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Spheres, the fourth and final album by the original lineup of Dutch death metal legends Pestilence, is one of the most criminally misunderstood and underrated albums in the history of metal. Largely reviled at the time of release, the bad reaction was demoralizing enough for mainman Patrick Mameli to split up the band and keep it on ice for around fifteen years. In the typical fashion of idiot trendy music journalists and fickle metal listeners to not recognize something groundbreaking for what it is until well after the fact, Spheres has been given something of a critical re-appraisal the last few years. Granted, it is a very odd album, and not exactly easy to get into, but the seeds sowed by albums like this have had a profound influence on today's technical/ jazz influenced death metal bands.
The early 90s was a time of enormous change in death metal. The basic formula wasn't cutting it anymore, and many bands began to branch out into strange new territories such as funk and fusion. Death did it. Atheist did it too. So did Cynic. And of course, so did Pestilence. 1992's Testimony of the Ancients had already displayed a noticeable shift in style for the band. The songwriting became much more technical, and also more open to the use of textures and atmosphere. Lyrical subjects became less about insects burrowing through your skin to more thoughtful reflections on consciousness and abstract themes (with a dose of religion for good measure). A subtle, yet noticeable fusion influence crept its way into the overall style, most notably in Mameli's increasingly adventurous soloing and use of uncommon chords. It was one of the most impressive albums of its era, yet the change wasn't quite obvious enough to alienate hardcore death metal fans just yet. Don't get me wrong, Consuming Impulse is a masterpiece and timeless example of great vintage death metal, but they clearly weren't going to be churning out derivatives of that for the rest of their career. This was a band that was going to progress whether you liked it or not.
For this album, Pestilence had a new lineup. Gone was the dazzling Latin influenced bass shred of Tony Choy, to be replaced by the more measured, jazzy style of one Jeroen Thesseling, later to find great recognition with those German giants of modern techdeath, Obscura (a band who owes a great deal to albums such as this one). Thesseling is playing fretless for the entire album here, which lends it a more subtle and interesting flavour. His technique is, even at this early stage, highly advanced but he never resorts to any blatant showing off, seeing fit to underpin the guitar riffing with massive, occasionally disjointed grooves, and occasional melodic highlights to provide counter-melody. All the previous members remain in place.
The actual sound of Spheres is likely to be the most off-putting factor for some. The production is just plain weird. Mainly the guitar tone, which has a strange "hollow" sound to it with a distinct lack of the low end common to death metal guitar tones. Guitar synth textures (NOT keyboards, as the band are so keen to stress in the booklet) also dominate the album providing everything from spacey pads to violin sounds. The vocal sound is also a little strange, more strangulated than guttural. Of course, 1993 was a prime year for groundbreaking death metal with albums such as Death's Individual Thought Patterns and Cynic's Focus blowing minds left and right I imagine. Although Spheres is not as stunningly intricate as either of those albums are, it is arguably the most unusual. The actual songwriting is largely quite straightforward, with basic and easy to follow layouts. The strangeness mainly comes from the bizarre riffing and Mameli's ever more demented soloing, and the guitar synths.
The most effective tracks on the album are pieces like "Multiple Beings", with its evil shuffling rhythms and cavernous bass groove. The title track, which is the catchiest track on the album and displays some great melodic soloing. Also "Demise of Time", which us probably the most "crazy" track on the album. Check out that closing riff! Wacky. As with the last album, there are some well-placed interlude pieces to break up the main songs. These include Mameli's creepy violins of "Aurian Eyes", Uterwijk's brilliantly spacey "Voices From Within" and Thesseling's dreamy bass solo piece "Phileas". The band also attempts to go full-on fusion with "Personal Energy", which is largely successful and features a startlingly pretty jazz break halfway through.
This should have been the album to take Pestilence over the horizon, but sadly it wasn't to be. The predictable reaction of a lot of the band's fanbase saw to that. So did Pestilence themselves. Mameli had begun to verbalize a lot of admittedly pretentious views regarding extreme metal and its listeners. The same kind of snobby, dismissive tone those wankers from Ulver use when discussing their amazing first three albums compared to their mostly criminally boring latter output (Perdition City and Teachings In Silence excluded). I also think it is a real shame that the band effectively caved in to the critics and "gave up", especially when they clearly believed in this album at the time, though I do understand their demoralisation. What's even more unfortunate is that when they re-formed they took the easy way out and tried to ape Consuming to please the crowd with the unremarkable comeback album Resurrection Macabre. Their works since then have consisted of confused sounding, mid paced groove metal punctuated by Mameli's admittedly still brilliant lead guitar work and Thesseling's idiosyncratic bass to keep things interesting. For me though, Pestilence ends at Spheres, and this is an album that will give you endless enjoyment if you are open to it. But you do have to be open to it.
