Conjurer Dives to the Depths In “Páthos” (Review)
There’s a quote out there somewhere about how a work of art’s objective value is the emotional response elicited in the person experiencing it. Makes the idea of criticism seem kind of silly. Anyway, the new Conjurer record, Páthos, made me cry.
Since their debut full-length, Mire, one of the most talked-about releases of 2018, the quartet has seemingly summoned an incredible wave of opportunity out of thin air. “We’ve been touring and playing fests more than any band has a right to,” guitarist and vocalist Brady Deeprose says. He’s sitting on a couch in the Zoom window, framed by the most godawful floral curtains you’ve ever seen. It’s distracting, almost enough to question his tastes. The sweater he’s wearing isn’t black, doesn’t have a scratchy logo or a Seagravian landscape screen printed on it. Deeprose just looks like a dude sitting in front of old lady curtains.
It’s worth bringing up since Conjurer are kind of a big deal. Páthos is only their second record and they’ve already racked up a ridiculous collection of accolades. They’ve booked huge tours in the USA, played at Arctangent, Roadburn, Download, signed to Nuclear Blast—all on that debut.
So, it’s weird that they don’t have so much as a coordinated wardrobe in band photos. They just made the cover of Kerrang! and without the pull quotes, you’d be forgiven for not recognizing them as one of the most hyped acts in the extreme music game. In this moment when even the heaviest genres seemingly need to appeal to the algorithms of attention-capitalism, an entity without a brand identity, an image, a gimmick, is risky. In Conjurer’s case the risk has paid off. Not to say the folks in Conjurer wouldn’t look very nice in ornate masks and flowing robes, but they don’t need it. Their music and performances are enough.
Conjurer’s power in part derives from their cohesion: in the riffs, the vocals, in the songwriting, in their live performances. The way the band has woven together their patchwork of influences makes distinctions like “black metal riff” or “sludge part” difficult to discern, as if the distinctions aren’t there at all. This sound is just Conjurer, sprung forth fully formed from a blanket of heavy mist.
Their heady amalgam of styles and influences (which results in a string of backslashes on the genre tab of their Metal Archives page) invites comparison in this world of labels. For better or worse, a “For Fans Of:” sticker seems to have accompanied damn near every mention of the band since they arrived on the scene. Gojira at their heaviest, Opeth at their most progressive, Mastodon at their earliest (even though Deeprose says Blood Mountain is his jam.) “If you ripoff four bands, you’re a ripoff,” Deeprose says, “but steal from 50? It’s your own thing.”
This reductive marketing scheme doesn’t even begin to represent the richness of what this band does. Deep, poetic constructions that chart dynamic waves of constriction and release, light and shadow, elevated and matured on this new record.
Páthos moves like a massive serpent over uneven terrain- twisting, winding, contracting and expanding as it positions itself to best deliver its emotionally ruinous venom. Crushing in all the ways one expects. At moments so sonically oppressive as to elicit a grimace in the listener akin to smelling a finely aged cheese. These stinky cheese riffs stomping straightforwardly into the wave-crashed shore are balanced with intricacies that call to mind a sludgier Meshuggah (Mesludggah?). Added textural moments of vulnerable delicacy complement the weighted moments like line breaks in a poem.
Tight songwriting, impeccable pacing, and aetherial thematic forces lend Páthos a sense of levitation when consumed in its entirety. Páthos naturally flows from the opening napalm fireball of "It Dwells", even with all the unexpected twists and turns along the way, to the bittersweet exsanguination of "Cracks In The Pyre".
The chemistry of the co-vocalists elevates the emotional resonance of the performances. Deeprose and Dan Nightingale aren’t dueling but consonant with each other, complementary voices, much like their guitar playing. Nightingale’s bellow takes center stage, violently casting aspersions in every direction including the self. Deeprose’s reciprocal banshee shrieks like in the middle section of “Rot” unsettlingly pierce the blood-brain barrier, creepy and lingering like the very best Black Metal vocals. The ethos of Páthos is most apparent in moments like this, howling into a broken down darkness: You aren’t to blame - no one is at fault. This is me.
Drummer Jan Krause supports the supernatural weight of the music in spectacular fashion, combining the magnetically-accelerated kinetic syncopations of drummers like Mario Duplantier with the rip and tear ferocity of the best of the blackened sticksmiths. Bolstered by Conor Marshall’s igneous low end, Conjurer’s rhythm section is in fine form on the latest record. The band recently announced an amicable split with Krause which is a true loss. But what a swansong Páthos is.
The concise directness of "Suffer Alone" —a punky sandblaster of a track that at two and half minutes is also the only song on Páthos shorter than five minutes— is sometimes missed within the cinematic pondering of the rest of the record. More short, fast songs would be great but "Suffer Alone" stands on its own amidst other blistering tracks on a playlist. And it works even better in context as a precursor to the soul-heaving penultimate track "In Your Wake", furthering the profound sense of cohesion at play.
Páthos is the result of seven immense years of change for the band, its members, and the world. The result is a sense of growth that distinguishes Páthos from Mire but without distance. Though the music and lyrics were written more collaboratively than previous efforts, everything that critics and fans loved—intensity unmatched and exquisitely paired with vulnerability, occult folkloric vibes without the cheesy theatrics, and, good god, the riffs— are present within a more mature framework. Páthos, pound for pound, features fewer riffs than Mire, but the exploratory sense present in the band's writing process weaves a more profound sonic tapestry.
A bit of spoken word poetry, written by the band and brilliantly performed by Alice Zawadzki in the middle of the track "All You Will Remember" invites that quote about the value of art into my mind. The one I can’t seem to hunt down or prove exists at all. My guess is the song seems to be reflecting on a very personal experience with a neurodegenerative disorder, but on the first listen, without that context, when Zawadski says “I’d do anything to prevent what I’m putting you through, But I don’t know who you are, or who I am to you,” it caught something personal about this particular moment in my life and I burst into tears. Meaning in art is what the audience conjures from it, and when artists pull from so much of the work that has inspired them we all take part in a divine piece of what makes us human, including our pathos.