Review Summary: A misstep for a band that has been consistently good until now
For those who have never heard of the band before Suffocation are pioneers of the brutal death metal sub-genre. They are renowned for their fast and furious approach to music and were among the first, if not the first band to feature slams in their music. Their early works are frequently mentioned among the finest death metal albums of all time. Effigy Of The Forgotten shot them to fame within the death metal community and Pierced From Within solidified this status two albums later. Following this the band seemed to lose focus despite the fact that all of their albums have enough good features about them to save them. 2013 heralds the return of this titan of death metal with their album Pinnacle Of Bedlam, and surprisingly this is the band's weakest release to date.
Pinnacle of Bedlam is by no means a bad album but is certainly not of the same consistency in quality as their self titled or any other post-Pierced From Within Suffocation album. Its real saving grace is the solos but the band seems to have held back a little with soloing. They are still found frequently but not with anywhere near enough presence as on past material. The solo to Cycles Of Suffering is one that really sticks out due to its extended length and the fact the first half of it is calm until it just explodes and goes all over the place. Eminent Wrath opens up with a short piece of quick lead work and whammy bar abuse that feels to be too short to have any sort of impact. For the most part the solos are just there except for the longer ones which are more than enough to leap out at the listener. As Grace Descends is the finest example of how the solos can really save the song as this song was just a song that steam rollered on until the point of the solo. The quick runs up the fret board on this particular song were its saving grace.
The riffs to this album are where it has really lost its punch. Suffocation have always prided themselves on playing a technical brand of death metal but on Pinnacle they have over stretched themselves. In place of the well thought out riffs of Effigy are a collection of pieces of guitar work that just clash too much. The songs have no real flow due to the fact that most of the time one riff does not lead into the next one particularly well. One note-worthy exception to this would be Sullen Days. This song opens up with some nice clean guitar work before a bludgeoning riff kicks in with some nice use of pinch harmonics. The song meanders around by adding a few different ideas to the same riff for the first two minutes before it really picks up. Fast palm muted riffing is the main course for the next minute before a slightly slower interplay of chords and tremolo picking comes in. Following this is the best riff of the song at 3:30 that never fails to amaze. The one thing this song is missing is a solo to really capitalize on its clever riff set.
The vocals on this album are a massive let down from past Suffocation releases as well. Gone are the incredibly guttural and indecipherable mumblings of their earlier works and in place are powerless grunts with little energy or emotion behind them. For the most part the vocalist keeps to the same low tone with every word being understandable but with no reason to strive to hear what he is saying. The vocal performance on Pinnacle Of Bedlam is the only truly bad thing on this album. This also has an enormous impact on the effect of the slower moments of the album and during the slams where the vocals would usually be at the forefront. The chorus to Cycles Of Suffering before the solo had potential to be interesting and enjoyable and a good means to break up the flow of the music. With the slower nature of the guitar work and stop-start style to it, the vocals are right at the front of the music. However due to the lack of power behind the growls, you will just want to skip this section.
The highlights of this album are solid enough songs and definitely fit in well among the band's past works however. Cycles Of Suffering opens the album up with a punch. There is no clean introduction or song dedicated purely to random noises to kick this album off. In place of this the band leaps directly into the heavy as hell riffs and vocal work with thrash beats and fast double bass throughout this song before the aforementioned monster solo. This is possibly the second best opener to a Suffocation album, joint with Liege Of Inveracity. Even the vocal performance is not a problem on this song aside from the slowest sections. The title track is another good song with the band's signature blast beats playing a big part of it as well as some really cool jumps between chords and tremolo picking to open it up. Thirty seconds in the song introduces the much more technical riffing that really does work and does not feel as though the band has taken this side of their music too far for once. The slower riffs backing the soloing are fantastic and the drum fills mark the finest drum moments of Pinnacle Of Bedlam. The worst song on the album is Inversion which opens up with some quick blast beats and tremolo picking but it just feels like the band is merely going through the motions of creating "a Suffocation album". Just under a minute in the song gets a lot more enjoyable but even that does not save it from being just a boring pile of nonsense for its last sixty seconds.
Suffocation's 2013 outing is not a complete failure but is definitely their first true misstep. Hopefully the band will not consider continuing down this more-technicality-than-required style of music they took for this album in future. It is not a bad album with some solid riffs and solos that really will amaze the listener but the vocals and some of the weaker riffs truly do drag it down to being merely an average death metal album.