By Neil Hauer
After over a decade of silence, Dutch death metallers Pestilence have returned to the scene they helped create. With their new album, Resurrection Macabre, hitting shelves this past week and the impending European tour, they’ve quickly been making up for lost time. I recently caught up with founder and frontman Patrick Mameli and discovered some very interesting things about the new record, the old and new faces in the current lineup, and the band’s plans for the upcoming year.
Hi Patrick, Neil from Ultimate Metal here, very glad you could take the time for this interview today. How’s it going?
I’m doing just great. I’m sorry that I have a delay here of seven minutes, but the interview I was doing before this kind of went on a little too long. I hope you understand.
Don’t worry about it. I understand you’re very busy these days with the new album out.
Yeah, thank you. We really love the album ourselves, I think it’s the best Pestilence
So you guys are back after a long absence, which is big news in the metal world, as you have a lot of younger fans (including myself) who never got the chance to see the band back in the old days. What made you decide to reform the band?
Well, it was like a snowball effect. When we quit Pestilence
, what, fifteen years ago, we were so fed up with the whole industry and playing music, you know. It didn’t feel good any more. It was just going on stage, and it was more like getting a real job or something, and after fifteen years we just have a healthy appetite for coming up with brutal stuff and just playing live again. It was like, this is going to be a blast, you know, and also I think this is the strongest Pestilence
lineup yet. We have three-quarters of the Testimony of the Ancients
lineup, and we have a better drummer now; Peter’s [Wildoer, drums] just amazing, and brings this Pestilence
stuff to a higher plane. Not being in the scene for the longest time, there were still signals in the past that people kept talking about Pestilence
. Some people called it a “cult band,” or “death metal legends,” or whatever. We never thought of us as really being “cult” or whatever, it’s just funny that in those fifteen years people haven’t forgotten about us.
The drumming on the new album is particularly impressive. What was the decision making process behind adding Peter, and how did you hear about him?
I guess it was through a mutual friend. I knew this guy that was a drummer at the conservatory here in my country, and I was looking for musicians, and he said, “well, you should check out this drummer,” and that was Peter. So I got his phone number, and I called him up, and you know first I wasn’t thinking of Pestilence
at all, just wanting to do something else, and it kind of evolved and finally after the C-187
disaster people kept asking about Pestilence
, and it kind of took form and we just decided to resurrect the monster. Cause if I want to come back and do something, it’s not really a “reunion” because it’s not with all the old guys, but if I come back under the name Pestilence
, it has to be a Pestilence
-worthy album, with the typical Pestilence
riffing and what not. And with Peter on drums, like I said before, he just blows me away and he totally delivers and brings some more colors to the Pestilence
How’d the recording of the new album go? Any specific stories from it you’d like to share?
Well, you know, it was very clinical, because not everybody was in the studio at the same time. I mean, it was like Peter comes in, and he plays to the click track and my ghost guitar, and I’m just sitting there with him, just being blown away. That in itself, those were the cool moments, and after recording we would just hang out, have a couple drinks and just talk about ordinary things in life, you know, family stuff and kids and all that crap. So there were not crazy things going on or something like that, it was just very clinical in that respect with the recordings. It’s not like when Tony Choy is doing his bass parts, that I’m headbanging to it, or whatever crazy stuff. It’s just being very focussed on what you’re doing at that point, and trying to get your point across.
Speaking of Tony, I noticed that he’s involved with the Atheist reunion, too. Did that make any scheduling for the album recording or the tour difficult?
No, not really. He’s using the same booker that I am, and of course you can’t be in two places at the same time, so they made sure that when he’s doing stuff with Atheist
that it’s not in the way with Pestilence
or the other way around. He’s a busy man, he’s the only person that kind of has to live on music, so that’s like doing all kinds of stuff. Some people sort of look down on him because he’s doing Area 305
or whatever, but he’s just a real musician, trying to make a living off music. But yeah, he’s my bro, he’s a very cool guy who’s been there since Testimony of the Ancients
, we’ve stayed in contact and he’s given a full one hundred percent of his time to Pestilence
. I’m happy that he’s doing other stuff, that means that it’s going well for him.
Tony Choy playing live with Atheist, Wacken 2006
A lot of other early death metal bands you’re often associated with, like Atheist, Cynic, and Asphyx, have been coming back recently, too. What do you think of the whole resurgence of old school death metal that’s going on?
