As a deathcore s@#thead, I count myself fortunate to be put through the wringer by assessing household names in the death metal scene which formed the firm foundation upon which my pet genre gets its prefix title. Bands like Cannibal Corpse, Cattle Decapitation, Dying Fetus, and Long Island’s very own Suffocation are often cited as the backbone that gave rise to an entire slew of deathcore and tech-death bands in the early to mid-2000s. It is through that lens that I am reviewing Suffocation’s latest offering, their eighth studio record Hymns From The Apocrypha.
The release of 2017’s … Of The Dark Light was a turning point in Suffocation’s legacy featuring a greatly changed lineup, with some of the most familiar faces and voices in the scene bowing out of future releases. With much trepidation fans cautiously approached the new release with as much open-mindedness that can be mustered by ardent fans of extreme metal. Thankfully, the newer musicians came through, bolstered by the steady guidance of the longtime members of the band, yielding a proficient and even enjoyable technical death metal release.
Suffocation has always toed the line between the techier side of death metal but is also historically unafraid of diving headfirst into the territory of caveman brutality. Many in the scene would fervently argue that Suffocation (along with Dying Fetus) could be regarded as the forefather of the “breakdown” which would become a stereotype of the numerous hardcore and -core related subgenres that would follow in later years.
The latest record Hymns From The Apocrypha continues to keep the average pace of the tracks as high as … Of The Dark Light, with plenty of breakneck-paced riffs with the requisite unrelenting surge of blast beats and double bass. Here’s the rub: for those of us heavily steeped in various forms of the more technical and extreme side of metal, it is becoming increasingly quicker for our minds to process out many of the stereotypically “extreme” elements. As with most drug chasers, our threshold gets higher with each passing year with the constant barrage of explosive releases by veteran and newer bands alike. For this nearly-jaded reviewer, “Hymns From The Apocrypha” falls more into “proficient but ultimately routine” extreme metal. It has all the bells and whistles that make a competent death metal record but is lacking that extra pizzazz that separates a good release from an amazing release.
The few times that Suffocation plays on the wilder side in terms of tempos, arrangements, and stylings, I was intrigued more than by the various moments of hyperintensity. It’s tracks like “Immortal Execration” that dropkicks us with a punishingly heavy yet malicious intro riff leading us later into a thrash-slammy arrangement that locks the listener into a headbanging “stank face” groove which is always appreciated. The dissonant melody overlaid has almost a new Meshuggah feel to it, which is a welcome surprise on a stuffy death metal record. Furthermore, “Descendants” perked up my ears with its melodic intro, before dropping us right back into “red mist” territory. In addition, moments like the bass interlude on the track go a long way in breaking through that mid-record monotony and force us to stand up and take notice of our auditory surroundings again.
Alas, the breakthrough moments on Hymns From The Apocrypha are few and far between, with most of the record buried deep in the dreaded “red mist”. Extremely similar cadenced track titles like “Perpetual Deception”, “Immortal Execration”, “Seraphim Enslavement”, and “Ignorant Deprivation” does the record no favors and further lean into the monotony of the entire aesthetic of the record.
There is no rational argument that every single member in this new iteration of Suffocation isn’t batting a thousand when it comes to raw musicianship. Guitarist Terrance Hobbs being the longest-standing member of the band has always been a strong rallying point in the genre in no small part because of just how damn good he is at writing precise yet brutal death metal riffs. Records like Pierced From Within, and Effigy of the Forgotten are standard bearers in the genre largely due to his knack of writing downright catchy sections. Newer member Charlie Errigo is quickly enshrining himself within the new Suffocation sound, with masterful solos strewn throughout the runtime, as well as leaning more heavily into the more technical side of the Suffocation songwriting machine. Along with Hobbs, the only other veteran in the band is bassist Derek Boyer. His gigantic presence while wielding his Warlock bass on the floor has become a staple of the band’s image, and he has never been a slouch behind the lower end of the string spectrum either. Hymns does give Boyer more room to shine than many other extreme metal records, but there is ever a need for a stronger presence of proficient bass in a genre that prides itself on championing expert musicianship from every single instrument. Drummer Eric Morotti makes his debut behind the kit on this record, and daresay does a great job. It’s nigh impossible to fill the shoes of a titan like Mike Smith who, like Hobbs and Boyer, was key to crafting the typical Suffocation sound. Vocalist Ricky Myers continues to make himself felt on newer records, but like Smith, it is difficult to step out of the shadow of someone like longtime vocalist Frank Mullen.
The production of Hymns From The Apocrypha also left a bit to be desired. For a record so dense with ferocity, much of the overall mix sounded hollow with much headroom confusingly left empty by seemingly thinner rhythm guitars and tinnier drums. The silver lining of this overall approach is the instruments felt like they had plenty of room to occupy their own identity, but dare I say, the record would have benefited from a more cohesive mix. Part of this could also be because the guitar tones in particular sounded extremely compressed and simply “smushed together” taking away both dynamics as well as crushing punch in equal measure leaving a less desirable product.
Hymns From The Apocrypha is another step in the new iteration of the Suffocation engine. While we can be glad that they show no signs of slowing down with each release, it is becoming increasingly clear that something more is needed on future releases to launch them back into their longtime vaunted status.
Songwriting & Lyrics6/10 NormalThe breakthrough moments on Hymns From The Apocrypha are few and far between, with most of the record buried deep in the dreaded “red mist”.
Overall Sound7/10 GoodHymns From The Apocrypha is another step in the new iteration of the Suffocation engine.