really is the strangest thing, you get world class musicianship and material paired with the production values of an incompetent death metal band in the mid 90s- and I should know; I was in one.

The genesis of this album has been a troubled one- the controversy over the original AI art (I thought it was a cool cover, to be honest, but I appreciate the arguments for and against) and then the collective head-scratching as to why this exists. On a more positive note, once you are a few tracks in and have adjusted to the sound/mix/production, this is a very strong collection of songs.

Honestly, I can’t find fault. It’s not possible for me to pick a kind of ‘best of’ Pestilence comp, but I can’t really argue with the choices here. It’s 12 lessons in death metal mastery in just under 45minutes. No issues there. For a death metaller who has never heard Pestilence? I mean, they could start here- but they probably shouldn’t. Just stick on… any studio album. You’ll get quality all the way.

Here, you get great music, great playing and awful production- which is a gripe I feel almost churlish for making. Take “…AJFA” by Metallica as the most obvious example of this issue- a flawed experiment, a classic album, a terrible mix. BUT, that was an album that stood alone and had no peer. The material on “Levels of Perception” does have a peer- every song has been recorded, released and heard before and they are all excellent in their original form.

Maybe there is an over-arching concept here that I’m missing. Maybe Patrick is planning something, I just don’t know. As always though, don’t take my word for it. Have a listen for yourself.

If you do start here, I urge you to listen to the music and take the compositions on their own merits- forget the production and enjoy a masterclass in progressive death metal from a unique band. No other band sounds like Pestilence, they are a unique proposition. Let’s hope the forthcoming studio album of original material (“Portals”) gets everything right- not just the songs and playing. In conclusion, I recommend all Pestilence albums and advise anyone who has never heard the band to listen to them all. If you are a long-term fan, by all means pick this one up as well- but expect differences that you may not appreciate.

Band info: facebook