For me, Pathology was the gateway to slam. I still recall the first time I ever experienced their music: Boxing Day, years ago, I went to the now-defunct record store Zeus in search of some new metal to feast my ears upon. I saw Legacy of the Ancients with its striking cover, adorned with a sticker saying that Pathology “represents more death than a mass grave in Columbia.” My thoughts in a word: sold. I would later see Pathology live, and mistakenly congratulate then-frontman Jonathan Huber for Matti Way’s great performance on Legacy of the Ancients. Huber was a great sport about that, to his immense credit. Anyhow, Pathology’s ninth record and first eponymous offering sees Mr. Way back behind the mic, and nostalgia compelled me to jump at the opportunity to review this new record and see how much death it represents.
Being my entrance into the sounds of slam violence, I tried to rediscover why Pathology initially appealed to me. Their trick is to take fairly typical, representative death metal like Cannibal Corpse, Severe Torture, and Broken Hope and then render those bodies of work into chunky viscera by way of streamlining and simplification. Much of Pathology, here and elsewhere, is loosely slam; the term “brutal death metal” often evokes a bit too much technicality to describe adequately what’s going on here, but Pathology generally carries a sense of musical urgency (for lack of a better term) not always present in the most guttural, gutter-dwelling slam.
Given that Pathology’s sound has changed a bit over the years, how you’ll feel about their ninth record depends entirely on how much you liked Legacy of the Ancients and what came before it as opposed to Awaken to the Suffering and what came after. Pathology tries to bridge those two gaps, but definitely errs more on the side of their later sound. “Shudder” hearkens back to “Code Injection” in its verse, but veers into something thrashier and more straightforwardly death metal than the slam-fest of that track. This makes for a quality tune that stands out from the pack by a small margin. “Opprobrium” brings the melodeath influence of Legacy’s standout “Among Giants” back while also turning in some good slams to keep the brutality going. It’s another success that stands out eventually instead of immediately.
Pathology’s single-minded focus on their particular brand of brutality is admirable and makes for a good listen, but their ninth record tends to blend together if you’re not paying close attention. The prevalence of samples in slam is useful for separating tracks, but Pathology aren’t in the business of wasting time; there is nary a second here that’s not occupied by punishing simplicity. Matti Way’s vocals are impressively guttural, but the vocal agility he possessed on records like Legacy of the Ancients and Abominable Putridity’s The Anomalies of Artificial Origin has been lost in the process. A blunt and constant hammer that matches the music to a tee, it fits the sound the band seems to be going for but in turn reaps the sour rewards of the incessant quality present in the music. A weird obsession with double-tracking also makes “Lamentation,” otherwise a very good brutal death metal song, less enjoyable than it should be.
True to form since Awaken, Pathology is clean, clear, and loud, and it works for the band’s newer direction. While I certainly enjoyed Pathology’s latest like I enjoy all of their material, it’s a fleeting enjoyment that I don’t come back to all that often. Like a decent B-grade horror film with oodles of gore and dismemberment, this hits the spot when you’re in the mood for what it has to offer and is a fun time worth having if you want slam that’s relatively accessible and of good quality. There’s a ceiling of sorts for this type of music, one which prevents it from climbing to the heights of greatness but endears it to a whole bunch of people. This is red meat for the Pathology base, no more and no less. Predictably fun yet predictably predictable, Pathology brings nothing new to the table, but whatever’s in the ninth helping still tastes good enough.