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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.