Imagine being a metal musician who doesn´t want to play metal anymore. It´s so boring, it´s so aggressive. You complain about a lack of musicality while becoming more and more convinced that your death/thrash metal records so far have been just an error, inexplicable and regrettable. So herein lies the problem. On the one hand you have fans, but a style you love to hate. On the other hand you have a style you want to play, but no fans. Bad luck, boy!
This was exactly the situation of Patrick Mameli in 1992 / 1993. Sometime after the release of the already mechanized but strong "Testimony of the Ancients" he decided to stop the evolution of Pestilence´s successful style while starting an useless revolution as a substitute. Unfortunately, he was not able to compose coherent songs that could satisfy his high requirement. The running time of this so called full-length appears to be a first indication of his lack of ideas. Subtract the three pointless less-than-two-minutes-instrumentals and what remains at the end? Eight miserable songs in even more miserable 29 minutes. At the very first glance onto this album, it did not look like a new beginning but like a declaration of creative bankruptcy.
"Spheres" kicks off with an inharmonic riff followed by a synth, a spherical synth of course. "Mind Reflection" could had open the album in a solid way, but the breaks are completely unsuitable. Mameli´s voice contrasts with the instrumental confusion, because he strikes only one note during the whole record. Maybe the Dutch crew wanted to record some disturbing tracks, but was it really meant this nasty way?
The longer the album lasts, the worse it gets. Perhaps "Personal Energy" was their attempt to perform a kind of "space ballad". It gets lost in an unknown ugly galaxy, far away from the bright shining metal universum. Freed from the expectations of stupid metalheads, it flows dreamily into nothingness. I would wish it had not come back. In addition, I am unable to appreciate jazz-related solos or musicians that seem to be removed from the real world. "Waste of Time", sorry, I must correct myself, "Demise of Time" pictures the last attack on my taste. It squeaks, it beeps, it doesn´t make sense at all.
He who hates himself might seek for positive elements on this record and to be fair, he will find just a few. But this happens really rarely and Pestilence knew very well how to wipe out every good idea immediately. In conclusion, for the band, "Spheres" might have been an act of self-realization. For fans like me, who felt fine while linking the band with death and thrash of the better kind, this output was just an act of betrayal and the following occasionally split of Pestilence was no reason for sorrow.
Oops, this isn't Voivod, and this isn't Killing Technology. But in many way it reminds me of those wacky Canadians' best album. Strange, jazzy riffs, loud, quasi techical drums and harsh, shouted vocals all scream Voivod. Well, that and the strong sci-fi vibe this album has.
Spheres is not a comfortable listening experience. I picked this one up before any other Pestilence album, and was utterly confused for a good while. As a Morbid Angel worshipping 15 year old, I think the exact words out of my mouth were "what the fuck is this shit?" It was alien music back then, and 15 years later it still is.
Patrick Mameli's vocals sound like a transmission from a distant spacecraft! For all the money they spent on guitar effects (hey! They DID NOT use keyboards on here!), they probably could have kicked a little more cash to the producer and gotten a better sound out of it. Once again, though, the totally weird sound (especially the guitars) makes you feel like you're on some sort of flying saucer with little green men. B-grade sci-fi movies must have been a definite influence at this point.
It's quite possible that upon initial listen, you won't remember a thing from this album. That's odd, because there are no really strange structures, just weird music. The slower moments stand out the most, especially "Personal Energy," which is actually beautiful. The guitar synth solo in there is breathtaking! The "heavy" stuff is solid, as well, albeit not quite as memorable. While there is enough of the fret grinding Possessed influenced riffing of Testimony of the Ancients, a greater focus on melody and the aforementioned bizarre production makes this seem much more like a psychedelic mix of thrash and jazz fusion.
One thing that I really love about this album is the bass. Jeroen is all over the place with his slithery fretless bass action, and it's pushed to the front of the mix. At some times, it feels like he's playing an entirely different song. It is in these sections that the jazz influence becomes totally obvious.
There is nothing like Spheres out there, and I don't think there ever should be. You can tell this is Pestilence, but I often have to pinch myself, or ask if I've accidentally eaten some strange fungus during the experience. Spheres requires a very open mind, previous exposure to and enjoyment of music outside of orthodox metal. If you've got that applies to you, hop on board and take a trip into deep (inner) space!
