Pseudogod – Deathwomb Catechesis (2012)

[Condemner main songwriter Paul Bacque has an alternate take on Pseudogod’s notorious debut full length ‘Deathwomb Catechesis’]

There’s a certain class of album that has to appear simplistic and off the cuff, even if it really isn’t, in order to fulfill its artistic goals. Dethrone the Son of God is a prime example of this — you’ll never see it talked about as a particularly technical album, although if you try to transcribe its guitar or drum parts, you’ll see it was certainly not played by slouches.  At a compositional level, Pseudogod’s Deathwomb Catachesis is another example of this — incorporating the best aspect of “war metal”, its fervent masculinity, required Pseudogod to use an “extreme” production, drenched in reverb and with the mid-range of the guitar heavily scooped, but underneath this obscuring layer is an album tied surprisingly tightly to ‘80s extreme metal fundamentals in riff structuring and melody, with a striking resemblance in particular to Under the Sign of the Black Mark, beaten into ambient effect with percussive techniques borrowed from Beherit and Demoncy.

The central riffing technique here, borrowed from Bathory, is the usage of short progressions as fragments to create sub-structures within a riff  — with three short progressions A, B, and C, you’d end up with a riff structured like AAABCC, as opposed to the entire riff being a single linear melody or a melody with two resolutions reflected against each other as is more common in metal.  The strength of this composition technique is in the ability to re-use these progressions to create unity between disparate riffs (for a simple example, think of the final higher-pitched descending pair of gallops in the verse riff of Bathory’s Massacre getting re-used in the chorus, fusing the two musical ideas together as parts of a whole), and it’s a strength that Pseudogod expands upon by using modulations when progressions are re-introduced into new riffs, making more dramatic forward motion natural and logical.  Percussion, again echoing Bathory on Under the Sign of the Black Mark, remains linear and straight-ahead even when when the riffs beneath take on galloping or swinging slide-power-chord rhythms, and frequently acts to direct dynamics, changing the intensity of the beat even when no rhythmic change happens in the riff beneath, bringing another dimension to the compositions. Vocals are the typical Pillard-inspired roar, mainly a textural accompaniment to the proceedings.

The question that will always surround this release is “why obscure the ‘80s backbone beneath the layers of scooped guitar tone, reverb, and linear vocal and percussive rhythms?”  The answer lies in metal’s dual nature as a Dionysian art with Apollonian aims. Metal is Dionysian in that its methodology is the same as Dionysian rituals — overwhelm the senses such that the illusion of the self vanishes — but the aim of this isn’t a hippie-rock style “be happy and prosper!” ethos, but a masculine, warlike, and severe ethos that seeks to pit the self against the trials of privation and death to seek the form behind matter, the spirit beyond the dust of a creator “god”.  It is in unifying these three strains, physical, warlike, spiritual, that Pseudogod excels — first one is immediately overwhelmed by the clattering wall of sound, then roused by the warlike march-beats, but once one has allowed themselves to be submerged into these layers to see what lies within, they find an album that sings with the same structural and melodic language that heavy metal always has, with a spirit and will to see past all illusions.

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Is metal unique to a specific culture?

One of the chief thrusts of Oswald Spengler’s magisterial Decline Of The West is that all cultures are unique entities unto themselves, representative of the equally unique, racial constitution of the individuals comprising those cultures. This uniqueness is seen in all endeavors undertaken by members of that parent culture, across arts, architecture, philosophy, mathematics, and even politics. To the man belonging to a different culture with its own signs and signifiers, the true potency of a foreign culture remains closed at a fundamental level. He might come to recognize and appreciate its outer aspect, but he can never replicate the soul consciousness and putative chain of cause and effect that led to the founding and flowering of the original culture.

One can see how Spengler’s idea can be considered dangerous in a world operating on the currency of multiculturalism. But Spengler, despite his obvious bias for Western man’s “vision and perpetual quest for the infinite”, as opposed to, say, the ancient Hellene’s lack of it or the classical Indian’s retiring introspection, wasn’t in favor of creating cultural hierarchies. Rather, he advocated approaching all cultures in a spirit of understanding, treating them on their own terms, and refraining as much as possible from a judgement of the alien through superimposition of that which is only personally known. The latter, for instance, is evident in much Western scholarship on the Orient, where it is not uncommon to see Freudian psychosexual theory crudely grafted onto ancient forms of worship essentially sequestered from Western models of comprehension and interpretation.

I have often heard it expressed that heavy metal is Western music, one of the last sincere groans emanating from the crumbling edifice that is late order Western civilization or, more accurately and less euphemistically, a white man’s music. But is it even possible to assign proprietorship of heavy metal to a single culture in a time when cross-pollination of influences has become the norm? After all, the genre’s history is replete with musicians of diverse colors and cultural backgrounds. Heavy metal does not exist, relatively speaking, in an artistically isolated and culturally, politically, and religiously homogeneous climate like the baroque music or gothic architecture of medieval-late Renaissance Europe; for better or worse, it has come to fruition in a time when strange people and stranger traditions are in our faces more than ever before. How can one then definitely say which cultural group is heavy metal’s sole owner and steward?

