Awaken to the Suffering

Up until a few months ago, I had never heard of ‘slam death.’ Not a big surprise, since my death metal tastes run more towards tech or melodic, and I was never that into Suffocation to begin with (who, I understand, are kind of the granddaddy of the subgenre). Yet, out there are entire blogs and message boards debating the finer points of San Diego vs Russian slams, the riffing techniques of one band vs another, or most notably, the differences between brutal death metal (BDM) and slam death. And much of it is delivered with the same level of thought and depth that we try to bring to you here at Teeth of the Divine for many other genres.

It bothered/fascinated me that there was this whole subgenre out there I didn’t know much about, so I jumped into the filth with both feet, floundered around for awhile and tried to make sense of it all. And here’s what I came up with:

a) Slam death represents death and decay in its purest musical form – a disgusting sludge meant to evoke the horrible, inescapable reality that one day, your flesh will brown and liquefy before sloughing off your cold, brittle bones

b) Slam death focuses exclusively on thick, vomitous vocals and massive, fat, ceaseless grooves in an effort to strip death metal down to its purest and most gratifying elements – much like how some porn has discarded narrative in favor of pure fuck compilations

c) Slam death is not worth intellectualizing, much for the same reason that you don’t dwell too much on why some grown men obsess over pro wrestling or monster truck pulls

In any case, most of what I found was not terribly impressive. Some of it, like San Diego’s Cephalotripsy, was oddly hypnotic in a stripped-down, hip-hop kind of way, but that was the extent of it. Some, like Wormed (from Spain), was completely indecipherable. And others, like Gortuary, sported morbidly fascinating album covers (like the one for Awakening Pestilent Beings, which just looks like an awesome horror movie), but failed to make much of an impact beyond that.

So why all of this prologue? Well, it goes back to that argument about which is better – brutal death or slam. Despite the similarities, it seems clear to me that brutal death is still far more musical and interesting, even while keeping things completely, well, brutal. Case in point, Pathology’s newest, Awaken to the Suffering.

While album opener “Dissected by Righteousness” starts things off with a more traditional slam sound, the fourth track, “Media Consumption,” with its virtuoso tech-death soloing, makes it clear that this isn’t going to be your usual slam death vomit-a-thon. Perhaps that’s because the San Diego-based band started off as brutal death, and so even though they’ve moved towards the simpler pleasures of slam death (and on ‘core-haven Victory Records, no less), they’ve retained enough elements of structure and complexity to keep things interesting.

For example: the thrashy, busy riffs that form the backbone of “Opposing Globalization.” Makes it much easier to get into a groove when you have something to grab onto, rather than just mindless chug. The same approach applies to the vocals as well (courtesy of new member Jonathan Huber, most recently of deathcore act I Declare War). Sure, much of it is your basic revolting slam gurgle, but there are also weird modulations that sound like animal snarls employed throughout. And yeah, it’s almost pointless to wonder what the lyrics are, as the vocals here are almost entirely percussive, but the varied delivery makes for an engaging interplay with the drums. Finally, tracks like “Society’s Desolation” and album highlight “Humanity’s Cesspool” definitely show a mix of tech and slam, with nimble lead guitarwork riding atop a simpler baseline of slams and relentless percussion.

I’ll be curious to see what the posters on those aforementioned message boards make of the new Pathology. Most likely, the slam purists will deride it for not being troo enough, and the BDM fans will decry the incorporation of slam elements. In either case, it’s that hybridization that makes this, at least for me, worth listening to. My death metal diet all year keeps going back, again and again, to Benighted’s excellent BDM/grind masterpiece Asylum Cave, but I’m finding more than enough chewy bits on Awaken to the Suffering to add it to the rotation.


[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 13th, 2011


  1. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Good Cd. much improved from debut, and they have some sneaky melody in the slam/brutality

  2. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    I’ve had the displeasure of seeing this band live twice in the last year, most recently with Grave a few nights ago.
    I just think this stuff is absolutely terrible…there is just no feeling/atmosphere in it at all. You can play guitar well…I get it, now please write a memorable RIFF.

    Metal, at it’s core I think is all about the riff. If your band can’t write good riffs that sound like more than masturbatory one-upmanship, then you can’t write a good song. Without strong songwriting, a band is nothing.

    “Slam death represents death and decay in its purest musical form – a disgusting sludge meant to evoke the horrible, inescapable reality that one day, your flesh will brown and liquefy before sloughing off your cold, brittle bones”

    Completely disagree on this one, Gaba. To me, what you described is the very essence of what is now ‘old school’ death metal : Nihilist/early Entombed , Grave , Incantation, Dismember, Autopsy etc etc ….not this new breed of tough guy stuff.

    Great write up as always, though !

  3. Commented by: GrandAeon

    Slam is the new breakdown.

    Remember when hardcore bands started abusing breakdowns? Now brutal death metal bands are doing the same but can’t call it a breakdown (it’d be too trendy). So “slamming” it is.

    A couple slams per album is nice. One slam per song is pushing it. Slams across the board is fucking boring and is just a strong indication the band can’t write or play.

  4. Commented by: Reignman35

    Slam is and always will be a guilty pleasure of mine. If you’re looking for a good band to check out try ‘Cranial Osteotomy’. Slam at its FINEST…

  5. Commented by: gabaghoul

    ha ha Biff – that bit about the pure musical equivalent of death and decay was meant to evoke the fact that slam death is largely structureless and sloppy, just as our bodies will one day turn into soup. Grave, Dismember, Entombed and the like are much too ordered to satisfy that metaphor. guess I didn’t get that across too well…

  6. Commented by: Clauricaune

    I’m with Biff on this one. At first I was impressed with the technical skills and musicianship these guys show… then the record started to bore the hell out of me with each passing song.

    This is just masturbation. I sort of like a couple of songs/passages, but there’s very little feeling in this overall.

  7. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    Gaba- ahh, now I get what you meant with that…. I interpreted your description as a note about the ‘feeling’ of the music, not its actual structure, that’s why I thought of the old school stuff.

    The tough guy/broseph posturing of this bands vocalist on stage makes it even worse !

    Oh well. Different stroke… I guess !

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