Review Summary: Suffocation hit a home run on their seventh studio record, putting together a collection of meaty songs with some great new additions to their sound and a sophisticated manner of writing that makes this an amazing death metal album.
Life as a member of Suffocation must be a rewarding and yet stress filled experience. Just consider the pressures of being a member of one of the most revered artists in the genre; a band that has been in existence now for around 25 years and has seldom made a wrong step or stood on shaky footing. The band almost single-handedly pioneered what is now affectionately referred to as the slam-death movement and inspired almost every band in the genre that came after them, as well as spawning a genre that divides opinions throughout the metal scene (deathcore). Their first three albums are respected by almost everyone within the death metal community; having laid down a template of incredibly complex death metal music that would inspire the masses, as well as showing off their signature slower slam sections. The following three albums from the band slowed the tempo down a little at times to more of a plodding, atmospheric style of death metal whilst retaining the crushing sound of albums like Effigy Of The Forgotten, and further cemented Suffocation's status as one of the bands in the genre that appears to have never made a mistake.
Fast-forward 3 years on from 2009's Blood Oath and a lot has changed within the Suffocation sound. Their seventh studio release is also the second that has not featured their best known drummer Mike Smith, with the other album that falls into this category being their well-received Pierced From Within. This is also a no-holds barred affair that whizzes past in its sub-40 minutes running time, hitting the listener hard with a faster overall tempo than the past few albums from the band. Many of the songs here are rooted firmly in the styling of the bands first three albums, although another change has taken place-the band has taken a staple of their sound and amplified it tenfold. I am speaking of the overly technical brand of musicianship that they helped implant within the death metal core upon their inception, and on Pinnacle Of Bedlam it is more noticeable than ever, with this album arguably being the band's most technical outing to date. The technicality on this album is also of the variety that involves cramming as many chords/notes into as short a space of time as possible as opposed to the complex structuring that made albums like Pierced From Within so stunningly technical.
Whilst this is an album where a lot has changed for the band, it also feels like just another day at the office for them. Dave Culross settles into his place behind the drum kit with ease whilst Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais hold down the riffing end of the band's sound in emphatic style. The bass is not quite as audible as it was on their first few albums but it still maintains a presence during the brief moments where the drumming calms down and the two guitars do not lay down such a wall of sound that it becomes inaudible, and it sounds pretty good. The vocals are not quite as powerful as the low-end mumbling that characterized Effigy Of The Forgotten but are still a menacing and sinister contribution from Frank Mullen that serve as a good way to channel the lyrical content here. The songs are mainly comprised of hyper fast riffing with crazily quick drumming (although not quite in the manner of their earliest works) that creates an impenetrable mesh of sound that is almost guaranteed to rub off an avid fan of death metal music the right way. Cycles Of Suffering
thrusts the listener head-first into a pool of complex riffing and this only continues throughout the release. One thing that has always made for a powerful section of the band's songs is the guitar solos and they are back in full swing here although they aren't used quite as often as on the band's earlier material. Terrance Hobbs shows off a frenzy of manic fret work on a few of the songs and it is truly a wonder that his fingers do not split and fall off given the chaotic beauty of his insanely fast soloing.
is one of the more interesting tracks here, with a lot of pinched harmonics and higher pitched notes mixed in well among the low-end guitar work that keeps it feeling varied. This is a song that starts off at more of a middling pace than many of the others and thrashes ahead with this speed for a while, whilst threatening to explode at times when it picks up a little but never really does until the half-way mark when it is almost ensured to amaze the listener. Once this track kicks in, it steam rollers ahead with the conviction of Conan and crushes everything underfoot, including any unwary listener's ears. On the other end of the scale however, the slowest sections of some songs turn out to be the surprising highlights, in ways that even some moments of their early works could not comprehend. Breakdowns and slams are not as frequent as before here, with the opener Cycles Of Suffering
having one particularly effective breakdown but aside from that there are only one or two others that use them. Beginning The Sorrow
is a strong song that makes great use of its breakdown but also has some of the better riffing here. Overall, this album is one that works due to the fact that it is really hard to find a weak song, with the title track and Inversion
being the only songs of a slightly lower standard than the rest of them. The former of the two just sounds like an obligatory fast Suffocation song, whereas the second is an unnecessary exercise in hyper-technical death metal in the vein of Jesus Wept
from their debut.
Pinnacle Of Bedlam is a fantastic dose of death metal album that brings together all the elements of Suffocation's music into one nicely produced package. The mixing is well done and the tones of each instrument are thick and meaty, bringing the genius song writing to the forefront. Some may not like the shift toward more of a hyper-technical vein of music that Suffocation have taken on this release but the truth for me is that this is arguably their second or third strongest work to date and is a joy to behold.