Album review: Pestilence - Spheres (Roadrunner, 1993)
Out of all this long lasting Dutch metal band's albums, this one is probably the most neglected. Listening to it I can understand why, despite the fact I find it underrated myself. This is supposed to be Pestilence's "jazz" album, while I don't think that is necessarily true its certainly their most wierd and experimental one. At the time of its release mainman Patrik Mameli had supposedly grown tired of the metal scene and its admittedly largely fickle audience, and become obsessed with Jazz virtuosos like Alan Holdsworth. Apparently, after he was first exposed to Holdsworth, Mameli stopped listening to all other music in an attempt to block out all outside influences. Contemporary reaction to "Spheres" was largely quite negative and Mameli later went as far to basically disown the album. Coming from the same year as a whole bunch of seminal albums in the same field ("The Erosion of Sanity", "Focus", "Elements" and "Individual Thought Patterns" being the most obvious choices) it isn't hard to understand how "Spheres" tends to get forgotten about.
This is a shame, because "Spheres" is a really enjoyable album. I think calling it "jazz" though is a bit of a stretch. There's not really anything wierd going on with the rhythms and many of the riffs are quite straightforward, just put together really well. There are however a lot of unusual (for death metal) chords on display, and the spaced out soloing certainly adds to the overall vibe. Not to mention the fretless bass playing (courtesy of one Jeroen Paul Thesseling). The album also has a very odd production which, while appropriate for the music it does lack the impact and heaviness expected even from the most leftfield death metal. You'll notice this as soon as the album starts, its mostly the guitar tone which is very odd indeed...but not unfitting in the context of this album. There's also generous use of synths - no keyboards! the booklet hastens to add, instead all the sounds come from guitar synths the same way Cynic did on their debut.
Similar to the previous album, "Spheres" is made up of tracks seperated by interludes, just not between every track like before...these include definite highlights of the album in Patrick Uterwijk's spacey "Voices From Within", Mameli's bizarre violin instrumental "Aurian Eyes", and Thesseling's moody bass solo "Phileas". Out of the main body of tracks I find "Multiple Beings" and the title track to be my favourites, and whichever one it is that reminds me of Sun Ra having a go at metal. As I've said this album is quite underrated, unfortunately due to the mostly negative reaction to this Pestilence split up afterwards for several years before deciding to reform and be more predictable and obedient on their less interesting comeback albums.