This has plainly been a vintage year for brutal death metal already, but the genre is still more than able to sustain a fresh kick in the pants. PATHOLOGY have been a steady and reliable presence in the scene for a long time now, but it's debatable whether the San Diego crew have yet released an album worthy of their enduring cult status. Happily, "Reborn to Kill" sounds exactly like the kind of record the band needed to make, not least because they have deftly avoided two major pitfalls that scupper a considerable majority of like-minded bands.
Firstly, PATHOLOGY know how to write songs. There is virtually nothing in the way of extraneous self-indulgence on offer here: what we get is 12 short, sharp and utterly vicious slabs of stripped-down death metal, pointedly imbued with the spirit of the genre's early days, when memorable hooks were fundamental. Opener "Hieroglyphs on Cement Walls" lays down a formidable blueprint across three minutes of skull-slicing ferocity, and it's a formula that bears repeating — everything from the flat-out "Forced Regression" to the woozier, subtly atmospheric squall of "Predation" delivers its sucker-punch with thrilling precision and brevity.
Secondly, PATHOLOGY know exactly when and how to bend the rules. There are tons of tiny textural tricks being employed here; embellishments that turn the likes of "Frothing at the Mouth" and "Crematorium Flames" into something far more compelling than just another demonstration of brutal virtuosity. There is a surprising amount of melody lurking in the sonic shadows, too: both stately interlude "Empathy Ends" and grandiose closer "Celestial Condemnation" showcase a more melancholic and finessed approach, bringing further dynamics to what is already a beautifully paced and constructed 34 minutes of music. There's a sense of craftsmanship behind these songs, as if they've been meticulously honed over time rather than thrown together in some gloomy rehearsal pit.
"The Beast Within" is the finest thing here; an imperious display of death metal mastery with brains to back up the brawn. The opening blitzkrieg of blasts gives way to a sinew-wrenching slam groove before darkness and dissonant descends across ever-shifting tempos and a truly animalistic vocal from Obie Flett. Where many bands would hide behind complexity and abstruse arrangements, PATHOLOGY have clearly had a surge of collective confidence, leading to a holistic sharpening up in every department.
In the end, of course, the mark of a great death metal album is whether it makes you want to drive your car through a brick wall or not. As substantial as it is, "Reborn to Kill" definitely taps into a rich vein of primal violence, too. When they are hurtling along at full pelt during the aptly titled "Dragged Into the Cave" or the CANNIBAL CORPSE-tinged "Pit of Bones", PATHOLOGY sound as rabid and unhinged as any of their peers.
In a particularly fine year for death metal, "Reborn to Kill" makes no attempts to reinvent the wheel, but it nails the basics with evangelical zeal, adding a dash or three of ingenuity thrown in as a welcome bonus. Brutal mission accomplished.