Baltimore’s long-disbanded Pessimist reunited in 2014. As a celebration of the re-grouping, the band has decided to re-release three albums. The first reissue, Slaughtering The Faithful, was re-mastered, then released on Halloween, 2015, by Obscure Records. Pessimist was a premier blackened death metal band on the East Coast late last century. The band combined speed, aggression, and technicality (like Cynic or Death), with razor sharp hooks and killer break-downs that would stick in your head, and make your neck hurt from all the headbanging, for days. The band was a formidable spectacle onstage as well. During his initial tenure, guitarist Kelly McLauchlin even garnered a cautionary folktale: someone stole his guitar from a gig. The thief then suffered for a week with gastrointestinal bleeding, decided the axe (and the act of stealing it) was cursed, and returned it to a local venue. Harmony was restored to the universe.
As a focused direction shift or purposeful change of sound for the band, Slaughtering The Faithful is brilliant. The album sounds like most brutal death metal from the late ’90s through mid ’00s: downtuned guitars, low and unintelligible guttural vocals, insane speed drumming. It’s a sound which Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse hammered home, then a whole subgenre cottoned on. Think of standard Malevolent Creation, Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Severe Torture, Broken Hope style and speed, then subtract about ninety percent of the breakdowns or hooks, and you’re left with Slaughtering The Faithful. No clean singing, no ballads, no beating around the bush: Pessimist is here to rend flesh.
One thing that becomes apparent after listening to Slaughtering The Faithful for a few minutes at a stretch, is that the drums fade a little from conscious perception: their speed becomes their undoing; they become a background texture. At that point, it’s easier to listen to how the lyrics and guitar solos are divided into each song: very freeform, whimsical, almost anecdotal – however the band chooses. The album isn’t really a riff factory – it’s more of a gauntlet-run of speed. There are plenty of technically-inspired moments, and definitely a few break-downs, though. As the band proved with its very progressive, technical side project (Psychotogen), these guys definitely know how to play, and are accomplishing a lot of the nuances deliberately. Tempo shifts during “Slaughtering the Faithful” are obvious – well-placed to create a rollercoaster of uneasiness. Discordant, dissonant riffing abuts accomplished, learned soloing. Song dynamics and vocal delivery are a uniform angry, aggressive, face-ripping, top-volume affair. For the aural change-up, two tracks on the re-release are a radio DJ’s announcements – one introducing the set and including an unrelated copyright announcement, and the other saying, basically “thanks for tuning in.” It’s sort of like sitting back, listening to college radio all over again: a nice experience to re-create on disc.
Most of the time, band lineup changes are beneficial, but in Pessimist’s case, it may have brought the band to lowest common denominator brutal death metal: the low guttural vocals, speed for speed’s sake, and monochromatic riffing. Gone are most of the catchy grooves and break-downs from Cult of the Initiated and Blood For the Gods. Additionally, even after adjusting the EQ, the album’s mix suffers both a distinct lack of volume and bass guitar. The bass is present though, and makes itself very well-heard during bass solo breaks. An explosion sound effect is louder then the entire band for the half-second it’s presented. At the point this was recorded, these men were industry pros, so it’s odd to hear such obvious errors. What’s great is how Slaughtering The Faithful is obviously not quantized or “gridded” into oblivion: a pointed, rare wandering pacemaker percussion backbeat, the occasionally-arbitrary guitar solo entry and exit points, the rhythmic phrasing of the lyrics make that abundantly clear. Featuring a “live” snare sound, it’s also obvious the drums haven’t been “sample tuned” to sound like anyone else’s kit. You’re hearing a real band in their most true form and glory here, with no excess technology to clean it up. To hear actual raw talent and actual practiced musicianship, fairly “unaided”, in the digital age is rare, and refreshing.
As for the buy versus stream option, perhaps Pessimist’s Slaughtering The Faithful has a better earphone/earbud mix then on an ambient system. If that’s the case, stream this if you’re at all a fan of the faster, more brutal, more uncompromising sort of death metal. The mix isn’t really up to par for a modern digital release; maybe the right underground listener on the right system can get it to sound loud and crisp enough to sear eyebrows, but it seems a little dicey to take that chance. Featuring fiery cover art depicting demons alight, the disc will be an enduring underground classic, and fans of brutal American death metal will love it.
Slaughtering the Faithful
Summoned to Suffer
Baptized in Blasphemy
Embodiment of Impurity
Stripped of Immortality
Summoned to Suffer (2000 Demo)
Hellhole Radio WNYU Intro Pessimist LIVE
Stripped of Immortality (Live at WNYU)
Summoned to Suffer (Live at WNYU)
Requiem (Live at WNYU)
Baptized in Blasphemy (Live at WNYU)
Pessimist Set List Hellhole WNYU
Band Lineup (current):
Ivan “The Evil One” – vocals
Kelly McLauchlin – guitar
William Hayden – guitar
Kelly Conlon – bass guitar
Chris Pernia – drums