Reviewed: March 2020
Released: 2020 Xenokorp
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Belgian death metallers Pestifer might not be the most productive band around, but what they lack in quantity, they have to this point made up in quality. Expanding Oblivion is just the band’s third album in 16 years, but it follows two well-received earlier albums and builds on their unique combination of progressive aspirations and technical savvy contrasted by raw-boned, old-school production.
Since 2014’s Reaching The Void, there have been some big changes with the band. Long-serving guitarists Antoine Paterka and Emerson Devresse left in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Valéry Bottin has since taken over as sole guitarist, joining brothers Adrien and Philippe Gustin – bassist, drummer and founding members – and vocalist Jérôme Bernard. But that hasn’t made a huge difference in the band’s sound or approach.
Expanding Oblivion is elastic, abrasive death metal that recalls Death during the Human/Individual Thought Patterns era or Atheist from way back in the day – with just a hint of vintage Voivod’s spaciness – or newer acts like Blood Incantation and Horrendous who boast both formidable chops and a seeming disdain for modern tech-death polish and processing. The album has a freewheeling, jam room vibe to it, thanks to its live-like sound, although some additional rhythm guitar has been mixed in to give the lead breaks more heft.
But it’s a far cry from the sterile, rigid, punched-in sound of so much of today’s tech-death where it’s hard to tell whether it’s real and spectacular – to borrow from Seinfeld – technologically enhanced or just plain bogus, a frequent complaint about bands like Rings Of Saturn, etc. Instead, Expanding Oblivion offers sprawling and intricate death metal with a progressive flair and playfulness that is not only genuine but quite likable.
For his part, Bottin proves an agile yet assertive guitarist, delivering a mix of roiling, gnashing and shimmering riffs, while the fluid bass lines and clattering drums of the Gustin brothers lead the way on “Ominous Wanderers,” “Swallower Of Worlds” and “Grey Hosts.” The turbulent arrangements make a fitting platform for the sci-fi themes that run through the album – even if they run counter to the lower-fi approach to the production.
The crusty exterior, and Bernard’s raspy bellow, though help give the sometimes flighty material some real teeth, while the odd splash of piano, as on the brief “Lone Entity” and the lead-in to the epic title track that closes the album, or the jazzy jaunt of “Ultimate Confusions” add some levity. Add it all up, and Expanding Oblivion is not only worth the wait, but a welcome break from the usual.