I remember being in a merry frame of mind when I bought this back in 1993, because the previous album 'Testimony of the Ancients' had presented me this fantastic, atmospheric death metal band. The cover promised a lot, continuing in the vein of the precursor, with familiar spheres. I got home and sticked the CD into the player. I had one thought about this when the album was playing: "What the fuck?????!!!!" Pestilence had moved onwards, a lot. But for me, it was too much: technical jazzy space metal was their thing now. I never got into the album when it came out, and sold it after a few weeks or months. Roll over a few years, and in the late 1990s, I had the chance to pick it up for a very cheap price, and thought to give it a second chance. After all, my music collection had expanded from safe styles to something more adventurous. Who knows, 'Spheres' might have left a seed of alteration in my brain, which took effect later, because 'Spheres' sounded partly awesome, partly way too much out there.
'Spheres' is not a regular CD player visitor. This is not an easy-listening album. You just don't listen to it in the background. 'Spheres' can sound totally crap when not given full attention. Hmmm, so what's left of the Pestilence of the yore? Guitarist Patrick Mameli's vocals are agonized and guttural, think of mixture of Kreator's Mille Petrozza and former Pestilence throat Martin Van Drunen. There's some great double bass drum work and a few riffs are still death metal in style. But that's it, basically. Sometimes the band go through hazy space (prog) rock, then they find themselves in a pink fairyland. Then again, there are unexplored black holes with extreme powers, too and they are a majority on this album. So, it's really not a fluffy ride, mind you.
The rhythm guitar tone is obscure, blurry, and it's not heavy at all. The lead guitar work usually goes through guitar synthesizers, which are used a lot. Plus, all the guitar synths (no keyboards are used at all on this platter, by the way) are a bit "wicked", to say at least, not many clear melody runs. More like random, but still, not. Twisting yet wonderful rhythms do not make this any clearer. It's all very technical and not in usual easy songwriting style, sometimes working against it. Still, if and when one can get into the songs, and when it happens, this is a joyous adventure! Lyrically, 'Spheres' move in inner space, all the lyrics are written by the drummer Marco Foddis.
Usually, this is perversely satisfying. This is a difficult album for me. Some days I might praise it and some days not. You should give it a spin and see, whether you want to take the challenge it offers or not. After the great 'Testimony of the Ancients', 'Spheres' was a too big step, for both the band and the fans. This should have been released under a different name, I think. But, I heartily think it deserves the score I'm giving it, because as I already mentioned, this is a joyous adventure on the right day and a very unique album.
(originally written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com in 2008)
The early 90's can be seen as the golden era for death metal. Particularly in the south- eastern United States, bands like Death and Atheist were taking the young genre to heights of perfection, fusing classical music and jazz into the gritty, extreme sound. On the other side of the Atlantic ocean is Pestilence, a band that sounds quite a bit like the aforementioned groups. Hailing from the Netherlands, this band takes after the American pioneers, adding on a few elements onto the existing style, and comes out with an absolute masterpiece of progressive death metal. 'Spheres' may not be as widely regarded as the magnum opuses of Pestilence's US counterparts, but it is just as exciting of a listen.
Upon my first listen to this classic, my first intuition was to draw the comparison of Death's 'Symbolic' album, released around the same time as this. The growled vocals seem to be crossbred between Chuck Schuldiner of Death, and Kelly Shaefer of Atheist. With these sorts of comparisons, its a surprise that Pestilence isn't from Florida, as opposed to Holland. On a purely musical level, this band is very closely related to them. The guitarwork is composed of dark, jazzy-infused metal riffs that will get your head banging and thinking at the same time. Also an important aspect of this brand of death metal is the heavy presence of the bass guitar. Thesseling's bass performance is very jazz-influenced and clean, contrasting the guitars, filling the mix, and giving something to listen for on subsequent listens. The album is very short, lasting little over half an hour, but the tracks flow together as if 'Spheres' was a single piece of music. I may have preferred this album to last a little longer, but the brevity is only reason enough to take it for another spin right after.
While Pestilence is very close in sound and style to the Floridan death metal scene, they do bring one very unique element to the table, that being the use of synthesizers. In tandem with the proggy death metal madness, there is a back up of strange synth sounds that gives the music a spacey, sometimes otherworldly feel. 'Spheres' would have turned out to be a very capable death metal album without this addition, but with it, it creates that much more of a distinctive musical experience, and makes me feel like I am part of the album art, lost in space amidst the debris. Pestilence could be called a clone of the American bands, but I do think they bring enough fresh material to the table to be worthy on their own merits. Not only that, but they manage to take the progressive death metal style and make something of it that really amazes me, perhaps even moreso than Death or Atheist ever did. This is a really incredible album.
