In the early ‘90s in South Africa, the most popular death metal albums on the mainstream radar were Deicide’s Legion and Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness – both excellent discs in their own regard, but not much of a cross section of the rich and varied sounds available. This deplorable state of affairs did improve with time, but sadly, Finland’s Carnifex never made their mark, to the point where the only Carnifex in general metal conversation this far south is the US deathcore outfit. In fact, only in the second half of the 1990s, with the South African release of the Beauty in Darkness compilation CDs, did the likes of Sentenced and Amorphis  start leaving their Finnish mark on club playlists.
While Pathological Rites (a compilation of early demo releases) may not stand out in comparison with contemporary death metal records, it’s still a shining example of Finland’s early contribution to the genre: short, sharp aural assaults, with a very strong punk influence still evident and contributing to the no-quarter-given approach to composition. Simplistic and confrontational, the bass-heavy mixes leap into breakneck leads without preamble – and what leads they are. The Hanneman school of thought is undeniable, with significant reliance on tremolo bar and harmonic squeals punctuating the violent, fast leads. These, in turn, are often followed by an indrawn breath – a moment of silence before the main riff chugs its way back in.
On the subject of riffing, special mention must be made of “Resurrection”: a stellar piece let down only by the tinny drums that plague most of the record – an unfortunate, but understandable side-effect of shoestring budget demo production. The inconsistent tone and mastering reinforce this, but on the whole the sheer virulence of the album more than compensates for the sound quality. “Why” and “Release From Slavery” demonstrate the best tone on Pathological Rites, but even they are not quite full-length release quality. In general, the vehemence with which Carnifex attack their own songs is what makes the record; that, and a slight pang of nostalgia for days gone by.
Check out track five, “Necrophobia [Demo ’91]”, plus the rest of the album here.
Perhaps it’s the fact that death metal has gone down a darker path since this ‘90s iteration, but Carnifex’s Pathological Rites doesn’t tick all the boxes. Nostalgia is one thing, and enthusiasm counts a lot, but even combined these qualities don’t leave the lasting impression of other proto-death albums, for example, Possessed’s Beyond the Gates. Pathological Rites is an amusing diversion, but not likely to remain in long-term circulation.
Pathological Rites Track Listing:
02. Pathological Rites
03. Disturbed One
04. Purify Thy Soul
06. Aberration into my Subconscious
07. Left Behind
08. Release From Slavery
10. Salvation = Suffocation
12. Spiritual Void
13. Fresh Flesh
Run Time: 44:50
Release Date: May 23, 2018
1. Respectively, their Shadows of Past and The Karelian Isthmus albums left a particularly lasting impression. Both paved the way for more ambitious, more melodic releases by other acts, but for a teenaged version of myself these records – along with Therion’s Lepaca Kliffoth – opened my eyes to classical and folk influences in metal.