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Even Reflections of the Mind Can Produce Miracles - 94%

bayern, February 8th, 2019

I bought this cassette despite fellow metalheads’ warning that this would be very different from anything the band had created earlier; well, it was Patrick Mameli and Pestilence, for crying out loud; it wasn’t going to be a suckfest, of course, although a major reason for this consuming impulse of mine was also the cover: amazing stuff, can’t possibly be wrapping something lesser than at least a half-masterpiece…

This opus was an early, premature reflection of what was occurring on the other side of the Atlantic, the transformational process within the death metal roster which literally overnight produced three outstanding alterations: Cynic’s “Focus”, Atheist’s Elements”, and this splendid… sorry, “spherical” oddity here. Yeah, the world of our favourite death metal wasn’t going to be the same after those as another polemical question that arose almost immediately was how much longer the genre would last sounding appropriate in order to be labelled as such. Cause there were quite a few ingredients that didn’t smell brutality and aggression embedded into its canvas; on the contrary, they were actually taking the genre into milder, not previously traversed trajectories where our beloved death was shaking hands with “strangers”, some of them maybe not that jovial…

“strangers” like jazz and fusion that peppered these three works, making them a not very comfortable listen for the more scholastic fraction of the fanbase who may have been pulled off by the album reviewed here the most as this is the least death metal-fixated offering of the three. In fact, there isn’t much death metal here if we exclude Mameli’s aggressive, weirdly echoing vocals; thrash has been brought back although its role isn’t that prominent, either, reminiscent of its service on the late-80’s Voivod instalments, and especially on DBC’s trippy hallucinogenic “Universe”.

The effort here recalls the latter work in more ways than one, but there’s another album that has to be mentioned here, the one that first introduced the jazz/fusion elements into the metal template, and the one to which all Cynics, Atheists, etc. owe a lot, Sieges Even’s “Steps” (the album-title here may also be a more or less covert reference to it). The Pestilence recording comes very close to its far-reaching grandiosity although again it doesn’t completely avoid the “thrash” tag like that one, what with the surreal guitarisms ala Mekong Delta and Target detected on “Mind Reflections”, a most disorienting inauguration with the outlandish riffage creeping minimalistically, creating alien dystopian atmosphere quite akin to the one on the mentioned DBC work as well. Although a couple of cuts (“Multiple Beings”, “The Level of Perception”) later follow this “thrash for the new millennium and beyond’s generation” approach, there’s still this pressing deathy urgency to be detected on the trippy “Soul Search”, an expansive template that may have been heard more than just a few times by contemporary “beyond death” outfits like Obliteration, Morbus Chron, Tribulation, Beheaded Zombie, etc.

However, it’s on the more delineated from the pure thrash/death metal formula moments where this opus really comes outside the box in marvellous ways, like on the psychedelic dreamy Pink Floyd-ian “Personal Energy” and the more dynamic, but equally as spacey and abstract title-track, plus the several short ambient all-instrumental interludes the latter sounding way more idyllic than the ones from “Testimony of the Ancients”. Although the band don’t dwell on these mind-expanding tunes too much here, they invariably leave their trace throughout this opus with “Changing Perspectives” being a particularly impressive jarring, keyboard-peppered schizoid thrasher, total Nomicon and Mekong Delta-sque insanity; and “Demise of Time” indulging in overlapping labyrinthine spirals, with great twisted leads circling around adding to the extra-terrestrial, boundary-transcending listening experience with genre categorizations becoming ultimately redundant by the end of this superb, from-out-of-space visitation.

Yes, the testimony has been altered as a farewell signature gesture, but in a way that only increased the band’s stature regardless of how many fans simply refused to listen to it due to its utterly weird, not very accessible at times, nature. The death metal roster was entering new unexplored territories at the time and thanks to all the mentioned acts, alongside other less known ones (Pavor, Violent Dirge, Agretator, etc.), it embarked on a very adventurous ride that pushed its borders to the limit, testing the audience’s threshold of tolerance. In the Pestilence case this wasn’t done in such drastic ways as both the thrashy and the jazz/fusion expletives were already familiar from the several previously mentioned albums, at least to the more expert side of the fanbase; it’s just that it was difficult to envisage this direction that Mameli and Co. took after the grandiose predecessor… minimalistic spacey abstractism didn’t seem like the most logical follow-up to it as again compared to the Cynic and Atheist efforts this one was the biggest departure from death metal, to these ears thankfully all for the better...

Alas, the fans’ ears, or rather minds, were not that wide open at the time for the strange, mind-expanding sounds of the Universe and this opus was largely crucified for the radical musical metamorphosis. Which is quite sad as I’m pretty sure that Mameli already had a few more pieces of similar trippy psychedelic soundscapes as an immediate follow-up… which he had to tuck away on the shelves due to the minimal positive response he received for this one. He gave it another go after the reformation, though, on “Doctrine”, but the modern abrasive boost the jazzy/fusion template had been embellished with didn’t have the same lofty effect anymore. A “spherical oddity” of the kind can only be cooked once, I guess. Still, the Universe keeps beckoning, and the Dutch maestro has already proven himself as one of the few who can tap into those elusive beckoning frequencies; so…