Many times in a band's lifetime, a change in sound usually leads to one of two things: either the death of the band, or the band making themselves a new image and getting bigger/better. While to me this album is the latter, a welcome change from death metal to more jazz/prog death metal, what happened to the band is the former, as they later broke up, but now they're back together, but they didn't return to this album's style.
This albums main sound can be broken up into a mix of three genres. Death Metal, Progressive Metal, and some Jazz/Fusion work in there too. The album opens with "Mind Reflections" which sets the mood perfectly. It doesn't start off with any silence or noise or anything like that, just a snare hit then the song immediately starts, and this one doesn't give mercy. It starts with a nice start/stop riff that reminds me of a tech death riff but in a more thrash manner. The vocals come in and they're great. They're not similar to Mr. Drunen's vocals, who was the previous singer for the band, but they still rule and have a classic death metal style. The lyrics are pretty cool too, although completely different from the death metal standard of gore lyrics, these instead refer to space/time.
Another great song is "Personal Energy." This one starts off much more quiet and ambient than any other song on the album, and it keeps in that sense for the rest of the song. Sounds influenced by Cynic's album Focus. The vocals here have a different "voice" too. The singer's regular death vocals are more muffled here, as if hearing them through a radio, but there is also a more moaning vocal approach, reminiscent of Carbonized.
The major drawback of this album though is the lack of diversity. The paragraph I gave to "Mind Reflections" could go with most of the others. The only ones that sound different are "Aurian Eyes", "Voices From Within", and "Phileas", because they are more orchestral passages in between songs. While the others can vary more in tempo and have different riffs they don't feel that different from each other, however it's not so "samey" sounding that the album feels as if it's merging together and when you finish listening to it you can't remember much of what you just heard. To put it simply, none of the songs are bad, but they could be more diverse.
Overall a great album, recommended for those who are already fans of Pestilence and of the genre, as well as fans of Cynic and other progressive metal bands.
There is also a special edition of this, which I own. It contains a remixes of two songs, "Demise of Time" and "Soul Search", and live versions of the songs "Mind Reflections" and "Multiple Beings." The remixes are good but don't sound that different from the album versions, but the live versions are very well performed and sound great too.
Testimony of the Ancients might have taunted the listener with traces of jazz, progressive rock and other outsourced influences. It might have seemed the beginning of a departure from the brute force of the band's roots in death and thrash metal. But though that album might have rode the rocket out through the solar system, stopping somewhere around Jupiter for a coffee and then turning back to our more immediate neighborhood in the void, the band's 4th full-length Spheres abandons our neck of the universe altogether, building enough thrust to carry it into unexplored pastures. Spheres is the band's 'jazz death' album, and yet it has very little in common with similar forays towards the form by a Cynic or Atheist, or the more spastic, later approach of a Dillinger Escape Plan, or the jazzcore/rap of Candiria.
No, this was something unique, and in hoping to give it that rare spin, Mameli and company recorded it with their 4th producer in four albums: Steve Fontano. Fontano is a more seasoned, diverse knob twiddler than Trapp, Johns, or Burns. He's done everything from R&B to Southern rock to ska in his day, but I'm willing to bet Pestilence were most interested in his work with shred and jazz influenced artists like Tony MacAlpine or Greg Howe. He's done an interesting job with this album. I was surprised to find that it's not as polished sounding as Testimony of the Ancients; there's a particular grit to this journey due to its highly synthesized embellishments. Not KEYBOARDs, mind you, as Patrick Mameli was so adamant to inform us all in the liner notes that no keyboards were used on this recording. Those miserable keyboards, always killing the music, right? No. And considering that the album is so full of synth guitar waves, one wonders what is really the difference, and why one might seem opposed to the use of one, but supportive of the other, especially when the band had used the former in the past. The band had also changed bassists once again, replacing Tony Choy with the equally mesmerizing theory of Jeroen Paul Thesseling, and he's a good fit for this particular album, with his honest 4 and 6-string tones anchoring the spatial chaos that erupts.
