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Kaleidoscopic Horror - 78%

televiper11, April 16th, 2010
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Roadrunner Records

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.