REVIEW: PATHOLOGY – “The Everlasting Plague”
There are few constants in this life: death, taxes, and Pathology releasing a new record nearly every year. The newest release aptly named The Everlasting Plague is Pathology’s eleventh record in their fifteen-year career, which is a gargantuan body of work in its own right. Following hot on the heels of Reborn to Kill, The Everlasting Plague is twelve tracks and over forty minutes of punishing brutal death metal.
Pathology has become a brand name more than a band now, with a nearly constant revolving door of musicians, each release is very distinctly “Pathology” but also offers something new owing to the change in musical personnel. The Everlasting Plague is no different; it takes the standard Pathology approach of slammy riffs, blast beats, and cavernous guttural vocals, and throws some nuance to keep things fresh.
Chief among these changes is an increased focus on melody, and even orchestration, as is heard right out of the gate with the dystopian sci-fi intro to the opening track “A Pound of Flesh”, before descending into a sweep-picked arpeggio, another welcome addition to the writing repertoire. It’s clear from “A Pound of Flesh” and the tracks that follow, that the riffs have a technical edge to them, with higher note-count than your standard chugged power chord slam Pathology we are used to. With this added technicality to the songwriting and the heightened melodies, Pathology has stepped away from the “brutal” slam death metal niche into a more widely palatable technical death metal realm.
This isn’t to say that the chugs and the slams have been entirely forsaken on The Everlasting Plague, and there are plenty to be found on “Perpetual Torment“, “ Viciously Defiled“, and “ “, to name a few. However, it’s tracks like “Diseased Morality” that try their very best to switch things around with more melodic solo work and open-chords. Another standout is “As the Entrails Wither” which kicks off with a minor-chord acoustic arrangement leading to a doomy melodic stomp riff, sticking out in this sea of apparent technical brutality. In addition, on tracks like “Corrosive Cranial Affliction” and a few others, Pathology try their hand at writing at groovier breakdowns, with a few minor strings skipping runs.
Most of the new songwriting tricks and tropes come from the newest addition, in the form of guitarist Dan Richardson (Condemned). Special mention of his solos throughout the runtime of The Everlasting Plague.T Each solo on the record is well-crafted, sits well within the arrangements, and brings something new to the table with each iteration. In a quickly staling genre, it’s elements like these that determine whether the record has any kind of listener longevity. For his solos alone, along with his riff writing and melodies, this reviewer hopes that he is allowed to flex his creative muscles more and for a continued duration on future Pathology releases. If Richardson’s writing keeps things fresh in the Pathology camp, vocalist Obie Flett’s gutturals keep things grounded and sound like “Pathology”. This band has always featured the lowest register of slam/brutal death vocals and have become the de-facto benchmark in the genre of just how ridiculous extreme metal vocals can be. Pathology has enlisted very many growlstars over their extensive career and Inherit Disease’s Flett is swimming with the best. Unfortunately, his single-tone approach to gutturals, while amazing on the traditional slamcore sections of the tracks on the record, feel out-of-place and sometimes jarring when the rest of the band is venturing into the new sonic territory. New vocal tricks to match the new songwriting sparks were sorely found wanting and The Everlasting Plague severely fails in the diversity of vocals.
A continuing complaint is the monotony of tracks in Pathology’s records, and sadly The Everlasting Plague is no different. Even with the added elements to the songwriting playbook, the middle section of the record bleeds together, which is usually a death sentence for extreme metal bands. Songwriters in this niche genre perpetually battle the sense of listener fatigue and few succeed in interjecting the flow with just enough variety to keep the tracks from blending into one big mush of blast beats, growls, and chugs. A strong thorn in Pathology’s side is their extremely wide swing of production styles. Nearly every record “sounds” different, from overly “raw” low-fi sounds to synthetic machine-pressed tones, we never really know what we get in terms of production themes till the singles are released. The Everlasting Plague seems to have opted for the poorer parts of both worlds. The guitars are muddy in their rhythm sections, which results in incoherence in the tech-ier sections. Thankfully the production on the solo tones is superlative, and every solo rings clear and true and is a breath of fresh air in the more. The drums are yet another sore spot, exemplifying everything people hate about extreme metal production. The sterile drum tones along with longtime drummer David Astor’s heavy-handed approach to blast beats and overall hit velocity in his playstyle leads to a frankly artificial overly-quantized nearly robotic product. Nobody denies Astor’s skill but the production takes away so much of his flair and appeal by compressing every hit into lifelessness.
“The Everlasting Plague” may be Pathology’s most different-from-their-catalog release to date, moving them almost entirely from the slam brutal death metal genre towards more standard modern death metal, with some technical influences added to the mix. While a welcome change, Pathology will have to lean harder into refining these newer elements to compete in their new realm.