The guitar synths actually work well in favor of the album, creating all manner of cosmic vibrations through the more metallic segments. A shimmering array of stars here, just at the edge of a groove. A pulsar out beyond Mameli's leering growls. A black hole sucking in all light through a fusion/rock break. It's fascinating, if you've the patience and wherewithal to let the album absorb you into its manic, extraterrestrial dementia. And it begins with one of its more aggressive expeditions, "Mind Reflections", which creates a sense of terror above its hacking, morbid rhythms and waylaid grooves, the coolest happening before the :40 mark. "Multiple Beings" is a more playful romp across a subdued, melodic thrashing, while the bass pumps away in an almost repressed funk and the synthesized strings interact with Mameli's intonations, stopping only for various fusion bridges. This is quite a good song, though I can see how it would turn someone off from the album if they're expecting "The Process of Suffocation Pt. II".
"The Level of Perception" continues to formulate this pattern of excess groove, through a very frightening progression of flowing guitars and spooky synth tones that hover just at the edge of the aggression. The title is only too fitting: the more you focus here, the more you'll get out of it. "Aurian Eyes" is a brief, space opera instrumental conducted through the synths, but "Soul Search" returns to the cutting rhythms, slowly building to a great climax groove at 1:50 where a lead erupts. "Personal Energy" is one of the true highlights of the album, a soothing track with clean guitars and synth that arrives at a fantastic bridge, where the vocals lie partially obscured by the glistening, celestial melodies that conspire to consume them. It's nearly hypnotic, as is the following Patrick Uterwijk free form guitar ambient piece "Voices from Within". The title track is probably the closest to the material on Testimony of the Ancients, with another of the band's solid, simple chord patterns leveraged with a few mind-warping, jazzy partitions.
"Changing Perspectives" is a track much like others on the album, cycling about a series of thrash/grooves saturated in the storms of synth and an arabesque, clean guitar. While it's good, the riffs do not immediately leap out to mind like so many that had come before them. "Phileas" is the last of the three brief instrumentals (as opposed to 8 on the previous album), and while soothing, it's the least interesting. The "Demise of Time" offers closure, one of the crueler tracks as far as the mocking rhythm and otherworldly gore-tone of the vocals. The main verse rhythm is great, and the jazzy segue around 1:20, but the rest is not so memorable.
In addition to their most adventurous, this would also be the 'last' album for Pestilence, until Mameli decided to reform the band for Resurrection Macabre, which sounds like a hybrid of their first three records and completely neglects the sound of Spheres. It's a little hard for me to complain about that choice, as I enjoyed this the least of their original full-lengths. Part of me is actually disappointed that I would not hear a follow-up to this, perhaps under another band name. The music is undeniably fascinating, and I'd be very curious to hear what a further mutation might have wrought through these very same musicians. Still, this is strangely the album that most find 'annoying'. It's melodic and catchy, but I can understand how the rhythmic progressions and common forays into the realm of jazz and fusion would turn off many listeners. Hell, this is the last album I recall which my girlfriend actually demanded I take out of my car CD player because she couldn't bear it. Fucking squares, man! They'll never understand us cats.
Very few traces of death metal remained in the band at this point. The most glaring would be the vocals, which have not changed from Testimony of the Ancients. If anything, they've grown even wilder. And then there are a few of the riffs, which are arguably closer to progressive thrash than anything hinging on brutality. But nevertheless, it's the band's most original excursion into aural atmosphere, and one of the few albums of its type that truly holds up through the years (far more than Atheist's Elements of Unquestionable Presence). In fact, the only other jazz/death love-child I adhere to would be Cynic's more recent effort Traced in Air, which we'd might as well just label progressive rock, though its borne of the same spirit. As far as I'm concerned, Pestilence had already conquered thrash and death metal with the first two albums. After recovering from the shock of their split with Martin Van Drunen, I grew to accept that this was not a band inclined to tread their old proving grounds, and Spheres is the logical and successful extension of this modus operandi. Of course, with Resurrection Macabre, they will actually take a piss all over this pattern, and set up camp right back where they started. But that album is such smashing fun that you'll hardly care.
The bottom line: if you dig jazz, progressive death metal, progressive guitar rock, or outer space in general, Spheres is worth passing some time with while you chew your biscuit and sip your tea, watching the moons and worlds stream past and the stardust shimmer outside your window on the bridge. Make it so!
Highlights: Mind Reflections, Multiple Beings, The Level of Perception, Personal Energy
By 1991, it was clear that Pestilence had changed as a band. With "Testimony Of The Ancients," Pestilence had become more precisely technical and progressive, ditching the overall brutality of their sound and incorporating trace elements of jazz fusion and psychedelica. That album was just death metal enough to retain their loyal audience, but "Spheres" cranked those trace elements to eleven and added even more outrageous influences to their sound. It was just too much for most fans, which is too bad because "Spheres" is a pretty good piece of work, every bit the equal of the more critically lauded experimental albums of that era.
