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Interviews Pestilence

Interview with vocalist/guitarist Patrick Mameli and bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: December 18, 2011

The reunited Dutch Death Metallers Pestilence were one of the headliners of "Helvation Festival II" that was arranged at DOM, Helsinki, Finland 9.-10.12.2011; De Lirium's Order from Finland, Russian Septory and Greek Acid Death warmed up the audience that night before the Dutch Death Metal masters hit the stage.

Pestilence's follow-up album titled "Doctrine" was released this year on Mascot Records and hasn't been hyped as much as the band's 2009 comeback record, "Resurrection Macabre". To find out what happened in between these two Pestilence records, both vocalist and guitarist Patrick Mameli and bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling wanted to share a few words with The Metal Crypt – telling us briefly what made them to use a 8-string guitar on "Doctrine", about the Slayer experience, the first US-tour with Death and Carcass in the early 90's - and the reasons why Pestilence don't do as much touring nowadays as they used to do in the past...

Live photos by Luxi Lahtinen.

Luxi: First off, this is gonna be your 2nd show here in Finland; last time you played at Tuska Festival in 2009. Guess you have some good memories from that show, too?

Patrick: Yes, it was a great show. We had Tony Choy on bass and Peter Widoer on drums. That was an awesome experience for us because that was the first time for us for coming over to Finland, and noticed you had a nicely, well-organized Metal festival – and I think people really enjoyed seeing us play at that festival. Hopefully we can live up all the expectations that people may have towards us, and do a good show here, too.

Luxi: Pestilence's sixth studio album, "Doctrine", was released on Mascot Records this year, and music-wise, it's slightly, may I say, more experimental-sounding than your comeback album, "Resurrection Macabre" which was released in 2009. Can you tell us what happened in between these two records as musically they very much differ from each other?

Patrick: For me it's like... Well, let me put it this way: We set a goal that we should never record the same album twice, as so many Death Metal bands tend to do nowadays. We want to explore a bit more with our sound, and have a different view with the same topics but still at the same time, trying to stick with our distinctive Pestilence. However, we try to come up with new ideas all the time just to make it a little bit more interesting for ourselves too – and not only for the listeners, you know. The thing is that we have to play this material for a long period of time, so we have to make sure that the songs are good enough to be played over and over and over again - without us getting bored with the stuff we play, you know. It's just the Pestilence style, and every time we just want to have a little bit different approach to our style, which we have actually always done before. When we came back with "Doctrine", that was again a bit different music-wise what we did on our comeback record, "Resurrection Macabre". Also, with different musicians you are gonna have a different input over your music, you know. Also, with every album it seems like we have a line-up change (*laughs*). On the "Doctrine" line-up, new Pestilence guys also gave their own inputs for this record, so that's why it sounds the way it does. It's wasn't like a pre-planned thing like "Ok, we are gonna try to be a little bit more experimental on this record, playing-wise", or anything like that.

Luxi: Both you and other Patrick in the band, also used this 8-string guitar on the recordings of "Doctrine". Did using it give this more experimental approach to your songs on "Doctrine" that you were looking for, and was it actually your very first time using a 8-string guitar in the Pestilence recording sessions?

Patrick: Prior to the recording of "Doctrine", we had that guitar maybe a year or something like that - in between "Resurrection Macabre" and this new record. We came up with the idea of using it for "Doctrine" because we wanted to have an extra dimension to our music - and at that time I was getting a little bit bored with the 6-string guitar, and I really didn't want to tune down because it does not sound that good anymore. So, I guess that was kind of natural development from us to add that 8-string guitar to our new songs on "Doctrine". The difficulties started when we went into the studio and started recording the songs. We had some problems with the bass sound because it couldn't go that low, so... Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Jeroen: Yes, sure. It was a little bit frustrating for us because we had this concept in our minds, in which the guitars would be low. We thought about having the bass sometimes on those higher registers - not all the time, of course. But actually after a day or two, we noticed that it didn't work out. Somehow I think it's a psychological thing if the bass guitar is tuned on the exactly same note (or notes), or even higher - it just does not fit, you know. You miss low – even if the guitars are already extremely low, we figured out that the bass needed to lower. For that I used a 7-string bass to make it work the way we wanted it to sound on the recording. It's like a really thick cable, like an F-sharp string.

