Review Summary: The birth of a new cycle
Rightfully regarded as a seminal and highly influential band in the development of brutal death metal, New Yorkers Suffocation hold a prominent place in extreme metal Olympus, reserved for those who helped shape the sound of modern metal. The blend of brutality and technique displayed on their 1991 debut album, Effigy of the Forgotten
, was unprecedented at the time, raising the bar for the technical proficiency required in the newborn subgenre, influencing upcoming generations of musicians to strive for greater technicality. Many key players such as Dying Fetus, Cryptopsy and Devourment have acknowledged Suffocation as a major influence on their music. The innovative slam riffing and tempo breakdowns, as well as Frank's distinctive low-pitched gutturals, established a template that countless other bands would follow. And while it could be argued that Cannibal Corpse were equally important in laying the foundations of brutal death metal, it is undeniable that Suffocation should be revered as one of the genre's founding pillars. But unlike their cannibalistic comrades, who unleash mayhem with remarkable regularity (sixteen LPs and counting), the Long Island boys have been taking their time between releases, spawning a total of eight full-length albums over their thirty-five-year career. A somewhat modest score, but one that raises fan expectations, and in the case of Suffocation's ninth chapter, Hymns From The Apocrypha
, the anticipation is amplified, as this is the first time that original vocalist, Frank Mullen, is not behind the mic.
It's never easy to replace a frontman, especially one as charismatic as Frank, so intrinsically linked to the band's DNA, however, as the two singles quickly proved, newcomer Ricky Myers not only fills Frank's shoes remarkably well, he's also responsible for injecting renewed power into Hobbs & Co's music. As if the band reconnected with the nineties. An invigorating new force, easily verified by comparing the re-recording of ʼIgnorant Deprivationʼ, which features Frank on vocals, with the rest of the album. Myers' added value is unquestionable. He's the cog in the wheel that gives the suffo-machine that extra boost, not by adding new features, but by lending it what it really needs to run at full throttle. The new frontman is also responsible for the lyrics, which revolve around supernatural beings who use old writings to trick people into believing they are divine and will one day share eternal life with their creators. Merciless entities whose real aim is to enslave mankind so that they suffer physically and mentally for their own amusement.
Musically, Hymns From The Apocrypha
recaptures the nineties with a modern twist and renewed energy, somehow encapsulating the band's thirty-five-year journey. Although the connection to the roots has never been lost, the bridge is now more visible than in previous releases, mainly due to the revitalized songwriting and how it interacts with Myers' gutturals. Everything sounds interconnected and focused, purposely done. The title track and subsequent 'Perpetual Deception' (which evokes 'Jesus Wept') serve as a perfect introduction to the album, while embodying the band's contemporary sound. Constant tempo shifts and intricate riffing, which sometimes expands through multiple layers, set the tone for a record that blends the past and the present in a formula that keeps finding balance between technique and brutality. There's a nice sense of flow throughout Hymns From The Apocrypha
, which gives it a somewhat attractive personality and interesting replay value; a more accessible nature that mirrors the boys' up-to-date style, showcasing the modern feel mentioned earlier. Interestingly, the breakdowns and slam sections, featured on tracks like 'Perpetual Deception', 'Immortal Execration' and 'Embrace The Suffering', are among the catchiest moments, often serving as pit stops between vicious blast beat discharges. The early old-school riff in 'Delusions Of Mortality' and the middle section of 'Perpetual Deception', which combines galloping and prog(ish) riffing, are some of my personal highlights, along with the Chuck Schuldiner-esque harmony and subsequent chorus of 'Hymns From The Apocrypha'. Production-wise, the album doesn't disappoint either, displaying a fat, modern sound without diving into overly compressed and inorganic territory. A fitting engineering, handled by the duo Hobbs & Boyer in collaboration with Christian Donaldson, which amplifies the music appropriately.
Thirty-five years after their inception, Suffocation keep spawning their distinctive brand of brutal death metal with razor-sharp precision and unrelenting brutality. Hobbs & Co have become an institution with a sound architecture of their own; a colossal structure that takes on new forms with each new chapter and lineup. However, more than just the latest façade of the suffo-edifice, Hymns From The Apocrypha
is the thunderous roar that announces the birth of a new cycle.