Listening to Pestilence's "Spheres" is like being trapped in a wormhole, a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum. An essentially violent, intense, and mind-altering experience, suffused with great horror and beauty, the recognition of impending death. The song structures, riff patterns, melodics, and harmonics are more indebted to krautrock than death metal, yet retain all the bite and punch of the latter. Ditto the vocals which, with the exception of 'Personal Energy,' are all delivered in typical brutal style, perhaps a bit more harshly yelled than grunted but sinister nonetheless. The guitar work is great, the riffs are chunky and catchy, the bass is audible and not just following the guitar lines. "Spheres" is also the only Pestilence album wherein Marco Foddis delivers interesting drum work. I'd previously found him to be a bit pedestrian but his footwork here is amazing. If anything, the previous structures of straight thrash and death had been holding him back. He makes every song more interesting with his decisions, particularly on the title track when he plays off-time to the guitars for the majority of the tune.
All the experimental death metal albums of 1993 had something cheesy and 70's about them, whether it was the vocoder on "Focus" or the string section operatics on "Dimensions." Here it's the guitar synths and over-reliance on noodly, Robert Fripp-style guitar solos and interludes. That said, if you dig that kind of stuff, you'll love this. As a big fan of krautrock bands like Goblin, Can, and Amon Düül II, I certainly do. In fact, the Goblin comparison is perhaps most apt as "Spheres" sounds like it could easily be the soundtrack to 70's splatter film, particularly the horrific "Changing Perspectives," whose opening riff/synth meld could be the score to a particularly terrifying zombie movie.
The production on this album, unfortunately, is dry and brittle. Considering the band's musical pursuits here, they deserved a bigger treatment. Their impulses don't come to complete fruition mainly because the sound isn't large enough to capture exactly what it is they're doing. The guitars, synths, bass, and drums all come crashing down on one another in a monotone wave. There is almost no separation on this record, to the detriment of the music. The album is also too short. The space-rock interludes are nice but also half-baked. Each one is only about a minute-and-a-half long, too short to really develop beyond a neat idea. Pestilence had a similar problem with this on "Testimony" and I wish they would've either dropped these interludes or developed them some more. Remove the interludes and you have eight full-length songs clocking in at just under half-an-hour. Not much music. They really ought to have stretched out a bit more here and really shown off their songwriting chops as songs like 'Mind Reflection,' 'Soul Search,' and the title track are all excellent. The above-mentioned faults are what keeps this album from being a true classic. That said, "Spheres" isn't the trainwreck I'd been led to believe. It is a fascinating attempt at expanding metal horizons and I appreciate it with every listen.
As a jazz-death freak I consider 1993 as the most important year in a brief history of death metal. That's when such records as Individual Thought Patterns, Focus or Elements came out. They were milestones without any discussion, but my favourite album from then is Pestilence's Spheres. ITP was very catchy and had extraordinary bass lines. Elements was a very brave record, it hadn't any double-bass parts. Can you imagine that in death metal? Tony Choy also shown the best of his capabilities (Samba Briza!). Focus was fantastic. Vocoder, synthesisers, Sean Malone, extreme solos. Why Pestilence then?
Songs are well written. Lyrics are decent. Riffs are catchy, very fine. Drums play ok. Bass is great, I love it. I also love Mameli's vocals - deep and suggestive. It doesn't have any weak spots. You say sound is bad? Maybe. But that's what makes this record special!
Patrick Mameli used most of the best ideas present on above recordings: synths, distinct bass, jazzy solos, etc. Then he squared them and turned inside-out. When Cynic looked for more atmosphere and space, Pestilence overwhelmed the listener with mid-range oriented guitars and loud bass. When Chuck made some speedy, difficult riffs on ITP, Mameli based his on three, four chords so they are theoretically simple as For Whom The Bell Tolls, but still lots of progressive elements, rhythm and tempo changes, some technical jazzy solos, complex melody structures make it a hell of a difficult music which require specifical feeling from a musician. Grunt vocals sound like from behind the wall. Synths are sick, they aren't trying to make a melody but to make the listener feel disturbed. Remember Nocturnus and Louis Panzer's vibrating synths during a riff in "Lake of Fire"? That's what I mean.
