Every death metal fan during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s must have heard of Pestilence. This classic band was one of the many to fall from grace during the mid ‘90s when the death metal scene became saturated with mediocre bands and the world (or at least America) had turned its ears to grunge.
Pestilence began in Holland in the mid ‘80s as a brutal thrash band. The lineup, consisting of Martin van Drunen (bass/vocals), Patrick Mameli (guitar), Randy Meinhard (guitar), and Marco Foddis (drums), recorded two demos before gaining the attention of Roadrunner Records. These two demos, Infected (’86) and Dysentery (’87), were pretty raw affairs, sounding somewhat like a cross between Possessed and Schizophrenia-era Sepultura. After signing to Roadrunner, Pestilence unleashed their debut album Malleus Malficarum in ’88, further refining their approach to brutal thrash. Although the album was considered a “try out” for the label, the new material was tighter and more focused than the demo material, and was a killer debut nonetheless.
But before long, guitarist Randy Meinhard left the band to pursue other musical avenues. His new band, Sacrosanct, went on to record three albums: Truth is, What is (1990, classic old school thrash), Recessed for the Depraved (1991, focused and mature thrash), and Tragic Intense (1993, haunting and depressing thrash). Their debut was released on No Remorse Records while the latter two were on 1MF Records.
Meanwhile, Pestilence had acquired a new guitarist by the name of Patrick Uterwijk. And in 1989, the band released its second album Consuming Impulse. Gone were the days of thrash! Consuming Impulse was a full transformation to death metal. From a musical standpoint, things got much heavier and more haunting. And vocally, Martin van Drunen moved away from the cleaner vocals in favor of the sick, twisted, acidic growling everyone has come to love.
But a lineup change occurred once again. This time, vocalist/bassist Martin van Drunen left to front a new band. That band was Asphyx, one of the kings of doom-death metal. Filling in for the departed original vocalist/bassist Theo Loomans (RIP), Martin went on to record the classic monstrosity The Rack (1991), as well as the Crush the Cenotaph EP (1992) and Last One on Earth LP (1993), all of which were released on Century Media Records. Martin also had a brief stint in the death metal band Comecon, providing vocals on the band’s second album Converging Conspiracies (1993, Century Media Records), which was the band’s best album both vocally and musically. Word had it that Martin also formed a band called Submission, supposedly with Randy Meinhard. It is uncertain, to me at least, whether or not this is true, and if so, what the band ever recorded.
Pestilence was faced again with the challenge of replacing a member, being without a vocalist and bassist. So while recording their third album Testimony of the Ancients (1991), they enlisted bassist Tony Choy, who at the time was playing with technical death metallers Cynic, who were in their demo stage. Patrick Mameli then took over vocal duties and with this lineup, released the album and toured for it. At a time when death metal was exploding from various regions of the planet, Testimony of the Ancients was probably the album most people became familiar with first. The new material wasn’t as abrasive and twisted as the previous album, but the band’s musicianship continued to grow, the direction became even more focused, and the album had the best production job of the band’s catalog.
But Tony was really never a permanent member, and ended up going back to Florida to hook up with Atheist and help fill in the bass slot recently vacated by bass-god Roger Patterson (RIP). Tony helped record the band’s second and third albums for Death/Metal Blade Records: Unquestionable Presence (1991) and Elements (1993), respectively. Meanwhile Pestilence enlisted the talents of Jeroen Paul Thesseling.
Over the years, the Pestilence guys were getting into other forms of music, primarily jazz-fusion. And after Testimony of the Ancients, the band wanted to cross jazz-fusion with metal. Plus, for their fourth album they wanted a different kind of producer…someone who wasn’t familiar with metal music. But the band received negative responses to their new material, and ended up choosing Steve Fontana, who had worked with guitarist Marty Friedman. Finally, the fourth and final Pestilence album, Spheres, was released in 1993. With every album, Pestilence went through some kind of a change. And Spheres was no exception. Pestilence mixed jazz-fusion elements into their patented death metal style, and through the heavy use of synth guitars throughout the album, they created a new and unique approach to death metal…something the genre needed at that point in time. However, the new musical direction alienated many of the band’s fans. Roadrunner didn’t like the album, especially the US office, and refused to support the band. Subsequent touring also proved to be troublesome. Pestilence’s popularity had risen with the release of each album, but unfortunately, so did tensions between the members. So after a short period of time, the band unanimously decided to call it quits, feeling they had reached their “creative climax”.
In 1994, Roadrunner was kind enough to release one last CD from Pestilence: a best-of entitled Mind Reflections, containing tracks from all four albums, plus the extremely rare “Hatred Within” (originally released on the Teutonic Invasion Part II compilation) and six unreleased live tracks recorded in at the Dynamo Open Air Festival in 1992. More recently, in 1998 Displeased Records re-released the debut album Malleus Malficarum (which originally never saw an official release in Europe) including both demo recordings from ’86 and ’87.
Without a doubt, Pestilence remains as one of the greatest classic death metal bands. The late ‘80s/early ‘90s death metal explosion was a special time in musical history, and Pestilence was a special band.
So where are the guys now? Martin van Drunen, after doing a few recordings with Asphyx, joined up with Bolt Thrower, filling in for original vocalist Karl Willets. But Martin was diagnosed with Alopecia, an illness that caused the loss of his hair. Not feeling up to the task of performing live in this state, he left the band prior to the recording of Mercenary (1998). What has he been up to since then? And did Submission really exist? Randy Meinhard, as previously mentioned, did three albums with Sacrosanct before disappearing. Anyone heard from him lately? Tony Choy, of course, played in Atheist until their demise. Rumors had it Tony was playing in Caribbean cruise ship bands lately, but may make a return to play on a new Atheist album. Anyone have any more information? Patrick Mameli lived in the US for a short while after Spheres before returning to his homeland Holland around 1995. Getting back into music, Patrick was done with metal, due to his overall frustrations with the scene, and wanted to concentrate his efforts on jazz fusion. At one point he had a project named Gestalt, which he described as being a cross between jazz, fusion, trance, ambient, and the doomy atmosphere of Pestilence. But he’s been quiet lately…so what’s the deal? The other members of Pestilence, Patrick Uterwijk, Marco, and Jeroen, were rumored to be involved in various jazz-fusion bands, but does anyone know for sure?
If you have any information relating to Pestilence, of if you have contact information for any of the members of Pestilence (and Sacrosanct), by all means please email me (email@example.com)!! I would also extremely appreciate any information on Submission.
Martin van Drunen
Tony Choy (bass)
Cynic demo – cover