Pestilence - Spheres
Roadrunner Records
Technical/Progressive Death Metal
11 songs (33:19)
Release year: 1993
Pestilence, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Goat

Although it was one of the most controversial things ever at the time of release, Pestilence's most experimental album has gone through a renaissance of opinion since and, considering the year it was released was something of a high tide mark for Technical Death Metal with classic releases from Atheist and Cynic, that Spheres isn't hailed as a classic is beyond me. The most common complaint made against this album is that it 'fails', that the experiments are not carried through, that the songs are poor - all of which are nonsense. I can't think of an album that carries out its purpose better than Spheres, really; Patrick Mameli may well challenge Glen Benton for the title of the most irritating Death Metal frontman in existence, but the man knows exactly what he's doing when it comes to Pestilence, and every album released by the band from their debut to Spheres is simply excellent, little short of genius.

We'll examine the earliest albums from the underrated Dutchmen another time; today, Spheres rules the roost, and what a listen it is. Moving from the catchy yet twisted Death Metal thrashings of the opening through a mid-album Jazz-fusion that travels to planes beyond, the album never fails to grip, and that it was done (as the booklet proudly states) without a single keyboard is all part of the pull. Yes, just like Iron Maiden, Pestilence chose to use the guitar synth, which for the uninitiated is a keyboard in the shape of a guitar, more or less. It may seem a small difference, but it resulted in a nicely spacey album, the likes of Personal Energy mixing Death Metal with Jazz and Psychedelic Rock rather impressively, and Atheist-ic moments like interlude Voices From Within are a breath of drug-laced air before the heavier likes of the title track come surging in to take your mind away.

It's important not to forget that as out-there and leftfield as Spheres can be, it's equally a kickass Death Metal experience, building on the band's past excellence to create something that uses the otherworldliness as an integral part of the songwriting without sacrificing the headbanging experience. Take opening track Mind Reflections, infectious riffing riding over the backing synths before Mameli's distinct yowl comes in - a nicely technical and clearly audible rhythm section supporting the ever-stranger guitar tones, neat little instrumental interlude, multiple solos, it has it all, and it drags you right in. Following track Multiple Beings is even better, amazingly catchy riffing and a weirdly ominous sci-fi atmosphere working together perfectly - the songwriting is perfect, throughout. Spheres is one of the most relistenable albums there is, easy to put on again once it's finished and appreciable on multiple levels - basic catchiness, or as a deep and complex mechanism.

Don't think that this album is at all mechanical, though. The production is warm and organic, the instruments feel alive, the sound is just short of clean, not at all polished and clearly of the early nineties. Jazzy influences give a real sense that this was made by talented human beings, rather than the seemingly monstrous origins of other Death Metal - the one complaint it's reasonable to have against the album is the quality of the synth noises, such as the trumpets on Soul Search, which do require a little suspension of disbelief at times. The vast majority of the effects, however, sound great, are well-thought-out and placed perfectly enough for this to be an easy issue to come to terms with.

Infamously, Mameli turned his back on the Death Metal scene around the time of this album, speaking of how he preferred Jazz and criticising moshing - not the best way to set up an audience for a stylistic change, especially considering that Spheres was in no ways a reach for the mainstream. It wasn't a sell-out album, as it has been criticised - heck, there's not a vast difference between it and the surprisingly experimental Testimony Of The Ancients! Spheres is, instead, the sound of a band changing tastes and releasing an album that reflects that. Obviously, anyone wanting pure old-school Death Metal from the band should look elsewhere, but if you're open-minded towards Jazz influences in Metal then Spheres is an underrated classic from an underrated band that was far ahead of its time, and that deserves another chance from all.

Killing Songs :
All - album is one long trip
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Pestilence that we have reviewed:
Pestilence - Obsideo reviewed by Goat and quoted 83 / 100
Pestilence - Doctrine reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
Pestilence - Malleus Maleficarum reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Pestilence - Resurrection Macabre reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Pestilence - Testimony Of The Ancients reviewed by Jack and quoted CLASSIC
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