Overall - Spheres are violent. But it isn't a physical kind of violence. It's about feelings. You experience something special, but it makes you feel uneasy, trapped: claustrophobic in a space pod lost in core of galaxy? Or making love with the hottest chick in the city knowing that her boyfriend will cut your balls off for it. ;) I can't find anything accurate to describe it. You just have to listen and feel for yourself.
Oh, you may not like it of course, but you'll be moved - that's for sure.
When a metal album is stylewise very different from the backcatalogue, your average fan of that specific band might say they were ahead of their time or perhaps misunderstood. Neither applies on ‘Spheres’. The album was a complete flop. No wonder the band disbanded shortly after. In a time when death metal was already slowly getting over its peak after the prime years 1989-1991 had brought forth the most memorable albums and bands, Pestilence found it necessary to reinvent themselves by going jazzmetal. What the hell, Cynic played this style and they became popular. So why not Pestilence? But then again, Cynic changed their style when they were still a demo band. Pestilence already had a reputation, some classic albums and a shitload of fans.
Main songwriter Patrick Mameli was getting fed up with the metal scene and especially the lesser intelligent people in it. For some reason this death metal guitarist and vocalist all of a sudden despised audiences moshing, grunting and raising their fist. This of course can happen to anyone getting older and wiser. But the point is, Mameli found it necessary to shout this out loud to the world! But please keep your honour, distance yourself from the scene and do NOT make a another metal album. Or even worse, release something new under your old name. It is disastrous. Especially in the ever conservative metal scene. When you’re a new band, people tend to give you the benefit of the doubt when bringing something new. But if you - for instance - became famous with thrash metal and you change your style abruptly, you’ll simply lose most of your old fans (Metallica anyone?). If you’re sure your new style is so much better AND different, you will of course find enough new fans to keep your band alive (Paradise Lost, the Gathering). This is exactly where Pestilence got it all wrong. Still including death grunts, they would not reach an entirely new audience.
But still, if the songmaterial would have been of extaordinary quality, some fans could have lived with it. Unfortunately the material on the album wasn’t really that good nor groundbreaking nor original. Simply said, if one would take away the vocals effects and skip the jazzy bits, you’d hear leftover crap from the Testimony Of The Ancients sessions.
Therefor ‘Spheres’ consisted of very tame and rather harmless death metal with some added jazzy tunes, intermezzos, soundeffects and some childish solos that would never impress any jazz freak. No new type of songwriting, just a different approach to arrangements and production. Pestilence should have analysed Cynic and Atheist and taken more time to get into this new style. They didn’t…
Songs like ‘Mind Reflections’ and ‘Personal Energy’ did have some good riffs which – as implied earlier – were very reminiscent of the Testimony Of The Ancients album. But the horrible skinny production, soundeffects and spacey hippie parts made a mess of it. Not to mention these horrid sludgy bits in between songs called ‘Aurian Eyes’, ‘Voices From Within’ and ‘Phileas’. Going further into the individual songs would be a waste of all our precious time.
All this made Spheres into an album that was neither death metal nor jazz metal and stranded somewhere in the middle. Ouch, middle of the road metal. How deadly….boring! It was painful to hear these great metal artists turning out to be such lousy jazzmusicians. Over 33 minutes of pretentiousness that hit them right back in their own faces. They get some bonuspoint for the great albumcover and artwork though.
Why then did I spend so much time on this review? To make sure no one makes the mistake of actually paying money for this album if they find it anywhere. So please, if you’re into death metal, go look for ‘Consuming Impulse’. If you’re into quality jazzmetal, you obviously have to check out the Cynic and Atheist stuff from 1993.
1993 was what many consider the peak of death metal; Death's "Individual Thought Patterns", Gorguts' "The Erosion of Sanity", Cynic with "Focus", and others which have stood the test of time. I can't help but wonder why so many consider this to be Pestilence's weakest moment, when clearly it is their most brilliant.
This album is a solid piece of death metal history, and an undoubtably masterpiece from first note to last. Upon putting the CD in my stereo and throwing on my headphones, little did I know I was about to travel across the universe and back in under 33 minutes. When the opening riff for "Mind Reflections" hits, you know you're in for one hell of a ride. Compared to Pestilence's earlier albums, this one definitely has the most atmosphere. While many argue about the production, I don't think it could be any more perfect. While most death metal albums from 1993 were done digitally, and Spheres being no exception, the quality is excellent. I've heard many say the vocals are too "pushed back", but I don't think that's true. What I think causes this effect is the shear in-your-face mix the album bears. Guitars are right up front, and the bass is some of the most audible I've ever heard.
