(Below, NCS writer TheMadIsraeli reviews the new album by Suffocation.)
Suffocation are THE pinnacle of technical death metal. Every single moment of music they’ve written from Human Waste on has been full of eviscerating brutality, technical instrumentation brought together by one of the best senses of songwriting in the entirety of the genre, and the signature trademarks of Frank “The Tank” Mullen’s vocals, Terrance Hobbs’ indescribable but instantly recognizable brand of riffing, and in this particular case David Culross’s drumming (I think his approach on Despise The Sun was unique, and it definitely sounds like him here). So, the chance to review Pinnacle Of Bedlam was something I leaped at.
In addition to Vader and Dying Fetus, Suffocation are at the head of my trinity of brutality. No one has EVER matched up to this band’s body of work, not even close. They define the three things that make a great band: Consistency, legacy, and relevancy. I don’t think anyone would dare have the nerve to say Pierced From Within sounds old; at least to my ears, that album is as musically current as it ever was, which may raise some questions about the state of modern metal. What does it mean when many newer bands out now sound older and outdated while certain old school stalwarts still manage to sound not only relevant, but still ahead of the times? To this day, Suffocation still maintain a commitment to excellence and a standard of quality that exceed that of most other bands.
Pinnacle of Bedlam is the shit. That’s the essence of what I’m trying to say.
I’m very rarely inspired and energized by death metal any more because so much of the new shit is just plain dull. I made a comment to someone a couple years back that still appears true: Nowadays, it seems there are only two types of death metal when it comes to recently formed bands: Those who write unoriginal old school Swedish tribute bullshit, and those who drown any semblance of intensity in needlessly drawn out melodic wank (OR atonal wank, which is actually more boring). There have definitely been exceptions to these generalizations, but I’d like to think most would agree with me on the broad points.
Suffocation, on the other hand, pull out all the stops on Pinnacle of Bedlam, bringing to bear many forms of weaponized poignancy in audio form. The riffs are like a multitude of bladed and blunt weapons, the drums like an assault of various sadistic torture implements, and Mullen’s vocals the sonic semblance of matter being expelled from the body in the aftermath of the carnage.
From the opening soul-filleting blitzkrieg of “Cycles Of Suffering” to the mournful, yet disturbed trudge of “Sullen Days” or the all-out contained world war of the closer “Beginning Of Sorrow” (the opener of “Breeding The Spawn” re-recorded), I’d suggest something is off with someone who doesn’t black out and mentally slaughter an entire city in the process of jamming this record. Some of the moments carry just an overwhelming surge of power capable of splitting an entire cosmos in two. There is, for example, a brief breakdown near the ending of “Inversion” that may be one of the most brutal moments of music this band have ever inflicted.
Suffocation also play genuine technical death metal in the true sense of the term, defined not only by the instrumental acrobatics but also by the band’s sense of composition. Tempo changes, time signature changes, and confusing patterns are meant to make the listener think instead of merely sitting there while a bunch of assholes jack off with their instruments. Suffocation are still a band with a mission, a purpose, and a fire raging within to fuel it — and this album underscores those points definitively.
The highlights for me, though, on this album are Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais. This is one of the best guitar duos in all of metal, period, bar none, even if Marchais is not an original member himself. Terrance Hobbs, of course, is the band’s main composer and musical mastermind and in my opinion one of the landmark guitarists in the death metal corner of the metal universe, defined by his elaborate classically influenced composition style and his odd penchant for melodic-but-not-quite riffage that evokes an ethos which is a signature of Suffocation. Hobbs and Marchais as a team, however, are astonishingly precise and work well off of each other. The solos by both of them are chaotic but with a veteran sense of refinement. They are memorable as well, despite treading territory that is melodically unconventional.
Death metal, in all of its forms and variations DOES NOT get better than this and never will. This is a must-own album of 2013. Hail to the kings of tech death.
(Pinnacle of Bedlam is being released by Nuclear Blast today in the UK and tomorrow — February 19 — in North America. Order here, on iTunes, or at Amazon.)