An Interview With Pestilence – The Quest for the Holy Grail

Originally written by Melissa Mercury.

Hailing from the Netherlands, the influential death metal band Pestilence can be credited with creating the foundation for what death metal is today. Originating in 1986, they exploded onto the scene with their debut album Malleus Maleficarum and immediately joined ranks among death metal legends such as Death, Possessed, and Carcass.

Fast forward to 2010; twenty-four years later.

Pestilence has commenced its first tour of the United States following a less-than-stellar reunion for the album Resurrection Macabre. Once on top of the death metal mountain, these aging rockers find their revisit to the states – twenty years since their last tour, a humbling experience.



Before their Chicago gig, Metal Review had a chance to sit down with founding frontman Patrick Mameli and bassist Jeroen Thesseling to discuss some of the highs and lows of their return.

Patrick Mameli: Things have been up and down. We’ve had some rather peculiar, shady venues – and there have been some great venues as well. So we’ve got to see both sides. Some great turnouts, and some were like, WOW! – terrible turnouts. But, then again, the routing of the tour itself has been a little bit crazy. We wanted to do the whole US in 3 weeks, so you have to travel a LOT. So, the routing is a little weird at times. We had to play Chattanooga – whoever goes to Chattanooga? Haha.

Stuff like that happens. But, on the overall, it has been pretty ok.

MR: Compared to your expectations, where do things lie?

PM: Well, lets say – a bit below. I think that, in Europe, we’re used to a much different standard. I think that metal is way more accepted and underground as it is here. Its more a way of life there. There, we get to play the big venues and huge festivals, and here (US) its like – wow, where am I?

MR: How do things differ for you from the last time you toured the US?

PM: Back then, we had the privilege to play with Carcass and Death. That was a healthy, strong package. So now, we haven’t been in the music business for a long time. We didn’t know any of the bands, we didn’t know Warbringer, we heard about Vital Remains because of Glen Benton, but we never heard them.

MR: So, essentially, in the past – you were with other heavy-hitters. And now, you’re the big name on the bill. How is that? Is that bittersweet?

PM:  Well, you know, there are two sides of the story. You can go as the support for a bigger band, and make no money at all – but play in front of 2000 people every night. You know, we’re not making the big bucks or anything like that. Actually, we’re doing it just for the fun. Because when we go back [to Europe] we’re gonna play a lot of  festivals and make our money. Touring the US is more for the ‘experience.’

A sixteen year hiatus has found Pestilence returning to the music scene – and finding it now a different breed of animal. In a world of pro-tools, digital downloading, and Myspace – the heavy metal scene has drastically changed since the band’s heyday in the early ’90s.

Not simply the obvious changes such as cassettes to MP3s or snail-mail to Facebook – but changes in the music itself is what leaves Pestilence struggling with the transition from the ’80s to the ’00s. Mameli sees the old-school approach to writing death metal music as an art. This includes the careful and masterful formation of a song, which he believes is being lost on the new generation of headbangers and riff-blazers.

PM: Nowadays, its just ‘who is gonna be the fastest?’ or ‘who is gonna be the most brutal?’ – there is no structure anymore in their songs. I mean, if you put 25 riffs in a song, it doesn’t mean its going to be a good song.

MR: Do you and Pestilence value a good song?

PM: Always. Yes. Always.

Jeroen Thesseling: You want your audience, when they go home, to remember the chorus. To remember the songs. If they don’t remember any of the songs you play, then there is definitely something wrong with your structures.

PM: I mean, its all about getting hammered and plastered anyway, so whatever. But you’ve got your fans that actually know the lyrics, and know what you’re doing – and they can really appreciate it. And then you’ve got your fans who are there for the ‘brutal-ness’ of the sound. They don’t care if its Pestilence or – you name it…

Mameli reminsices of the ‘old days’ of death metal with a fond nostalgia of the brotherhood, the grassroots approach, and the passion of it all.

PM: The best years were when it was still very underground. Before there was the internet. When there were tape-traders. When you get your cassette in the mail and you are happy. Like 1982, ’84, 86. 1986 – that’s where Pestilence started. And ’84/85, that’s when Death started. I think that whole era back then – there was more of a mystique.

Nowadays, everybody’s in a band. Everybody plays music. Its not like those bigger bands what we grew up on.

MR: Was it a challenge to get that first record deal?

PM: No, we were lucky really. We really didn’t have to work for it. It’s crazy. Looking back at it, when I listen to the fifrst album, I’m like, “damn! I don’t even know why they signed us!” But, no, I appreciate it.

Sitting down with Mamelli and company provided a fascinating look into how the veterans craft their art and the system they have developed over the years to create new songs.

MR: Patrick – you write all the music?

PM. Yeah, pretty much.

MR: Do you think it’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself? Do you prefer that you have the reigns of control? Or do you hope to one day open it up for others to have input?

PM: Well, we’ve done it in the past. But, I guess, I’m just like a waterfall, you know? I have tons of ideas and it keeps on pouring out of me. And sometimes I just have to be stopped. And sometimes – when I start copying myself, then its time to stop. And then its time to pass it on to Patrick or Jeroen and see what they can do with it.

MR: So its not just you writing? It’s a collaborative process?

