Review Summary: Holland's take on Florida's classic death metal sound.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, the State of Florida, U.S.A., saw an influx of death metal bands (later termed technical death metal), many already taking the newly developing style into new places. Considering the state is a birthing ground of sorts for the genre, the quantity of bands really wasn’t all that surprising. The quality, however, was something to take notice to – offering up traditional heavy metal on speed, coupled with the guttural vocal style, then thrown into a blender with a myriad of jazz and fusion influences…this was just really, really good stuff. Considering some of the players to grace this sound (Death
, [/b]Atheist[/b], Cynic
, etc.) it would seem only logical that these influences would be long-reaching, to places where others were attempting to make metallic waves of their own hungrily lapped them up. This was undoubtedly the case with Dutch death metallers Pestilence
, a band that started out with the traditional death metal roots, but like her peers, was not content to simply sit on one take of their sound.
Pestilence’s fourth studio effort, 1993’s Spheres
was the product of three records worth of retooling, reshaping, and experimenting. Throughout the course of these previous discs the band would slowly evolve, showcasing the signs of things to come – progressive and jazz influences mainly – in somewhat of a mutation of death metal’s standard building blocks. This was far from a new idea by this point, but nevertheless fans of the band and even the majority of critics initially rejected and panned the new direction has a stray from what made them Pestilence. This seems a bit perplexing considering how popular the jazz-influenced death metal sound was at the time, but in an unfortunate turn of events, the band suffered the backlash. Spheres does retain the band’s death metal roots pretty damn strongly, with the guttural, horse vocals of its time, dual crunching guitars, and some pounding drums. What stuck in the collective craw of some of the more hardcore fans was this album’s addition of other elements and a new band interest in experimentation. If you agree with these fans, this album probably isn’t for you and I’d stop reading this; however, if you like your metal with a little twist of difference, this underrated album could be something that went under your radar.
One thing you could probably take from the album before even pushing play would be the cover art and the track listing. The former has a space theme, depicting a starry horizon and an ominous black hole in the distance, slowly pulling everything in. In a sense, this idea rung true with the track-titles and lyrical content as well. The band was interested in something else, something beyond what was being perceived. These elements would find their fingerprints all over Spheres, making use of varying time signatures, synthesiser roles, and some sci-fi sounds thrown in for good measure. Some of this may sound ridiculous, while some of the concepts may seem like they have no place in death metal’s music. This was one of those albums’s that polarised the band’s fans, and I suspect it’ll be a matter of preference around here. Still, the fact that this band was ridiculously interesting and a little ahead of their time shouldn’t have been ultimately the nail in the coffin of their career. Tracks like The Level of Perception
and Personal Energy
show great strides to the experimentation of progressive metal, with the latter possessing almost a Porcupine Tree
intro followed by varying influences merging together. Overall, the album’s sound gives off some true classic death metal with progressive touches and step away from the genres typical subject matter. Though retaining their roots, they have forsaken tradition enough to make use of synths and synth-guitars to give their album an extra-spacey quality.
is far from the perfect record, and regardless of all its finer points, it would be naïve of a fan of the disc to turn a blind-eye on the obvious hiccups and distractions that take away from an otherwise perfect listening experience. First off, the vocalist is pretty bad…I mean, I know they’re death vocals, but they seem far too gruff and unrefined for one to want to bother with. The production and mixing of this record did not receive the proper attention to detail it deserved, and it suffered as a result.
All that being said, however, the pros definitely out-weigh the cons with Spheres, and this reviewers confusion as to why this record was so hated by the band’s fans is maintained. There’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation and mixing things up, though I know we all tend to fear it when it comes to our bands. If you’re into something different with your metal, or are fans of the Atheist, Cynic, Death era of death metal, I’d give this record a spin, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.