Luxi: I remember the times when Pestilence had released "Testimony of the Ancients" album – and then you got this "Spheres" album out two years from that, people really didn't know what to think of that record, as it was way different musically compared to "Testimony", obviously splitting your fans to two different groups too: Some liked it – whereas some others couldn't stand it at all because "Spheres" sounded way too different from "Testimony...". How has the response been about "Doctrine" overall?

Patrick: Well, Pestilence seems to like that kind of band that is always caught with controversy, you know. It's always like you have got two different Pestilence camps; the one with Martin van Drunen in the band, and some Pestilence fans stick to the "Consuming Impulse" album, saying it's the only real Pestilence album. It really doesn't matter if you come up with a new Pestilence album – as that's their album they only accept and love. Or, then there's this more progressive-sounding Pestilence, where you have some "Spheres" and a little bit of "Testimony" and stuff like that. So, it's always like people are comparing our albums to OUR albums. I'd love to see people taken an album for what it is. I do understand that people want to have references – and Pestilence has always been a band that changes so much from album to album. That's why we want to challenge ourselves and our listeners, to open their minds, and overall be more open-minded, you know. I have always thought that Metal fans are pretty much open-minded, you know, within the actual styles, to be creative themselves in their thoughts of accepting music from people that have put lots of effort into their own music, to make a good album I guess. For "Doctrine" we have gotten very, very good reviews from people. One reviewer has said about it like: "This is the music I want to put on when I die because it's so awesome". And other people have said about it: "I don't like the vocals - I don't like this - I don't like that", and then they go and say "I like "Consuming Impulse". What can we do really?

Jeroen: I don't think "Doctrine" is THAT progressive; it is in balance. It has a lot of old Pestilence riffing; the typical Pestilence riffing, brutal stuff is still there. But of course there's a little bit of fusion, or mix of jazz chords, the soloing of Patrick and stuff like that. The rhythm section - with Yuma on drums, raises rhythm-wise like very interesting grooves, but not the way it's like 'super-experimental', you know. "Doctrine" still fits very well to a series of previous Pestilence albums.

Patrick: And then again you still have the fans who say Marco Foddis is a better drummer, you know what I'm saying. So, it's like what can you do? There's nothing really you can do. I mean, that's the way like life is I guess, you know.

Luxi: Do you believethat some of those Pestilence fans that thought your follow-up record "Doctrine" was probably a bit too experimental album for them music-wise, compared to, let's say, your comeback album "Resurrection Macabre", might even start accepting and even liking it when some time has passed by?

Patrick: I guess what's gonna happen is that in 10 years people are gonna say "Doctrine" is a great album as they did for "Spheres". I remember at the time when we recorded "Spheres", nobody liked that album; everybody seemed to hate it because it was totally different from what we did on "Testimony". It always evolves within certain time, you know. What can you really do, you know? We are musicians and make music for ourselves, too. When you produce a CD, then you are stuck to that certain time frame. You have different music styles - let's say Pop music or jazz, these types of albums are more like timeless albums because they fit into any time frame, you know. But we always want to challenge ourselves because we don't wanna be one of those bands that when you go and buy a new album from them, you are not gonna be surprised any more by what you hear. I would rather have people saying: "Wow, it sounds different. I don't like it" than people saying: "Wow, it sounds like an album no. 3., or 4. or 5.".

Jeroen: I agree. But coming back to your original question, I think the market is more open-minded these days, that's for sure. That was one of the main reasons for that why was not accepted in general. But I think in this case it's not so easy, you know. As Patrick said, you have 2 different groups of fans - and to satisfy both of them, you know already if you make some choices to please both of the parties, you know some people are going to complain anyway - just no matter what you do. It's always hard to please everybody. But in general - like I already said, in general the market is definitely more open-minded than let's say, 17-20 years ago.