Well, it’s not something that I could really predict, it just kind of fell into place. It’s not like all these other bands jumped on a bandwagon, but there’s always a good feeling of nostalgia and reliving the past, and if you like what you’re doing or what you did in the past, why not do it again? The popularity of any style always goes up and down, you know, first pop music is big, then all of a sudden it’s grunge, and then it goes into R n’ B, and then it goes into whatever, nu metal, anything. It just fluctuates a lot, and so it took fifteen years for this style to have an uplift again and be more popular, and it just happened for us to be there. I guess all those other bands that quit playing, they feel the same. If they have a chance to record again, if they have a record label that is interested in them, you know, why not do it?
What do you think of the current death metal scene, with some of the newer bands that are out there? Do you keep up with that at all?
You have to describe me some of those bands. Are you talking about Malignancy
, or Devourment
, or what type of music, because there’s so much of that stuff going on that one could lose track.
I was curious about a lot of the more extreme technical death metal bands, groups like Meshuggah, Nile, bands in that style.
Well, I have to say I do like Meshuggah
a lot. That’s probably one of the few heavy bands that I enjoy listening to myself, since I don’t listen to much music at all because I don’t want to get influenced, but I think Meshuggah
is a pretty unique band. Most of the time I think it boils down to the drummer, you know, if the base is good, then it’s probably good, and it kind of lacks in a bunch of bands that are too focussed on blastbeats, not knowing anything about dynamics and technique. Also, some of the new bands, they lack song structure. I’m not here to bash anybody, cause I was there myself, you know, trying to be technical or whatever, but I think now it’s more about getting structure into a song, and what makes a great song, you know? You have to think about all these aspects instead of just trying to play sheer brutality, because if you do that, you can’t distinguish any one song from the next song. You have to have a theme going for every song, and you can kind of build on from that.
Back in 1993, you guys released the Spheres album. It had a mixed reaction at the time, but over the years a lot of people have really warmed up to it, and it’s been influential to a number of bands. What are your opinions of the album?
Well, I can’t really listen to any of our own music, because when I listen to those albums, I listen to it too analytically. Like, “okay, now it fluctuates here with the rhythm,” or, “that cymbal was fucked up,” or, “I should have done this here or there,” with the leads and stuff, so I can’t really enjoy my music, you know, since I’m listening to it this way. And especially with the Spheres
thing, you know, that was a thing where we were set up with Roadrunner at that time and they didn’t give us the support, and all these other bands were coming up and they were getting support. So we felt like, “okay, well then we’re just gonna do whatever we want to do ourselves,” and that’s when we came up with Spheres
. You know, people say it was years ahead of its time, but it didn’t do us any good, and in retrospect now looking back on it, maybe it was not such a good idea to do that. If we had taken maybe a safer road and done Testimony of the Ancients
2, or maybe even done this album, we might have been more popular. So you don’t know, you can only learn from your mistakes, but I think on Spheres
, the fact that we tried to do something else that was misunderstood at that point said something about where the whole scene was at that time and where we were at that time. There’s a bunch of songs on there that I think are still okay, and we’re still going to play two or three songs off that album as well. With Peter on drums, it’s just going to sound more brutal and just fresh, and it’ll give those songs a second shot.
That’s good to hear. Have you ever considered doing another fusion or jazz-influenced metal album or project?
Yeah, but then it would be picked up by maybe death metal people like when I did C-187
, which is a little bit different from Pestilence
, and it would get bashed, because people know me and my name is connected to Pestilence
and death metal. So if I would do something, then it would have to be very different, and maybe, for example, like Alex Skolnick
, you know what I’m saying? Totally nothing to do with metal and just go right into jazz, but then don’t forget there are so many jazz players out there that would blow me away, so I would never be as good as these guys, so it’s just whatever you want to do. I mean, if you want to be an obscure jazz guitar player, yeah, I can play in front of fifty people, and that would be my life. So I guess once you get older, I think that it’s just what’s important to you, and eventually I guess I will turn into a jazz guitar player and play in a jazz club or something like that in front of fifty people or twenty or whatever.
Going back to the new album, it seems a lot more brutal than any of the past stuff you’ve done. Was it a conscious decision to go to a heavier sound, or did it sort of happen naturally?
