The only one to surface of the six tracks included on the Tsuguri Records sort-of-reissue of Patheticism’s demo in any official way is the opener, “Go Get Jaguar,” which was included on the 2003 Destroysall: A Tribute to Godzilla compilation alongside heavy hitters like Rwake, Solace and Negative Reaction. Beyond that, the North Carolina four-piece never put out a record and reportedly sold this material at gigs, but never got it distributed or attached to a label for a genuine release. Had these tracks been recorded today instead of a decade ago, Patheticism would probably throw them up on Bandcamp and count whenever the upload finished as the release date, but in 2003, that was less of an option, so 10 years after the fact, Patheticism frontman Jon Cox has issued the abrasive and obscure sludge outfit’s only material a second look on his Tsuguri imprint. Cox, who handles the vicious screams heard throughout the EP/demo’s 20 minutes, is something of a figure in North Carolina’s sludge lineage – not just with the mining operation he runs in reissuing stuff through Tsuguri – but also for spending the mid-to-late ‘90s fronting Seven Foot Spleen (their Reptilicus post-script was issued through the label in 2010; review here), to which Patheticism bassist Scott Cline can also be traced (the two also played in Stone of Abel). Cline, now in Flat Tires who also shared a 2010 split with Cox’s more straightforwardly rocking unit The Asound, served a tenure in Mountain of Judgment with Patheticism drummer Dave Easter, and though the only member of Patheticism I haven’t been able to track more info on is guitarist Cory, chances are he was or is in one or more of these bands too, since that’s just kind of how it goes. Similar to what’s played out over the last couple years as Ohio’s sludge scene has settled into one of the country’s most seething, North Carolina had a similar period in the wake of Buzzov*en, whose nihilistic viscosity shows up in some of Patheticism’s angrier stretches, as on the second track, “Shit Ritual.” It’s also worth noting that the six songs included on the original demo that has become Patheticism’s self-titled EP were recorded in a basement in late 2002 and that the quality of sound reflects that. Personally, I enjoy sludge more with a harsh production value, but I also know that not everyone feels that way. Fair warning.
And that’s really how Patheticism’s lone recording should arrive: With a warning. Because of the lo-fi factor, they’re not as thick as they could be or probably were live in terms of prevalent low-end from Cline, so Patheticism winds up more biting than lumbering at times, a sharp feel permeating the songs even as the tempo varies from the faster thrust of “Go Get Jaguar” to the plodding opening section of “’77 Told the Truth,” which could just as easily have served as a model for Dopefight with its initial stonerly groove and more upbeat, punkish second-half, topped with Cox’s sore-throatery. Most of the time, they’re somewhere between, as Cline opens “Go Get Jaguar” and “Shit Ritual” both with a bassline that Cory soon joins on guitar and the nastiness gets underway with little ceremony and much furor. Their roots prove more toward the punk side than metal, their fuckall in the Eyehategod tradition but still caustic a decade after the fact. They don’t make the 20 minutes easy on the listener, but the grooves that Easter punctuates on his snare in “Shit Ritual” could qualify as a hook, provided the band had any interest whatsoever in accessibility. If “’77 Told the Truth” is anything to go by, they don’t, and the ensuing “Eat Shit Pie,” however familiar the lumber might prove to some who hear it, isn’t much friendlier, coated in buzzsaw fuzz and full-on tonal mud. At 4:07, “Eat Shit Pie” is one of the longer songs on Patheticism – only the opener surpasses it (immediate points) – and the feel is somewhat less raw than that of a song like “Shit Ritual,” but to anyone outside the immediate crust-loving sludge base who might hear it, noise is going to be noise. The fact that after they meander into a long-seeming instrumental break, Patheticism bring the verse of “Eat Shit Pie” back around for one last go – a genuine display of traditional songwriting – is outshined by the trough of vomit they’ve already dug on the three tracks prior. That said, if there was potential in Patheticism to climb out of their primordial sonic ooze, it’s “Eat Shit Pie” that shows it.
“Dividian Polka” follows suit, centered around a riff that seems more classic rocking than anything else on Patheticism and blends well with the morass the band creates. Its swagger is formative, nascent, or whatever else you might call it to say it’s not yet fully realized, but had the band managed to follow up these songs with another EP or a full-length album, “Dividian Polka” could have served as a basis from which to grow into some of the stomp that’s let Weedeater have such an impact on American sludge as a whole. Obviously that didn’t happen, since we’re here a decade later talking about a disc that never came out, but rough and rudimentary as this material was, it was in the right place at the right time. Patheticism close out with “Black House,” a cover of noise rockers Cherubs that originally appeared on the Texas band’s 1994 offering, Heroin Man. The only real mercy Patheticism show in their version is not playing it twice. Beyond that, they take a mean original version and make it even meaner, keeping the arrangement but dirtying it up with their own take. These guys have gone on to different bands and varied styles of play, but Patheticism is an interesting curiosity from along their way, occupying something of an in-between position from where they were to where they are now. You couldn’t really call it their roots, but it is endemic of its time and geography and speaking to a specific ideal of abrasive discontent that no subgenre has been able to capture quite as well or with as little pomp as this particular brand of sludge. For heads who remember the Destroysall comp or have caught up in recent years with Cox’s doings via Tsuguri, the Patheticism tracks will fit in with expectation while providing an opportunity to glimpse what they might have been able to do had they emerged from the basement and gone forward with the stylistic development they were beginning here.North Carolina, Patheticism, Patheticism self-titled, Tsuguri Records