Pathology are a death metal band from San Diego, California, formed in 2006 by drummer Dave Astor, formerly of Cattle Decapitation and The Locust. Their first album, Surgically Hacked, featured Nick Gervais on guitar and Tim Tiszczenko on vocals and bass, but that lineup disintegrated quickly; Tiszczenko moved to guitar, and close to a dozen other musicians entered and exited over the course of six more albums, including six vocalists, four guitarists, and another bassist. At present, Pathology is Astor, Tiszczenko, and frontman Matti Way. Their latest album is Lords of Rephaim; it came out last week, and you can buy it from the label, Sevared Records.

The band’s sound hasn’t changed much from 2006 to today, but its lyrical focus has shifted almost as dramatically as its membership as the years have gone on. The first two Pathology albums, Surgically Hacked and Incisions of Perverse Debauchery, were as gore-soaked as those titles implied, featuring tracks like “Defiled Autopsy Remnants,” “Surgically Dismembered,” “Septic Shock,” etc., etc. With album #3, though, they put away childish things and dove into political/mystical conspiracy theory. Legacy of the Ancients, the band’s 2010 Victory Records debut, brought songs like “Tower of Babel,” “Code Injection,” and “Abduction” (yes, by aliens). Here’s the video for “Code Injection”:

The follow-up, 2011’s Awaken to the Suffering, found them abandoning obscurantism and “secret knowledge,” instead moving toward an almost militant social and political awareness on tracks like “Media Consumption,” “Opposing Globalization,” and “Hostility Towards Conformity.” Of course, it was all still couched in the language of gore and downtuned, grinding riffs; here’s the video for “Media Consumption”:

The third and final Pathology release on Victory, 2012’s The Time of Great Purification, continued their exploration of society’s problems (and science fiction threats) with songs like “Tyrannical Decay,” “Corporate Harvest,” “Oppression by Faith,” et al. Here’s the “Tyrannical Decay” video:

As you can see and hear, Pathology are unsubtle at best. And it’s kind of ridiculous to discuss their lyrical subject matter when the vocals are basically indecipherable. (Interestingly, the Rephaim, according to the Old Testament either a race of giants or the undead, were known to the Ammonites—another tribe in the region—as the Zamzummim, which translates to “the people whose speech sounds like buzzing.”) The music is what makes them worth your time. A churning, precise roar that grinds like a bulldozer in low gear, every song is the same and yet good enough to keep you listening. (This album ends with a re-recording of “Code Injection” that’s just different enough from the original to make it worth the band’s and listener’s time.) Almost every cathartic element has been stripped away—no showy guitar solos, no choruses to speak of—in order to keep the tracks under three minutes and the albums under 35. (“Empire,” the “single” from Lords of Rephaim, comes in at a crisp 1:59.) They shift from low gear to high gear and back again, driven mostly by Astor’s mechanistic, un-showy drumming. The riffs, while never getting absurdly technical, never quite tip over into the boneheaded, knuckle-walking simplicity of hardcore, either. They occupy that sweet spot that, if you were talking about mainstream music, you’d use words like “catchy” and “hooky” to describe. Pathology are fun to listen to, and they’re probably a blast live, ripping through one of these songs after another after another. Don’t think, just headbang.

In a way, this allies them with some of the all-time great death metal bands: Obituary, Suffocation, Immolation, Cannibal Corpse. Those four linked articles, all by Hank Shteamer, get at the virtues of aesthetic conservatism in death metal—establishing a style and working it, rain or shine, for as long as people will still show up—better than anything else I’ve read on the subject. (Actually, it’s more accurate to say that he’s the only one who’s tackled the subject, and good for him for doing so.) Pathology, having only been in the game for seven or eight years, have a long way to go before they’re on the level of those bands, and they probably never will be, commercially speaking; they’re more likely to wind up like Jungle Rot, a band only the real trolls (to borrow director George Romero‘s description of fans—like me—who think Day of the Dead is the best of his zombie movies) love, but whose aesthetic purity is no less admirable for being maintained in obscurity.

Phil Freeman

Stream Lords of Rephaim on Spotify:

Buy it from Sevared Records

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