Review Summary: Suffocation deliver yet another solid record
It must be difficult for Suffocation sometimes. As one of the most integral pioneers of the technical and brutal death metal subgenres, these guys have their work cut out maintaining their reputation as one of death metal’s all-time greatest acts. It’s a given that their current output will forever be compared to their older material, with many people vigilantly maintaining that the New York quintet will never
top their classics. This is a shame because since reforming in 2003, their material hasn’t noticeably declined in quality, but the perennial “it’s not the same” line is constantly thrown around as if it’s some kind of valid criticism. While any other band would be lauded for releasing something akin in quality to their self-titled album, Suffocation seem to be victims of a fanbase who simply won’t accept any kind of evolution, simply because it’s different.
Now 25 years on from their inception, Suffocation face the arduous task of trying to stand out in a scene colonised by the very acts they inspired. It’s a precarious situation they find themselves in, and along with the added expectations of simply being Suffocation
, this means that there is always going to be a loud group of people who will be disappointed, irrespective of the quality of their new material. Something becomes apparent immediately that will displease many long-time fans; the production. The sound of this album is lighter than almost anything they’ve released previously. There is no actual
problem here; the guitars have an energetic vibe to them and every note is perfectly audible, the drums are crystal clear without being overtly prominent in the mix, and the bass complacently assists the guitars in giving the riffs a bit of substance without making them sound murky. Simply put, the album sounds absolutely fine, but in saying that, it sounds just like any other tech-death album.
In terms of musicianship, this is still classic Suffocation. Apart from a brief acoustic intro in “Sullen Days” and a corresponding outro, this album is a non-stop barrage of riffs and blasts, with very little time allocated for relaxing and getting your breath back. Veteran guitarists Guy and Terrance are more technically proficient than ever, and alternate with liquid fluidity between chainsaw-like shredding and well-executed fret-board wizardry. Some of the best guitar-work is found on the aforementioned “Sullen Days”, with a catchy-as-hell main riff complimented by high tempo shredding that’s saturated with a remarkable amount of groove. There is also a number of wailing solos scattered across the record, the best one ending up on the title track. As much of a treat it would have been to have Mike Smith on board for this record, Dave Culross is still superb behind the kit. Throughout the 38 minute assault, Dave operates like clockwork, at no point sounding as if he has difficulty keeping up with the frenzied guitar-work. Vocally, Frank Mullen’s delivery is virtually unchanged from that on Pierced From Within, maintaining a deep, intelligible, breathy rasp.
The slower instrumental breaks that we know and love as “slams” are probably the most lacking aspect of this record. While they’re certainly not pedestrian or uninspired, nor do they detract from the record as a whole, they don’t exactly add much either. This is perhaps where the production hurts the album most. If Suffocation were going to deliver their usual brutality-laden incantation of metal, it’s imperative that it sounds
brutal. While this is certainly no walk in the park, the non-stop riffage begins to falter when you realise that the heaviest parts would’ve sounded so much sweeter if the guitars had a bit more of that concrete-thick bottom end. As far as memorability is concerned, this album can begin to blend together at certain parts too. Two or three tracks in and you’ll sometimes find yourself zoning out. The intro and outro on “Sullen Days” almost serve as markers for the very middle of the record, but another couple of tracks further along and you might find yourself zoning out again. It seems the inclusion of two softer parts in the middle of the album were obligatory for keeping the album interesting, as the songs themselves aren’t quite dynamic enough to maintain the listeners attention without an intermission.
Pinnacle of Bedlam may not crush skulls or pulverise internal organs quite like its ancestors, and for sure it has a few flaws. While it doesn’t reach the heights of Pierced From Within or Effigy of The Forgotten, it’s still a very impressive slab of technical not-so-brutal death metal. Many will interpret this as complete failure on Suffocation’s part, despite the obvious quality of the material here. One thing is for sure though, no matter how much you want to harken back to the “good ol’ days”, these guys have
changed. Seemingly taking a modicum of inspiration from the very acts they inspired themselves, Suffocation have done a damn fine job and managed to create another solid record.