Like many death metal albums from the time, this one is loaded with imagery that is sure to make your head spin. The guitar synth is ever prominent, and it really helps to instill the whole "flying through space" vibe that the album is going for. I consider this album to be one of the few albums to get the complete package right. From album art to every single song, this beast is a masterpiece. Hats off to Dan Seagrave for another amazing album cover (check out his other work with Gorguts and Suffocation), and even the disc art carries on with the theme.
Point being, if you don't own this album you should find a copy as soon as possible. While it has been out of print in the USA for over a decade, you can easily find copies on the internet for fairly cheap. Spheres proves Pestilence were in their prime, and right on time to knock the metal world on its ass at it highest point.
In their 4 album run, Pestilence never really could make up there mind. With the first full length being very aggressive thrash, the follow up, Consuming Impulse, became more death/thrash-ish. (Though there were signs of what would come – see Proliferous Souls) Then things started to get kind of weird with Testimony. Added keyboards, and more progressive moments thrown in the mix, making a very cool interesting atmosphere throughout. With Spheres, they seem to dive head on into the progressive jazzy style, such as Atheist and Cynic. A fuckload of synths are thrown around and the songs themselves sometimes get downright mongoose fucking weird.
The instrumentation has slowed itself down quite a bit. With a slower speed, the drumming gets a lot more complex as is the bass playing of Jeroen-Paul Thesseling. Like said before, there’s a lot of guitar synthesizer in this album. A lot of times they can be cheesy as hell but in this case it really makes it more badass. The synth in Changing Perspectives is pure tasty dripping goodness A lot of the aggression of the earlier albums is lost, in exchange for atmosphere. That doesn’t mean there aren’t badass riffs though, such as in Multiple Beings (the main riff), Changing Perspectives, and the opener Mind Reflections. Pestilence sure loves there damn interludes. There are three very cool atmospheric instrumental tracks that serve sort of as breaks in the album (not quite as much as Testimony’s eight).
One song that deserves mention is Personal Energy, possibly the highlight of the entire album. It’s a very mellow jazzy track with half clean/ half spoken vocals. Definitely nothing you would expect from this band.
The production has lost its bite like in Consuming Impulse but it has a very spacey sound, fitting the music. The guitar tone is very cool and different. One thing is that the vocals are kind of muffled; I’m not sure if that was intentional or what.
It’s a pretty short album being only 33 minutes, but it’s still a hell of a trip to listen to. If you’re a fan of Pestilence, Atheist, Cynic, or other things similar… fucking check this out. If you were freaked out by Testimony’s direction or ‘pussy jazz fagot music’ I’d stick with Consuming Impulse.
“Spheres” was the last release of the Dutch band Pestilence. It displayed a style similar to releases by Atheist and Cynic, an odd blend of fusion and death metal, aided by the now fully present guitar synths. Though they had been used in “Testimony Of The Ancients” and to a slighter degree “Consuming Impulse” the other-worldly bleeps and buzzes are now heard throughout the 33-minute album. Despite the booklet’s proud statement “There are no keyboards on this album” the many effect processors sound just like keyboards anyways. The album artwork is incredible, by far some of the best I’ve ever seen: a painting of space, a black hole, planets and the odd spiked ball seen on the cover of “Testimony Of The Ancients”. It accurately represents the sonic picture the album paints, an odd mix of beauty, anguish, confusion and thought. This is an album designed for relaxing and listening, and is definitely not a cd you’d throw on to get a party started.
The mix of the album is relatively even, though the vocals have been pushed to the back a bit. The bass is very loud and clear, which is definitely a positive. The production would be fine for a regular metal cd, but it hurts this album a little. The guitars are very loud and instead of a cold, washed out and reverb-ed sound you’d expect everything has an upfront and aggressive feel.
Musically this album is superb, the songs are full with memorable and complex riffs and parts all of which are executed perfectly by truly talented musicians. The lyrics are all thought provoking, dealing with self-exploration with some sci-fi hints. Of course it wouldn’t be a pestilence cd without a few instrumental lead in tracks. Reviewing the actual songs here would not do the album justice, this is not a skip around or listen only to your favorites affair. The instrumental breaks serve as an important break between the heavier songs. This cd is like boarding a space ship and traveling to another planet, there are asteroid belts and other daunting objects as well as wonderful interludes and solos as you drift along and approach your destination. And with the final note of “Demise of Time” struck the adventure abruptly ends, leaving you hoping that you left something behind that you must return for, just so you could take the voyage again.