Even after signing with Nuclear Blast, Conjurer remains underrated relative to their immense talent. It's been four years since the UK quartet blessed the underground with Mire, an incredible debut LP chock full of sludge, hardcore and post-metal. Conjurer's multifaceted approach certainly explains how the can cover Mastodon and Slipknot on their split EP with Palm Reader with equal finesse, not to mention their collaborative album with post-rockers Pijn. Conjurer really seemed like they could go in any direction on their sophomore album. Now that Páthos has arrived, Conjurer has deepened Mire's frenetic violence with immersive menace. What Páthos lacks in abject intensity it makes up for with nuanced musicality.
Conjurer hasn't forsaken their undying devotion to the almighty riff. Right from the start of opening track "It Dwells," the riffs keep coming, and they don't stop coming. It only takes two minutes for the track to progress from Converge-y chaos to haunting, double-kick-driven harmonies to passionate, gloomy modulations and even a post-black metal interlude—all leading up to a groovy, muscular money riff. Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose maintain synergy both in their guitar and vocal performances, naturally flowing to and from ideas to service a potent emotional through line.
Similarly, the dynamic cohesion between bassist Conor Marshall and drummer Noah See continues to pay dividends on cuts like "Rot." The quiet dissonance of its ambient intro finds both musicians exploiting their more nuanced and melodic quotients, before dropping into one of the heaviest fight riffs Conjurer has ever put to record.
See reprises his distinctive technique of synchronizing his floor tom with his bass drum to add punch to slower rhythms, while Marshall joins the guitarists for attacks as addictive as they are punishing. Even though the song technically centers on two ideas, Conjurer intuitively re-contextualizes the proceedings—whether that means building tension during somber respites, or slowing down an already-brutal riff to end the track in brown noise and pick scrapes.
Páthos shows a slower side of Conjurer, so the ferocious velocity of "Suffer Alone" stands out all the more. This brief, unrelenting assault ties vicious percussion, jagged panic chords and spiraling tremolo picking together with a deliciously syncopated beatdown. Having two vocalists helps distinguish these more chaotic numbers through tasteful alternating and layering shrieks and growls, but this also pays dividends on the melodious meditations of "All You Will Remember."
Morose singing and dreary guitar leads commingle with precise rhythm changes and gnarled distortion for a compelling take on the doomier side of Conjurer, but the song's last quarter takes the album to its emotional peak. A female voice laments on love lost and torn apart ("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"), before the catharsis boils over with a flurry of blast beats and shrill, soaring tremolo picked guitars.
Speaking of shrill tremolo picking, its fitting that "Basilisk" shares some attributes with post-black metal with its dreamier chord progressions and emotive screams, considering it ends with the most violent, detuned, chug-and-slug breakdown on the album. Beyond these contrasts between crushing brutality and serene beauty, Conjurer stands out for their natural execution. A sonic labyrinth like "Those Years, Condemned" remains immersive as it cycles through delicate waltzes, sweeping crescendos and a time signature switch to ⅝. These guys don't seem to rely on musical ideas riffs for their own sake, putting as much weight on whimsical clean guitar melodies as bombshell chugs.
Conjurer often treats nasty riffs as an anchor for an otherwise otherworldly journey. Beefy, infectious low-end thud is exactly what "In Your Wake" needs to return the band to earth after riding through the stratosphere on a mutant steed of buoyant doom-gaze drones, walls of apocalyptic death-doom and intricate math-rock projections. Conjurer never misses the opportunity to bolster a beautiful arrangement with and extra double-kick salvo or grimacing riff switch, but inevitably, they'll circle back to primitive anger to remind listeners of their true foundations.
Conjurer save their most bombastic dynamics for closing cut "Cracks In The Pyre," erupting from brush-on-drum swishes and echoing whispers to an overwhelming wash of oceanic, resonant post-metal. As See and Marshall lock into a spacious swing, Nightingale and Deeprose draw from reserves of uplifting power to end their album in elation as well as melancholy. These guys still find a way to chop up the waters of their sound bath, but agile fret-work and percussive detours remain indebted to the depths that Conjurer lands Páthos in during its final moments.
While it's less frantic than its predecessor, Páthos continues to spotlight Conjurer as true masters of fashioning cool riffs into great songs. The album remains a unified, expansive statement while giving plenty of stank to headbang and mosh to. So is Páthos better than Mire? The better question becomes: Does Páthos display new facets of Conjurer's sonic signature? It certainly does, and it leaves a desire for more.