Post-metal has experienced a rejuvenating wind in the past five years or so. From the reemergence of the brilliant Aaron Turner (flanked by no-less-brilliant bandmates) to the space with the free-jazz and extreme metal flecked Sumac to the originalist revivification of Cult of Luna’s recent hot streak and even to newcomers like this year’s Mur record Cut the River’s Vein, we have seen a genre previous imagined as withering in decay suddenly burst back to life. Granted, this second Permian explosion of thought-dead genres of heavy metal expands beyond just the bounds of post-metal; from nu-metal to metalcore to old school death metal to symphonic black metal to industrial metal and more, it seems like all the ghosts have risen from their graves to rejoin us in the post-modern hauntological nightmare world, where we receive a chimaeric amalgamation of potential futures and dead futures genetically braided together. So, given this broader cultural context, it is somewhat unsurprising that Conjurer would be able to deliver a satisfying record in this milieu in the year of our lord 2022.
What does surprise about Páthos is the textural and aesthetic range it follows over the span of its runtime. Conjurer are clearly no mere NeurIsican imitator of old, merely recapitulating the effective moves of those before them. While genre-wise we might consider this record as combining elements of black metal and more traditional and avant-garde forms of doom with the sludgy hardcore-isms of post-metal, it might be better instead to think of the shards of bands we witness here to get a better sense of the kaleidoscopic intent shown here. Heavy unison hits pound through, feeling at times like Celestial-era Isis, before being sliced through with a roaring and rich death growl more suited to Aaron Turner’s current work with Sumac, feeling hoary and untamed rather than the controlled bark of hardcore and post-hardcore. The splashes of progressive color and dirtier clean vocals recalls work from The Ocean (perhaps the most important group in ushering post-metal from its early peak in the 2000s to the current enlivened state it exists in from 2015 forward). There are spoken word segments over tremolo-picked post-rock that explode into post-Deafheaven blackgaze, emulating that bands sense of smeared bright primary colors even in the midst of something like black metal. Conjurer play in an established style but are clearly a modern band when it comes to configuring this space to their needs. When there are groove metal hooks, brief harmonized guitars or resurgent metalcore riffing, it hardly comes as a surprise given all the other colors already at play; that they intermingle with all they do is a delight.
A further contextualization that makes this exciting is just how different this is from their last record, the acclaim collaboration with Pijn titled Curse These Metal Hands. That record exploded outward with an approach to progressive heavy rock closer to Baroness than anything shown here, capturing that groups blend of progressive post-hardcore influence from groups like the Jesus Lizard with their heavier sludge origins, all wrapped in triumphant hooky melodies. The hooks shown here are substantially more rhythmically-driven, the classic but effective trick of lulling you into a powerful groove before slicing through your heart with an unexpected turn of the chord progression or letting the shock of an almost-jazzy upper voicing open you up on the edge of the knife. There are the standard feelings of sourness and catharsis here, an understandable rage at the oblique and brutal order of the world, but these intriguing harmonic and melodic choices given a temporary sense of wonder, like the way the rain-pregnant clouds booming purple and black against the shadows of the tall buildings can briefly feel like a portal to the throne of heaven.
Though perhaps it was that previous heterodox collaboration that allowed Conjurer access to the tools to pursue more elaborate emotional vistas captured here. Páthos is certainly less ferocious than their debut Mire, more willing to explore beauty and a flowering sense of lushness. This feels obviously deliberate. Their debut was a bruiser, feeling less explicitly post-metal at the time of its release and more like a particularly hardcore- and sludge-influenced approach toward US black metal, especially of the more atmospheric end. While Curse These Metal Hands was an intriguing and expansive sonic detour for the group, Páthos shows the developmental arc of Conjurer regarding their sound. Their signing to Nuclear Blast comes almost as a shock; this is the bread and butter of Pelagic, the label run by The Ocean replete with bands that feel more strongly aligned to this mode of work. But that signing itself feels portentous, an indication that Páthos is additionally not the end of the road for the group but merely yet another of their developmental steps toward what they may become. Until we witness that final form, this is an exciting document to sit with.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.