REVIEW: SUFFOCATION – “…Of The Dark Light”
Suffocation have always been where technicality and brutality collided, a maelstrom of chaos where a cacophony of riffs and drums create a devastatingly violent force. Their early works are frequently mentioned among the finest death metal albums of all time, excluding the catastrophic production that was ’Breeding The Spawn’, although this was more down to the record company at the time rather than the band. Label mates Malevolent Creation’s ‘Stillborn’ also suffered the same fate. Suffocation is a band who more often than not get harshly judged by fans and critics for their apparent failure to live up to expectations, expectations so high that even their contemporaries would find it challenging to match the veracity of Suffocation in full flight, such is the punch their debut album ‘Effigy Of The Forgotten’ had over 25 years ago. Its mark on the underground metal scene can be still felt to this day in many brutal death metal and deathcore bands. It is the blueprint for brutality in extremism.
A lot has happened since the bands last album ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’. Drummer Dave Culross who played on ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’ and the ‘Despise The Sun’, EP respectively has left the band for a second time, after he had replaced long time drummer Mike Smith, a tough act to follow but he managed to put in a fine performance on ‘Pinacle of Bedlam’. Guy Marchais who played on every post reunion album and also did a stint in the band during their formative years has also jumped ship leaving founding members Frank Mullen and Terrance Hoobs to steer the ship. A good thing considering singer Frank Mullen recorded the vocals for the last album and was forced to bow out of the majority of the touring cycle for the album, due to his real life job commitments. A bombshell for fans but a sign of the times. It seems that nowadays we live in a world where, sadly it is not possible for a band to make a living off of their craft or to even support touring in many cases. Death metal along with so many other forms of metal are done out of sheer passion and dedication to the music and craft, for little monetary return and more often than not you have to deal with fans unrealistic expectations who moan and complain about every aspect of the album without considering the work that goes into to each and every note. This brings us to album number eight ‘….Of The Dark Light’. New members Eric Morotti drums and Charlie Errigo guitars meld seamlessly into the band, gelling together as a cohesive unit and the album has a fluidity to it that was lacking for me on their last album. This may come from the injection of new blood and a refocusing of priorities but whatever it is, it gives the album a new-found freshness and bite. Derek Boyer bassist since 2004 connects with Eric on this album in a way he did not with Dave Culross and the rhythm section becomes a solid foundation upon which the band build upon.
Ever since the bands reunion album ‘Souls To Deny’ they have made a gradual push to a more modern sound, gone is the old school vibe and in its place a densely composed, hyperactive performed modern tech-death which sounds very current and vital. Some fans may be disappointed by this but every band will progress over time and in Suffocation’s case the progression has been subtle form album to album.
Famous for introducing the NYDM breakdown which first cropped its ugly or glorious head, depending on who you ask on the band’s debut album ‘’Effigy of the Forgotten’’, an element which has been used by the band ever since to great effect. The breakdown is also one of the main elements of the deathcore movement. Although it is an element that is so overused that its impact and punch does not carry the same weight within the genre as it once did. However, Suffocation know that it is more potent when used sparingly and that is exactly what they do achieving maximum effect. The first one comes early on in the album during opening number ”Clarity Through Deprivation” and executed with surgical precision. The breakdown introduces a riff that creates a disorienting mood while a howling lead plays on top. All this showcases very early on all of Suffocation’s strong points and confidence within their chosen craft. It is in a moment like this where you can easily sum up the whole album. During the breakdown they seem to stop time as the solo crosses the space-time continuum. What is more is, this ends the song and it ebbs fluidly into track number two ‘’The Warmth Within The Dark’’. I listened to the album a few times before I noticed the perfection in this transition and it is a main feature of the album, which could go unnoticed to the casual listener. To those who spend time with the album it is indeed rewarding. This technique is only felt if you listen to the album as a whole and allow yourself to become completely immersed. Another great breakdown comes in the form of the title track and for the sake of mixing things up, the breakdown hits after the solo this time, showing how paying attention to the arrangements can help to make an album more varied and interesting.
”Return to the Abyss” one of the album’s true highlights brings an injection of melody to the table, first during the melodic mid section where an almost thrashing paced riff kicks in after a sudden stop, now I do use the word melodic in a brutal death metal way. This is nowhere near melodic death metal so fear not purists. A clean guitar playing single picked middle eastern infused notes adds a great sense of expect the unexpected to proceedings and brings the song to a close, pure genius. Between this song and the aforementioned ‘’Clarity through Deprivation” the album shows a real sense of dynamics. The slow atmospheric introduction to “Your Last Breaths” here works as a perfect build up for the coming onslaught. It is at moments like this I feel they should develop this aspect of their more recent sound and stretch them out longer or better yet for a whole song. Like many metal bands they have their sound and they stick to it, but why not branch out more. The shortness of the album suits this approach, imagine an album like ‘Reign In Blood’, if it was an hour-long. Its impact would not be the same.
The leads on this album are well thought out and memorable laced with subtle hints of melody, each song has a unique and song enhancing solo. The riffs go for complexity rather than all out speed and brutality. The production while feeling a little weak at first listen actually has a perfect balance of clarity and separation between each instrument and the vocals. The vocals are a real highlight, guttural, but always well emphasized and decipherable. The rhythm section of drums and bass are flawless, from the drum’s double bass and blast beats, and with each clang of cymbal to the impeccable time keeping of the bass playing, never once missing a beat, like the heart of a beast.
With ‘…Of The Dark Light’, Suffocation do not necessarily break any new ground but they have perfected the knack for effortlessly executing their craft. They know what to do and without any messing about they get straight down to business. The album is a solid, and straightforward addition to their back catalogue. The album contains all of the hallmarks of a Suffocation album and when they lock into a groove of dominating riffs and crushing triplets, the staccato effect is cataclysmic to the senses. Managing to avoid mediocrity and setting themselves apart from the pack.