Luxi: What kind of concept stands behind the album title, "Doctrine" anyway?

Patrick: It didn't start out as being any kind of concept album for us or anything like that when we started putting this together. Eventually it kind of evolved into that, you know. What we have always done with Pestilence earlier, either we have touched politics - or we've touched religion, or death lyrically. This time we touched religion on "Doctrine" I guess. It just gave us a kick in our butts because so many bad things have happened lately in this world - with child molestations by priests, travesty and so on. The constitute was always like good, you know; if you are a Christian, it always represents good, you know, as we all know it. In the past, there have been a lot of wars on religion. Most of the wars always start because of some religion-related matters. We wanted to have a different view on those topics that also fit into the music. But it's not like so much of a statement from us that we do hate religion because there are a lot of people that actually do good and they feel comfort with the idea, or fact there's a god - or whatever, existing for them, you know. They feel like they get some support from their gods. When you do something with the lyrics, you have to make people think about what you say, you know. It's not like I myself am like an anti-Christian or nothing like that. For me it's no problem to address about things related to religions. Most of the people that are Christians, it's not even possible for them to address about their own religions because they are a part of it, you know. I would never say like 'Fuck God!' - or 'I hate God!' because that's like bullshit. We are all grown men, you know. It's like if it fits into the music, then why not to use it. We are into the theatrical part of it, and it sounds good to us. But we really don't want to offend people by our lyrics, you know.

Luxi: Do you believe most people are manipulated by many religions, or religion-related authorities in today's world, and without religion's strong presence and reign over these people, their life would be way easier to tackle?

Patrick: People need instructions in their lives - and people need authorities to tell them how to live their lives. Otherwise it would be a total chaos anyway. Whether it's a religion, or politics - or just whatever, it's there for a reason, you know. Some of it is for greed, some of it is for money, some of it is for power - whatever. We address all those issues on the "Doctrine" album. I have no idea where we are gonna head on our next album like lyrically - I just have no idea. It's always like a surprise when that moment comes when someone of us is, let's say, in a creative mode. I never know when that happens. When it happens, you have to challenge your brain - and do something with it, I guess.

Luxi: Whenever you switch yourself into a lyric writing mood, how closely do you actually follow the flow of music in a song, kind of like determining what type of lyrics fit into this or that song?

Patrick: Most of the time it's like vice versa for us. It really depends on what I may come up with within certain times. If there's like a strong lyrical idea, I might base the music on that lyrical idea, like the way what's been told in this one lyrical part, and then trying to feel and figure out the rhythm part in it - and from there onward we just try to add more stuff around it, you know. Sometimes I have a riff or two, and the lyrics need to fit around those riffs - or then sometimes the lyrics just go totally out of that box, like they wouldn't fit into a song at all, you know. It's the kind of creative process that sometimes I myself even don't know how it works for us. Sometimes the words come before the actual music for us, or just the other way around.

Luxi: Are there some fragile and sensitive topics - having been inspired by this cruel world that you'd like to write about, but you simply don't dare to put your thoughts into a lyrical form due to possible censorship issues that you perhaps might face if they got published on a Pestilence record?

Patrick: No, that would mean my own self-conscious would limit myself in my thoughts. But like I said earlier, I'm not there to offend anyone with my lyrical approach. I guess I can write lyrics just about everything. The only thing there that is important for me, the lyrics should fit into the music, and it shouldn't be just plain corny bullshit about, you know, killing people, blood and stuff like that. That's just not our kind of thing, you know.

Jeroen: And then "Doctrine" is more actually about that, you know, people should believe what they believe; think about what's happening, think about the consequences of what they believe. Those types of lyrics hold more truth in them than some sort of 'rebellious anti-Christian' lyrics, you know.

