Gorgatron – Pathogenic Automation Review

Ten years ago, I reviewed Gorgatron’s Torturetorium album, and that was the last thing I’ve heard of theirs, which means that I apparently missed 2014’s Inner Supremacy entirely. My review wasn’t a brilliant piece of writing — looking back, I can say that now with absolute certainty — but in listening back to Torturetorium to catch up to Pathogenic Automation, I stand by it… aside from two significant points: One, it paints Torturetorium as “meat-and-potatoes Midwestern death metal,” as if that were inherently a bad thing, which it very much is not. And two, and even more inaccurately, it describes Gorgatron as “humorless.” (How Earlier Me felt he knew that to be true is anyone’s guess.) Of course, that was before I was treated to this masterpiece of splatter fun:

So clearly Gorgatron has a damned fine sense of humor. You’d expect that from a band who took their name from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, even though both Earlier Me and Current Me did (do) not find that show to be particularly funny.

In listening now to Pathogenic Automation, the first thing to note is that Gorgatron has upped their game, most notably on the production front. While they’re still very much a straight-ahead old-style death metal outfit, they’ve leveled up, compared to Torturetorium. The songs on Pathogenic Automation sound better, much more effectively showcasing the band’s knack for riffery; with the production less roughshod, the performances feel tighter. Though the basic approach is very much in line with the Gorgatron of old, the result is simply stronger.

Release date: August 28, 2020. Label: independent.
Gorgatron’s strengths are twofold: The first is that they occupy a middle ground of metal, that they represent some kind of balanced standard of death metal. Gorgatron is brutal, but not oppressively heavy — these riffs and songs are given room to breathe, space to swing both the razor-sharp scalpels of tremolo-picked precision and the chunky, palm-muted axes of blunt-force trauma. Gorgatron is intricate without being busy — riffs fly past constantly; they twist and turn and dance around one another in lockstep with on-a-dime rhythmic shifts; but never once does any note or sequence overstep its place. Gorgatron is old-school without feeling like retread — they play to a Platonic ideal of vintage-sounding death. They can blast, but they spend much of their time operating at a bulldozer midtempo. Vocalist Karl Schmidt has a similar growl to founding-bassist-turned-guitarist Paul Johnson; it’s intelligible and rhythmic, redolent of the first-wave greats like Frank Mullen, offset with some snarling backgrounds for punctuation. The guitar tones are gnarly and equally pointing towards the likes of Suffocation, with scraping fret noise that sounds like blades whirling through the air. Solos are sparse, rare, but when they arrive, as in “Atrophy” or particularly the closing of “Usurpation,” they add a melodic counter to the bludgeoning beneath.

Gorgatron’s second strength is in that aforementioned songcraft, now handily better presented than it was in the last decade. Through riff after battering riff after slicing riff, Pathogenic Automation simply kicks ass because those riffs and these songs are built for fun. The title track slips easily between a pounding blast and a neck-snapping thrash section, all topped off with an irresistible pit-activating breakdown, the whole mixture pushing that song to the head of the class. From the stuttering woozy riffs that punctuate opening track “Atrophy” to the mid-song deviation into spacey ambience in “Pierced From All Angles,” Pathogenic Automation is a nonstop death metal rifforama.

So now, catching back up after my decade away, I must concede that Gorgatron has a better sense of humor than I’d previously imagined, and yet also that they’re clearly taking their craft very seriously. The proof is in the blood pudding: Pathogenic Automation is seriously stout slab of slicing savagery, and that’s certainly no joke, friend.

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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