Caught Between Purity And Conservatism – An Interview With Pestilence

Pestilence 1 Pestilence mainman Patrick Mameli isn’t the type of guy who minces words. Ever since he reformed his band back in 2008 it’s been an uphill battle. While Mameli likes to stay in the present many long time Pestilence fans prefer to stick with the band’s classic early 90s material. Obsideo (Candlelight Records), the band’s latest album, is a particularly solid release. Ghost Cult caught up with Patrick and talked with him about the new album, staying true to your musical vision and discussed the rampant conservatism within death metal as a whole.

Obsideo is a logical continuation of the two previous Pestilence albums. To which extent is this a deliberate choice?

I can understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t see it that way. It would suggest that I’d listen to my own music to find something of a common thread. It’s basically me trying to play my instrument to the best of my abilities. I guess the way I play and the music that subsequently comes out can be described as a certain style. When I play a certain guitar riff it’s instantly recognisable as Pestilence. A record is nothing more than a snap shot of a certain timeframe captured in music. I have Dave Haley (drums) and Georg Maier (bass) in my line-up and they have given my music a whole new creative angle.

Both Haley and Maier are highly skilled musicians, so to what extent do you adjust your style of playing and composing to match their musical prowess?

Well, with Haley living on Tasmania and Maier in Germany it’s mainly composing via Skype and email. I send them complete songs with programmed drums. They add their parts and ideas and send those files back. That’s mainly how the material for Obsideo came to be. Sometimes their ideas work better than my own and we decide to go with their ideas instead of mine. There’s certainly space for their ideas. That way everyone is involved and that’s exactly what keeps the music fresh and interesting. Since I wrote most of the music and the lyrics I have the stigma of being a dictator, but that’s not exactly true.

Pestilence have a distinctive technical edge, but it never gets in the way of writing well-rounded songs. How important is this for you?

It’s very important and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m inspired by pop music in that sense. When you listen to really good pop and dance songs they always revolve around a central theme and that’s exactly why those songs stick in your head all day long. In death metal and metal in general there’s a tendency to put as many tempo changes and guitar riffs within a single composition. It’s basically being technical just for the sake of it, instead of actually helping the song along. I use that principle from pop music in my own music as well. I really want people to discover a recognisable theme in my own music within 30 seconds. The guitar riffs I use for each song are fairly technical and intricate, but they never get in the way of a good song. Combine this with a solid groove and you have a high calibre Pestilence track.

Since you brought Pestilence back to life again a lot of different musicians came and went. To which extent is this a deliberate policy?

I really like to work with new people when I start on a new Pestilence record. It keeps me sharp and it also opens doors to new possibilities. It also prevents the band from stagnating. When I would play the same old songs with the same old line-up again I’d become a caricature of myself. I like to have new people around me, because that stimulates my own creativity. The combination of Georg Maier’s and Dave Haley’s musical prowess within the Pestilence musical context just creates such a surge of creative power, it’s almost terrifying. If I can keep the current line-up intact for the next Pestilence album, that would be great. However, in practise people come and go really.

You’ve released three Pestilence records so far since you brought the band back, yet people still keep on clamouring for the early 90s material, preferably played with the same line-up from back then. Does it get under your skin at times?

Yes it does. Some programmers from certain venues actually demand that certain Pestilence songs are played, otherwise they won’t book us, because their audience want to hear our classic songs. It’s getting close to blackmail in a way. For me as a musician it’s important to play new songs, otherwise recording and releasing new albums is a complete waste of time. I don’t want Pestilence to become some bloody nostalgia act or something. I don’t want to become a caricature. It’s almost sacrilege for some people that we play our older songs on an eight-string guitar instead of a six string guitar. What’s up with that?

Death metal as a whole is a fairly conservative and musically stagnant genre. Perhaps that might be a reason?

It’s true that the genre has certain musical rules and you’re not allowed to go past those rules as a musician. When you choose to do that the more conservative fans won’t look too kindly on that. Chuck Schuldiner from Death passed away years ago and he was the guy who really brought the genre to a whole new musical level. Nowadays that position is vacant. Moreover, it’s financially unwise to really challenge musical boundaries and that’s why a band a like Cannibal Corpse is basically putting out the same music they did twenty years ago. They need to make a living out of their music. As for me I keep making new Pestilence records because I really like to create new music and not because I need to make a living from my music. I have a regular job, as do all the other members from Pestilence. The band is my creative outlet. Pestilence was always viewed as the European answer to Chuck Schuldiner and Death. Now they’re gone I don’t know to which other band we can be compared. Of course people like to stick to certain death metal aesthetics, but I really like to work according to my own rules and give death metal my own twist.

Would you consider moving away from death metal and adding some more progressive and post metal elements to your music? Luc Lemay and Gorguts did something similar with Colored Sands and that record’s been met with lots of accolades.

I know Luc and his band from years ago. They started out as a fairly standard death metal outfit, but over the years they really stepped up their game and evolved into something totally different altogether. As for me I don’t listen to other music and certainly not to death metal. I’m way too afraid that I will incorporate other musical elements in my sound. I like to keep Pestilence pure in that way. My manager keeps me informed what’s going on as tour opportunities go, but otherwise I’m completely cut off from the genre as a whole. I’m constantly trying to find new angles in my specific style of writing and playing my guitar. In that regard Obsideo represents what Pestilence is all about in this day and age.

Raymond Westland

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