CATHARTIC – Through the Abysmal Gates of Subconscious (2022)REVIEW

When I see the blindness and the misery of man, when I regard the whole silent universe and man without light, left to himself, as though lost in this little corner of the universe, not knowing who has put him there, what he has come to do, or what will become of him at death, and incapable of all knowledge, I become terrified, like a man carried in his sleep to a dreadful desert island and waking without knowing where he is and with no means of escape.” Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Truly felt and accepted insignificance is by no means the first shackle cracked from the wrists of those enslaved by their tiresome, boggled Christian-centric worldview but it is traditionally the most celebrated pinnacle, the budding agnostic exodus from the cave so to speak, which finds human beings acknowledging that to feel significant, important, and exceptional among others only fosters a dangerous form of insanity which naturally appeals to the simian mind’s instinct of survival. Dogma, government, tribalistic culture, and the propaganda which ingrains this illness all manifest from a similar seedling of self-importance proportionate to the individual’s perception of belonging and, of course the reality is that all rivers of thought which go the way of “us vs. them” flow directly from this locus. Insignificance which manifests as depressive and/or nihilistic rumination is perfectly natural reactivity ’til we breach the threshold of perspective which allows for a constant, thrilling return served by cultivation of communal awe. Insignificance should be your plateau to view existence as an awe-striking symphony of chaotic forces, that which traditionally pours into the mind of the best-remembered creative types and natural philosophers after they’ve turned to dust. The sullen, esoteric depressive mayhem of Jalisco, Mexico-based death metal quartet Cathartic merely breaches the wrought iron window beyond, bearing witness to the doorway which existential nihilism allows on this, their debut full-length. ‘Through the Abysmal Gates of Subconscious‘ is yet a fine example of tradition, the apex statement of early 90’s Scandinavian death metal clangor and its youthful attempts at philosophical durative, rather than plain horror-hammered spectacle. Though the explosive use of overdrive/distortion won’t allow most listeners to dig beyond the usual Eldritch Swedish death metal normative pings of excitement there yet exists a welling-up of doom and depressive awe well worth exploring herein.

Cathartic formed as a quartet in mid-2019 between folks who’d been involved in the Guadalajara-area death/thrash metal realm since the early 2000’s at least and their major goal seems to have been to attack a classic pure death metal sound right from the start. Within a year they’d released their first EP (‘Ceremonial Resurrection‘, 2019) which’d sold well and impressed with its overflow of ideas, a sound and style which’d reminded me of Uncanny to some degree beyond the obvious Dismember and Edge of Sanity influences they’d sported up front, a measured amount of melodicism and a healthy but restrained chunk of Boss HM-2 noise leading the charge. The drumming was especially varietal on that first EP and it’d done a lot to emphasize the brutal exuberance with which the band introduced themselves, it was the sort of debut a band busts out with from the start when they’ve got a very clear sense of purpose, hailing the high standards of classic Swedish death metal at a certain 1993 specific ideal. Well, I suppose the average death metal enjoyer today “gets” that idea but doesn’t necessarily need more of it month-over-month so, whatever these guys did on their debut kinda had to set ’em apart to a certain degree.

The title of an album is rarely a point of ingress on my part though I’d found “Through the abysmal gates of conscious” an interesting grab from the Lovecraft-aped lyrics of Thergothon specifically pulling the phrase from the ‘Fhtagn-nagh Yog-Sothoth‘ version of the song “Elemental” which differs from the LP version solely by way of that exact line. It evokes the right mood, torpor and existential lament which should key the listener into the sparse yet crucial doomed and sometimes melodic sentimentality of the full listen. Otherwise Cathartic‘s actual sound reaches for a balance of brutality and melodicism well-aided by their giant buzzsaw guitar tone, something a bit closer to God Macabre‘s ‘The Winterlong‘ in spirit but rooted in songwriting that has more in common with modern revision and iteration upon early Swedish death metal’s punkish rhythmic ideals, the melodic side of Dismember, and the moderately progressive extensions of that style of riffcraft found in early Edge of Sanity (see also: ‘Penetralia‘). If that all sounds like a load of namedrop salad, consider this band’s debut a well-rounded record for the sake of their heavy consideration for the dynamic of the full listen rather than getting too lost in the weeds and/or becoming too confident that the guitar sound will carry the songs.

So, if I haven’t hammered the point home that this is a Swedish style death metal album which attempts to do things a bit different at this point then, sure, the album will make its own case in the long run. On my first run through it really wasn’t until I’d hit “Carried by the Wings of Death” that it sank in as the album began to call for a closer listen beneath the fray of the sawed-at guitar sound. The way “Beyond Grief” kicks things off, quickly slapping into a blast right out of the introductory push, was the sort of detail that only appreciated within successive listens wherein we find the knack for simpler, easily read details from ‘Ceremonial Resurrection‘ reaching a frantic level of urgent overflow. Once we’ve trenched in and pieced through “In the Pits of Anguish” we find what is essentially the sort of approach heard more often in groups like (earlier) Intestine Baalism, those who’d pushed the brutality of a post-‘Like an Everflowing Stream‘ world, or just beyond 1993. The push from the band only becomes groovier and harder edged from that point, hitting a sort of peak somewhere between “Gloomy Ways to Decay” and the aforementioned standout “Carried by the Wings of Death”, wherein these most involved and elaborate grooves give the band a chance to showcase their knack for riffcraft rather than the percussive values of the production.

The second half of ‘Through the Abysmal Gates of Subconscious‘ peaks early in terms of its energetic aggression, the slapping kicks of “Hateful Faith” reprising some of my favorite aspects of Cathartic‘s EP while also showcasing how much they’ve hit the gas for this first LP. The slower grooves from the song kinda drag for me otherwise, that sort of congested mid-paced riffing doesn’t do much for me as it primarily procs for the sake of the behemoth guitar tone and its crunchier capabilities. The guitar interplay, or, the main reason I showed up for this album doesn’t hit perfectly for those last few songs on the way to “From the Unknown” but the impressive finale that it offers does end up convincing enough. While I might suffer from HM-2 induced inflammation of the brain due to listening to it since the early 90’s it’ll no doubt the a righteously extreme and/or nostalgic choice which most death metal fans will appreciate. This record sounds huge and these guys do an exceptional job piecing together a death metal experience rich with detail yet guided by a major directive of oppressive, brutal aggression.

Cathartic‘s debut longplayer ultimately impresses for the sake of its balancing act of brutish groove, intelligent melodicism and a certain professional finesse which reaches for early 90’s death metal sensibilities with great confidence and purpose. With that goal in mind and well-achieved ‘Through the Abysmal Gates of Subconscious‘ impresses from start to finish with generally strong variety in its tempo map and of course, plenty of riffs. The only place to go from here, from my point of view, is to identify those kernels of originality which spark up on the regular throughout the full listen and to make the event even more their own realm in the future. For the ‘old school’ leaning Scandinavian style death metal fandom this’ll undoubtedly be the high bar set for 2022. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Through the Abysmal Gates of Subconscious
LABEL(S):Awakening Records
RELEASE DATE:August 26th, 2022

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