Luxi: I guess one of the highlights for you during the whole career of the band, was to support Slayer on two dates in the Netherlands this July. So, would you mind telling me how it was to share the stage with them, and what kind of impression the Slayer guys left you afterwards as persons?

Patrick: To be honest, we did just one show with them. We got to hear that we are opening up for them, so we were kind of opening up for the Slayer fans that were there of course for Slayer, and not so much for us naturally. But the fact is that we are a Dutch band playing in Holland, so people pretty much know us already who we are, I guess. It was just fun for us to be able to say we opened up for Slayer, but to say that we have actually met them and have an actual conversation with them, no. I mean, we shared an elevator with them for 30 seconds or something (*laughs*). We also took a picture with Tom - and I guess with Kerry. Kerry is a nice guy.

Jeroen: We had fun, but it wasn't any special thing - like spending time together with them. I guess it just was more like preparing for the show for the Slayer guys; staying in a hotel and stuff like that - like we also do.

Patrick: I guess some of those guys even didn't know that we were opening up for them. That's just the way it works, you know.

Luxi: You toured quite a lot right after "Resurrection Macabre" came out in 2009, crisscrossing around Europe, the U.S.A. and South America. For "Doctrine", you still haven't toured that much, but I guess that's probably about to change in 2012, isn't it?

Jeroen: Well, it's all about making decisions, you know.

Patrick. Honestly, let's say it all has to do with where we stand in life at certain times, you know; where we feel we don't have to tour so much anymore because those people who are our true fans, get our (new) album anyways - and if they wanna see us playing live on those few gigs we do, we are there for them. We really don't want to do any extensive touring anymore because we have our day jobs, so it makes it impossible to tour for a long period of time, you know. Also, we feel it's not so necessary for us to tour so much anymore; it should be something special for us, you know what I am saying? If you tour a lot, people get to see you a couple of times - and it's not that special anymore. For us, we really feel that recession is just really hitting Europe very bad at the moment. People just don't have any money to finance touring anymore. I mean, you see now like 'packages of bands' going around Europe these days - and those bands are ok, let's say, but unfortunately the don't draw that big crowds anymore because these bands and the fans of them also do have some decisions to make like: "I can do this and that show, I do this and go there and there...".

Jeroen: ... just to see then all. You have to make choices. That's also the same thing for us; we have also to make some choices - and not like only finance-wise but more like time-wise, you know. We can do a tour. I agree with Patrick what he just said that it's also nice if you can play exclusive shows as well. If we - for example, had been here for 3 or 4 times last year, I don't believe that many people would have showed up for our show. In that way you also risk of getting that many people for your show, people going to say eventually: "Ah, I seen already in that other show...".

Patrick: That's so true.

Luxi: The "70000 Tons of Metal" cruise in January 2012 will undoubtedly be one of the highlights for Pestilence as far as playing live is concerned. Just checked there's already 29 bands confirmed for this cruise out of 40 expected bands on the final bill - this including such names as Cannibal Corpse, Amorphis, Atheist, Overkill, Riot, Samael, etc. - just to name a few, so I am pretty sure you are already looking forward to jumping on that boat; playing for all those Metal fans on that cruise - and then party a little bit as well?

Patrick: Yeah, absolutely! That's something we haven't ever done before. Like I said, we are always into exploring new grounds, and this was offered to us and of course we accepted it. It's gonna be such a great experience for us, that's for sure - as South America was such a great experience for us already. Again, we try to do a little bit more exclusive shows - like weekend shows and stuff like that, playing a show in Dubai or do a show in Moscow, do a show in Berlin, do a show here and so on. It makes more sense to us than being on the road for 3-4 weeks, sharing a smelly bus with two other bands or more, you know.

Jeroen: You know, in the end if you are touring for 3 or 4 weeks, the fun is pretty much over. The actual performance is not really getting any better. I mean, if you play the same set list every night - or even if you would have two different set lists, you still play almost the same stuff every night. What you get out of it, you play sloppy, you are not so focused anymore, the dynamics of every show go slower and slower. You can see that happening with every band. But I think it's just normal; it's a natural thing. If you go home and take a break - and you will do it over again, you will play way just better. You know, performance-wise of course when you are on tour and play a few shows, everything gets sort of oiled; playing like a machine. But then comes the point - and it's for every band the same: After 2 or 3 weeks, you get tired. All this waiting before every show, it's kind of tiresome, you know.