PM: Right, right…

As musicians age and mature, life begins to interfere with composing, performing, and making music. Jobs, bills, mortgages and kids make it all the more difficult to “Subordinate to the Domination” with each passing day. But Mameli still finds time to devote to Pestilence – regardless of how scant or informal.

MR: What inspires you? What gets your creative juices flowing? Do you have rituals or things that you do to get your brain in the mood for writing and playing?

PM: No, no, not really. It just happens. There is no explanation for that at all. Same as a painter. How does he start and when does he start painting? I will have an idea when I’m at my regular job and I can’t do anything with it. Then I’m fucked! [laughs] So I just go to the bathroom, take my cell phone, and just sing the melody or whatever – and most of the time I’ll go back home and listen to it and think ‘what the fuck was I trying to say here??’ [laughs] Sometimes its difficult.

MR: So, basically what you’re telling me is that Pestilence songs are written in the bathroom? [laughs]

PM: Not while taking a poo-poo, though! Not while taking a poo-poo! [laughs] The point is that it can be anywhere. The writing process can happen anywhere.

MR: So you would say songwriting just comes really easy to you?

PM: Yeah, but sometimes it is difficult. And when that happens, you just have to let it go, instead of force it.

MR:  You may get a lot of ideas on your own, but how far do you develop them? Do you have a little studio at home? Or do you program some drum ideas?

PM: Yeah, I definitely do that. I did that on Resurrection, and now, I studied drums for 3 years – so I can pretty much understand the way it all works. But I don’t spend so much time programming as I used to. Because I don’t want to hassle Yuma – or write the bass lines, that’s up to Jeroen. You just want to give that away. I’m not a bass player. I don’t know how a bass player thinks. So, he’s got all these skills to make it nice. Same goes for the other Patrick. He’s doing his own thing to it. So, combined its gonna be a nice.

MR: You don’t want to taint that creativity by writing out too much by yourself?

PM: Right.

JT: I think Patrick is mainly, he’s just putting the basics together. More of the ‘basics’ of the song. And then the rest of us come up with other arrangements, and see if it fits. If it fits, we can keep in there. But if it doesn’t fit, we can throw it out again.

PM:  But sometimes even the structure can change too.  Especially when you have little stuff in between that – a little riff or a little run that you can change to make it better.

Even simple tasks such as listening to music can end up being a burden in the schedule of a musician that must play the role of provider, employee, and death metal icon.

MR: What kinds of bands/music do you listen to?

PM: I don’t listen to music at all.

MR: Nothing?

PM: No.

MR: I have read that you listen to jazz, blues, classical, etc…

PM: No, I’ve done that in the past. But right now I don’t listen to anything. I don’t have the time. At my job I have to work and when I come home we eat, I put the kids to bed, and by then its 8 p.m., and then me and my wife have two to three hours to hang out, watch some television, or whatever we gotta do. And then we got to bed and that’s my life. So, other than that, I don’t have the time to listen to music.

But Mameli and crew keep a positive perspective on these time restraints and sees his lack of personal time as a strength for Pestilence and their music.

MR: Does it prevent you from being ‘polluted’ and ‘influenced’ by others?

PM: That’s the thing. If I would listen to metal – then I would get influenced by metal. If I listened to jazz, then I’d want to incorporate jazz. We’ve done that with Spheres already – and it wasn’t such a good idea back then, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to do it now.

I do listen to Resurrection sometimes. Just to be self-critical of things and to learn from that. But, other than that, I really don’t listen to music at all anymore.

JT: Silence can be a very good thing to reset your ideas because, to be honest, I don’t listen that much to music either. I mean, I listen to music, but not that much. I think there’s a lot of non-musicians listening so much more to music than I do. But I sometimes use the silence just to reset ideas. It doesn’t  mean that you don’t play music. If you study for 4-5 hours a day, maybe you don’t need to listen to anything after that. Its enough music for you already. Silence can be a great reset each day.

PM (to Jeroen): Wow, that’s interesting. ‘Silence resets your musical mind.’ I like that.

As we all learned from watching Anvil: The Story of Anvil, it can be hard to cope with the pressures of being in a band that was once heralded as the master of their craft. Expectations from fans are high and stress can be overwhelming, as you yourself have set the bar.

PM: I think its more challenging to top yourself every time. But, then again, younger bands that have no style, and have all these inputs that they can pick and choose from – its gonna be more difficult. The more choices you have, the more difficult it gets.

MR:  In a previous interview you made the statement: ‘I just want this band to make really exciting, innovative death metal.’ Do you feel you’ve accomplished your goal?

PM:  No, not yet. I mean, we’re still in our learning process with this new lineup. Resurrection was with a different lineup. That was the capabilities we had at that time, and was as far as we could explore at that time. And now we have Jeroen, and the new drummer Yuma, and its very exciting to have those guys in the band and I think its going to upgrade the next album to the next level. Because, if things stagnate – if the music stands still – then I’d just rather quit. If there’s nothing interesting for me to do anymore, then I’ll just quit.

I think that we can still be innovative. I know that the new album, Doctrineis gonna blow everybody away, not just death metal fans, but musicians in general – with what we have to offer. Because we’re going to try to dig very deep into all the levels we have done in the past. And try to top all that stuff.

MR: So, you haven’t met your goal – and you’re not going to stop until you do?

PM: Exactly. The quest for the holy grail.

Posted by Old Guard

The retired elite of LastRites/MetalReview.

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