Review Summary: 'Spheres' will appeal more to death metal fans than prog-metal fans.
Pestilence's "Spheres" is one of a number of extreme metal albums released during a wave of jazz and progressive rock influenced extreme metal albums, which at the time were pretty peculiar, but with the progressive death metal of bands like Opeth
, now not so much. But in 1993, it was kind of a ballsy move for *three bands* to release either proggy, jazz-fused death metal albums (Pestilence's "Spheres and Death's "Individual Thought Patterns") or a progressive metal album with a lot of raspy vocals (Atheist
, who were lumped into "progressive death metal" but never really death metal bands, released "Elements" and "Focus" in the same year).
"Spheres" is the least prog/jazz-oriented of this wave of albums, fitting more comfortably into death metal than any other associated albums from the year or the same time period, but has plenty of technical riffs and many tracks use synthesizers as part of their composition. And while the band varies it up with some classical and jazz-influenced interludes, usually a minute in length, or the occasional classical-influenced synthesizer breakdown or a jazzy guitar solo, a lot of "Spheres" sadly suffers from a lot of the songs sounding the same, a problem more progressive albums from the time period don't have.
Take for example "Mind Reflections" and "Soul Search", which open with pretty much the same guitar riff, or "Multiple Beings" and "The Level of Perception", which are built around variations of that riff. There's some pretty jazzy moments on those tracks, including the bassline and the melody building towards the end, but the main riff kind of feels like the same riff you hear throughout the album.
"Personal Energy" is a standout track, a genuine progressive metal cut with a strong jazz fusion feel, one of the best examples of "jazz metal" out there, with some unusual atmospheric vocal and synth harmonies and a Latin melody towards the end. The interlude tracks, "Voices from Within" and "Phileas" also stand out because of their mellow jazz-rock sound, blending calm, serene bass guitar and synth melodies.
There's also a cool synthesizer solo on the title track, and a Middle Eastern melody opening up "Changing Perspectives", both offering variance to the otherwise thrashy sound. But elsewhere, while the album does have some technically challenging playing, the overall sound would probably appeal more to death metal fans than progheads.
While overall a good effort, Pestilence is most interesting when they shift away from their typical death metal sound and push into more of a progressive rock/jazz fusion influence. The pummeling death metal sound that dominates the album can be headache inducing, though the album is not without inspiration and originality, but more focus on the experimental jazz/prog aspects would have given the band more of a creative output than they would later do by reverting back to more of a typical death metal sound than expanding upon the progressive sounds they experimented with here.