Well, it happens naturally, and it was also a conscious decision. Like I said, if you want to come back, you’ve got to come back and top the stuff that you’ve done in the past. I would say that this album is like what Painkiller
was for Judas Priest
, you know, coming back with more brutal stuff than you’ve ever done before. So with that in the back of my mind, I knew that I had to come up with some technical yet brutal stuff that people could still relate to as being Pestilence
, and it had to be interesting for me as well, you know, so I had to kind of challenge myself to be the best guitar player possible. But keep in mind that you kind of have to please the fans as well, because they are the guys that buy your album and support you and go to the shows, and enjoy the music. So it was somewhat a conscious decision, but with this lineup, I feel that I can do this, because of the talent I have here with these guys.
Pestilence circa 1990: Patrick Mameli, Patrick Uterwijk, Marco Foddis
Another aspect that’s somewhat new for you is lyric writing. Marco and Martin used to handle that back in the old days, and this is the one of the first times you’ve done it with Pestilence. How did you find that?
I found it pretty difficult, and there was a bit of pressure on me, because in the webzines and in the magazines and on forums, there were people saying things and sort of wanting to put me in a certain direction, saying things like, “I hope these lyrics are as good as Marco’s or Martin’s.” But I’m just a different person, and I’ve never written lyrics before except for Testimony
. But I’ve always had to sing what these guys could come up with and those wouldn’t be my words, so sometimes it was more difficult to get into them, whereas now they’re my words so it’s a little bit easier to get into my own lyrics. They kind of came out really easy once I got started, though. When I write, I have the title of the song, and this is how I start composing music, which is not something that has never been done in the past, but for example, when I came up with the title ‘Hate Suicide
,’ there’s a rhythm to the words “hate suicide.” So from there on I started writing the chorus riff, and after I had that I started coming up with the other stuff. So yeah, it came kind of naturally, but I never really thought of playing it and singing at the same time, so that’s going to be a killer, cause I’ve already checked and I didn’t even think of that as far as my rhythm guitar parts, and the vocal lines are totally in the opposite direction, so that’s going to be pretty difficult for me.
Shifting gears to touring for a minute, what are your plans right now? Are there any plans to come over to North America, or are you going to stay in Europe for this album, or what do you think?
Well, we’re doing the Maryland Death Fest, that’s one thing that we’re doing. We have an American booker, but the States, they’re so big, you know, it’s a huge country so you can’t really reach everybody unless you tour for four or five months, and I really don’t want to do that because I would miss my family too much. So in that respect, I’m just going to have to be flown over for maybe a week or two weeks so I can do a mini-tour and just go to the main cities or the big cities and see if we can arrange something. To be honest, I don’t know whether there’s going to be a US tour or a full-blown US tour. I would certainly hope so, because I’ve always felt very comfortable touring America and meeting lots of interesting people over there as well.
What are some bands you’d like to tour with? There are a lot of fans out there dreaming about an Atheist/Cynic/Pestilence tour…
Yeah, well we’ve toured with Cynic
in the past, and I’ve never played with Meshuggah
, I’m going to play with them in some festivals and stuff, so… well honestly, I don’t really care what band I play with as long as the people are cool and I think the music could be a cool combination. I would love to share the stage with any band that has pure intentions and wants to support the scene and the music, you know, so I’m happy to play with any band, really. We’re playing with Wolves in the Throne Room
for some shows, which will be cool. I would love to play with Meshuggah
, that would be awesome, but since those guys are already touring a lot and touring the States, they probably have other plans.
Are there currently any plans for a live CD or DVD?
Well, yeah. I mean, I have an option for yet another Pestilence
recording, and I was thinking myself of a live album or a live DVD, so I think that’s on the way, that we’re probably going to do something like that. Of course, the conditions have to be right, and I don’t want to overproduce any stuff. I want to keep it as true and as real as possible, so if there are some mistakes here or there, I don’t mind. I would love to have a live album out.
Going back in time a bit, back when you guys started playing in the mid-80’s, extreme metal was a really new phenomenon, with thrash metal and death metal just starting up. What were your biggest influences, and how did you get into this kind of music?