Patrick. Yes, there's this huge amount of waiting involved... and it's terrible. It takes away some of the dynamics and the fun of playing, you know. Also, travelling hundreds of kilometres every day, all this waiting and waiting, doing sound checks, eating and so on, it becomes such a boring ritual very soon. You should perform within an hour, and try to be enthusiastic about your own music and try to reach your audience. It's just sometimes kind of difficult, you know.

Luxi: If we go back in time in Pestilence's history for a moment, it was said a guy called Nick Sagias - who used to be a member of a Canadian Thrash Metal act called Overthrow in late 80's/early 90's - replaced Martin van Drunen, but just stayed in Pestilence for a couple of months or so. What's the true story behind his short stint in the Pestilence camp? Didn't he want to relocate to Holland or what?

Patrick: Well, when he came over to Holland, and stayed at my place, personality-wise it just didn't click between him and the rest of the band. And you have to realize that sometimes things just don't work the way you may have originally hoped for. And when things don't work, it's simply better to say goodbye and that's what happened with Nick. We went into the studio without a bass player and soon after that we found Tony Choy - and from that moment on, everything went better for us, I guess. We just had to go through this - I guess ritual - to realize that he just wasn't the right person for the job, you know.

Luxi: You also made this US tour together with Death and Carcass back in early 90's - and if I can recall something out of it when I talked with your manager of those days, it was kind of a fucked-up tour altogether. What reasons this tour didn't go as well as you probably hoped for?

Patrick: Well, if you tour, and you are a young as we were back then, we really didn't think about money. We just tried to live with peanut butter sandwiches for weeks and didn't have money at all and that was just awful. Plus, when you tour with some well-known bands, you always have some personalities on tour that really don't class with you on a personal level - and that's what happened to us. It's very difficult when you are young and inexperienced to find that level where you can find that piece of acknowledgment and happiness, you know, to do a tour - and to do so. We were so excited to be in the States and being on tour with Death - just to do that. Of course the fans got to see us and we got to see a lot of different places, but we didn't make any money, and a lot of times we were not treated very well. That overall wasn't such a good experience for us after all.

Luxi: You have been in Pestilence since the beginning of times. What kind of thoughts do these two demos still bring to your mind (*shows the original Pestilence demos to Patrick*)?

Patrick: Wow...!!! Cool to see these nowadays very rare original Pestilence demos in your possession. As for the first Pestilence demo where I sang the vocals (1987 demo titled "Dysentery"), of course I still do have some recollections from those days. That was our first demo and we couldn't play that well, but let's say we did our best anyway. It was a long time ago, and you can hear influences from Slayer and Possessed in there a lot. Yeah, those two demos were our first efforts in becoming well known - and look now where they took us. The logos on them look different than what we have in use nowadays. Ha, seeing those demos gave me a funny feeling. It's been so long that it almost like those demos are detached from us now. We have grown so much from those days as musicians, and listening to these old Pestilence demos now makes me to think how awful players we were back then. It's nice that you have those original demos anyway; actually I made those copies by myself. I have my fingerprints on both of them: I made both covers and logos for them. It's crazy that I actually made the covers for them.

Luxi: I think that was it Patrick, so I wanna thank you for this nice conversation with me and wish you all the best for tonight's gig.

Patrick: Thank you so much. It was interesting and very cool to talk with you.

Other information about Pestilence on this site
Review: Consuming Impulse
Review: Testimony Of The Ancients
Review: Resurrection Macabre
Review: Doctrine
Review: Doctrine
Review: Exitivm
Review: Mallevs Maleficarvm
Review: Spheres
Review: Mallevs Maleficarvm
Review: Levels of Perception

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