The only forms of heavy metal worthy of the name and worth discussing are traditional heavy metal, black metal, and death metal. Ethnic strains that incorporate native sounds are only building atop a pre-existing structure and therefore are mostly cosmetic. But even restricting the discussion to just these three sub-genres forces us to consider several fringe contributing styles like Western classical at large, progressive rock, punk, blues, and jazz. Each of these styles has been dominated, at least during the time of their definitive canons, by either (a) a certain demographic (Western Classical, progressive rock by “Northerners”, blues and jazz by African-Americans), or (b) a certain state of social-political-cultural conditions (as in the case of punk which came about on either side of the Atlantic as reaction to the bloat of progressive rock, or a disenfranchised youth rebelling against an economy in free fall and the aggressive capitalism pursued in its wake by Thatcherite Great Britain).

This melting pot of influences should come as no surprise; no modern artform can be expected to evolve in a cocoon of its own weaving. For it to be vital and relevant, it has to be reactionary in the context of the milieu that it occupies. As surface markers of the foundation on which heavy metal is built go, traditional heavy metal retains the format of popular music, but elongates the narrative and sharpens the definition of the individual motif or riff. The more melodic variant of black metal is greatly influenced by the diatonic scale of Western classical music, whereas abrasive death metal and minimalist black metal share much in common, simultaneously or by turns, with the ferocity of hardcore punk, the classicist ambition and developmental variation of progressive rock, and the quasi-deconstructionism of off-time, atonal jazz and other avant-garde music.

But we do metal as philosophy and ideology and even as just music disservice by simply reducing it to its constituent elements. What is the grand narrative of heavy metal, what is its overarching theme? To me, the greatest heavy metal has always signified the notion of large orders of magnitude. In its different aspects, from the comically grandiose to the intellectually questing, from its celebration of beauty to its apotheosis of the darker currents of human life, from its reverence for the distant past to its fascination with mythology standing outside of phenomenal time, great heavy metal is exploratory in spirit. No other contemporary music focuses as intensely, as consistently, and as diversely on freeing man from his mental trammels. The theme of metal is motion itself, in terms of the movement which we refer to while describing a piece of music, but also as that eternal roving and striving that makes life worth living.

To those familiar with Spengler’s exhaustive analyses of Western culture versus that with which it is most popularly, and mistakenly, compared i.e. that of the Greeks, with their obsession with all things unitary and parochial, the above would appear to be telltale signs of heavy metal’s true cultural provenance. Without question, a vast majority of bands crucial to the music’s origins and subsequent development have originated in bastions of Western culture and have accordingly shaped heavy metal in the graded traditions of their lands. That heavy metal has come of age in a time when there is far greater freedom of physical and intellectual movement has only meant that it has assimilated with an organic sincerity certain peripheral influences into its overall scope. But at its indivisible philosophical core, heavy metal remains a form of Western expression.

As a brown man of Indian descent owing no cultural allegiance to any of these genres, but sharing the same thrill as other hessians in hearing and living metal, I feel no sense of loss at this conclusion. The world we live in is what it is; people like me grew up under the dominant paradigm of the time, and our souls have quite naturally been tuned to its frequencies. Belatedly, but not a second too late perhaps, we take heed, with pride, of what is truly our own, but that by no means precludes an appreciation of where our formative influences come from, for they make us who we are, too, and without which we would be lesser men undoubtedly. Weak, puling talk of cultural beggary and cultural appropriation belongs to they who never heard the call in the first place.

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Amorphia – Arms To Death (2018)

Arms To Death

On their debut, Amorphia play thrash metal, influenced in equal parts by early Slayer, Kreator, and Sodom. Many bands from the fledgling Indian metal scene have attempted to play speed/thrash but have as a rule succumbed to instrumental flashiness and all-around cluelessness. You see, in the aspiring Indian metal guitarist’s consciousness, palm-muted downpicking is enshrined not as mere technique, but as motif and developmental device also. As such, it isn’t uncommon to find Indian speed metal albums, small though their number might be, littered with vast swathes of meaningless, chugging static. To the Indian mind, unconcerned with structure in metal, this leftover from hardcore equals riff equals headbanging, and therefore is a good thing; bands are forced to hone their chops in pathetic college competitions before equally pathetic judges and quite naturally come to see the cheap mosh break and the reaction it elicits as a validation of their songcraft.

Arms To Death bolts out of the door using ‘Chemical Warfare‘ as template, and then keeps using it intermittently for the remainder of its length. The hallmark of that classic is a relentlessly sustained apocalyptic narrative. Sparse of arrangement in terms of core note density, the song relies on melodic memorability in an atonal context, slight sideways variations on themes previously introduced, clever use of reiteration, and, above all, intensity. Amorphia have studied the texture of ‘Chemical Warfare‘, but other than the sincere exuberance of youth, they show little awareness of what made Slayer‘s song great. As has been stressed on these pages, some of their failings are a natural caveat of thrash metal, but even so, slightly jarring shifts in tempo and tone and a steadfast refusal to explore greater melodic space renders this debut as little more than gratuitous release.