Well we started in ’86, and we were listening to lots of stuff cause we were into the tape trading thing, so we would get tapes from the States and we would listen to the stuff that was available at that time. Of course it was copied like a hundred thousand times, and it had a lot of fuckin’ distortion and you couldn’t hear too much, but we were listening to Mantas
, and old Death
and stuff like that, that really got the juices flowing, you know, got our blood flowing. So I would suggest that our first real influences were bands like Possessed
, for example.
Martin van Drunen, second from left
Also, back in 1990, on the Consuming Impulse tour, everything seemed to be going great for Pestilence. You had a groundbreaking new record, great tour, and lots of support from the fans, and then seemingly out of nowhere Martin van Drunen left the band. He’s been pretty vocal about his side of the story, but what’s your take on what happened there?
Well, I don’t really know what his side of the story is, but I know that my side of the story is the side that the rest of the guys feel and share, and it was a mutual decision that Marco and Patrick and I had in not wanting to continue our musical relationship with Martin. So Martin didn’t leave the band, we kicked him out, it’s just as plain and simple as that. The guy is not professional, he drinks way too much, so this guy is drunk on stage, doesn’t even feel like he has to play any strings, just making a fool out of himself, you know? And now, he’s like, I don’t know how he’s doing now cause I haven’t talked to this guy for the longest time, so I guess he’s doing good with Hail of Bullets
and with Asphyx
, which is good for him, but he was in a bunch of bands, right? He was in Bolt Thrower
and I heard they kicked him out because he was drinking too much, so I mean that is something repetitive, and I hope that he’s not doing that stuff now, because those other guys will have problems with him. So yeah, this was actually a mutual decision by us to not continue working with him on a professional level.
Well, Pestilence and Asphyx are both playing Maryland Death Fest in May, and I was going to ask if there was a chance of Martin joining the band for a song or two, but it doesn’t sound like there’s much chance of that happening.
No, there’s no chance at all, and it’s not me being childish over it or not wanting to do stuff like that, but I don’t see any good coming from him doing a song, since we’re not even on a talking level with each other, so why would I want to have him on stage then? Cause I’ve heard some of the stuff he’s been saying about me, and not through the main channels, like if he would do like a bigger interview where I would have a chance of reading it and could get pissed off at him. In those he wouldn’t say shit about me, but if he would talk to individuals or whatever and then they post that shit on the forums, then I can get to know what his opinion is about me, and then that pisses me off. So I don’t really feel that I have to share any stage with this guy at any moment in time.
One new thing about the music scene today is the whole advent of the internet and the digital age, and new digital mediums for music. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, it’s something that you can’t stop, you know, it’s just there. I mean, you can be the person that when it’s raining, you can say, “shit, it’s raining on me and I’m getting all wet,” or you can just let it happen because you can’t change it, it’s just the way it is. I just work with the tools that I have now, and some of the tools that you have now are better than the tools we could use back then. The internet is both a blessing and a curse. The C-187
album, it was on the already on the net maybe a month before the release date. We did fix that with this album, you know, it was not out at all. The good thing about it is that I can like get in touch with Tony Choy, sending him files over the internet, and back in the day that couldn’t happen at all. So now we can have an international group together, you know, sharing files and stuff like that. With sites like MySpace and YouTube, I mean, we’re probably going to do a video clip for ‘Devouring Frenzy
’ and we’re going to put that on YouTube. Back in the day, you had to try to plug that on Headbanger’s Ball or something like that, and now that’s out of the question, there is no death metal on TV. So YouTube and the whole digital world is pretty cool.
Just tying into that, another format that’s been coming back recently is vinyl. Are there any plans to release the new album on vinyl, or to re-release any of the old material on it?
Well, there have been some re-releases of our old stuff. As far as the new album being released on vinyl, I don’t know, but I would strongly suggest it, because there are still a lot of people that want to have that stuff on vinyl. And again, it’s nostalgia to have a real record, you know? So yeah, I‘ll suggest that to the record company and see if they can do something with that.
Wrapping things up, is there anything specific you’d like to accomplish in the next year?
I want to top this album, so that’s going to be a bit of a difficult task, but I’m going to do my best to come over to the States as well and tour there, and maybe go to some places that I’ve never been before in my life, and just tour and make a new album. It should be good!
Thanks a lot for your time, and good luck on tour!
Official Pestilence Website
Official Pestilence Myspace
Official Mascot Records Website