Pestilence – Spheres (1993)
Sometimes you find an album that tries to merge two seemingly unrelated aesthetics into a coherent whole. Spheres is the sound of Pestilence devouring a particularly jazz inflected progressive rock band with the help of their new MIDI guitar silverware and merging with them in the process. Then the twist turns out to be that Patrick Mameli is behind the incorporation of these new influences, although that’s not much of a twist, and you write to the editor to complain, but then Pestilence goes offline for over a decade-
On second thought, let’s not tumble off the precipice of madness just yet. Funnily enough, the space themed cover art is actually an accurate depiction of what to expect. Spheres relies heavily on its aesthetics, what with its synthesizer presence interwoven between guitar riffs that are softer, yet more abstract than your average construction from the Martin van Drunen era. Some of the aggression of previous Pestilence recordings got lost in the shuffle, but the push towards stranger guitar patterns didn’t entirely gut the death metal end of things. Processing the guitar tone and removing blast beats takes the intensity levels down a notch, but outside of the keyboard interludes and the markedly gentle “Personal Energy”, Spheres remains recognizable as a metal album and a Pestilence album, for better or worse.
I’d argue that despite the more complicated and varied instrumentation, Pestilence writers simpler songs on Spheres than before. Verses and choruses are definitely more apparent than on previous albums, where they were often cloaked in extended bridges. The average mid-song solo bridge has turned more dissonant and improvisational than before, which stands in stark contrast to most metal albums. In my experience, metal solos are usually more through-composed, although given the influence of jazz musicians (often filtered through progressive rock) that this album definitely played a role in spreading, that’s no guarantee. Spheres also shows off a lot of microvariations in song construction and instrumentation that long time listeners should be able to appreciate, like the chord hits at the loops in the title track, or the drum change at the very end of “Multiple Beings”, which help to stave off the repetitions…
Honestly, I kind of prefer the earlier Pestilence recordings and think bands like Atheist pulled off the jazz-metal fusion better; feel free to listen to Unquestionable Presence if that sort of thing appeals to you. Still, without this existing, we’d lose a great deal of the prog metal of the recent past. I guess this is a prime example of an album with a split soul, but it does have a unity many of those works lacks.
Highlights: “Mind Reflections”, “Soul Search”, “Personal Energy”