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Rapture – Paroxysm Of Hatred (2018)

Is retro thrashing death the next trend to be pilfered in the underground? Rapture‘s second album is an accurate replica of this style from the tailend of the 80s: the songwriting of speed/thrash crossed with the dissonant textures of the then-nascent death metal scene creating an extremely breathless and confrontational hybrid. Rapture come from Greece, a region on the metal map not known for doing things half-heartedly; therefore, Paroxysm Of Hatred is very convincing at what it does, but how much of it is relevant?

Like compatriots Suicidal Angels, Rapture retain the shouted vocals of traditional thrash , but dial down the downpicked syncopation and bounce of that style for equal emphasis on the longer phrases of death metal (see: Demolition Hammer, Protector, Incubus etc). The hallmark here is songwriting that only teases at the more expansive ambition of death metal, but soon enough retreats into the familiar comforts offered by a curb stomping. This unwillingness to look much farther than the tip of one’s nose induces a certain discreteness to the music; with such tunnel-vision is also accompanied a perpetual recapitulation of prior motifs, effectively leaving songs spinning their proverbial wheels and depending to an inordinate degree on the occasional breakdown and attractive lick.

This is accepted as the flaw native to thrash metal and what has rendered it an evolutionary dead end among heavy metal strains. The style’s primary movers of melody are simple chord shapes derived from the hardcore punk playbook, spaces between which are occupied with material signifying no progression or narrative. When Rapture escape these self-imposed chains and embrace the crossover into death metal, however fleeting it might be, they hint at something a little more promising; it is not altogether inconceivable that the band might reappear in the future with just such a realigned approach. For now, Paroxysm Of Hatred is a flag of the band’s spirit, competent in realizing its limited goals, but not something that will withstand the test of time.

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Undersave – Now…Submit To The Master’s Imagination (2012)

An album title and intro that evokes images of Montag The Magnificent from The Wizard Of Gore, Undersave‘s debut is suitably splattery like Mexigorge‘s Chronic Corpora Infest, brutal like Embalmer‘s There Was Blood Everywhere, and twisted like Mortal Decay‘s Forensic. Like a solitary string in vibration, disturbed from its path of oscillation by strategically advised interference from outside, a component of Undersave‘s riffing relies on melodic blooms atop a consistently undulating bass string. This technique is akin to speed metal’s chug-and-stab, but the writing here, and the band’s influences in general, is far more wide-ranging; in addition to the sore-ridden underbelly of the bands already mentioned, certain tech-death mannerisms – primarily, the rapid turnover of notes under a suggestive melodic space – also make their presence felt. However, unlike the self-obsessed soliloquy of the many nameless tech-death bands out there, this hyperactivity takes place under something resembling the call-response aesthetic of more traditional death metal, a feature of the writing that keeps songs from flying entirely off the handle.

Like the underrated Prosanctus Inferi, Undersave excel at writing broken motifs, long-chained riffs, and delayed pay-offs. A broken motif is a previously expressed “whole” melodic notion which at a later date in the body of the song reappears but as broken into shards, the space between which shards is occupied with flurries of noncommittal activity. Long-chained riffs involve phrases that keep building and building, often encountering multiple junctures where they seem on the verge of imploding, but are somehow kept progressing until their eventual climax. A delayed pay-off is subjective by nature; it is the product of the two prior concepts, and usually occurs as a real “event” when both hands have been revealed, when the listener begins to grasp the bigger picture.

Interesting ideas, all, which are far too rarely utilized by death metal bands. Admittedly, they require just the right knowledge of theme, sound, and modus operandi of previous genre strains. Undersave showcase these facets in fine balance on this forgotten album.

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Hearing metal without the baggage

A side-effect of these politically-divided times is how inured we as metal fans have become to hearing newer music unless the bands espouse an ideology running in sync with our private convictions. Undoubtedly, dwindling interest in what new bands have to say can be attributed to many causes: the steady decline in quality of metal, the jadedness that naturally comes with years of listening, and the shapeless suspicion that nothing new of note can possibly be done with this form of music. All of these are legitimate concerns in their own right, but there is also an unsaid condemnation lurking in the shadows, that emotional-compositional prowess is no longer enough to capture our attention, that metal bands have to be aligned with a specific system of extra-musical beliefs for them to avoid our ire or worse yet not recede into obscurity.

It shouldn’t be so and it wasn’t always so, either. Music ought to be judged on melody, structure, and emotional resonance in the abstract; the order of eminence of these criteria may vary, but their sanctity remains unimpeachable. We extracted these characteristics from the bands of our youth; somewhere along the way, the initial frisson and sense of danger that we associated with those bands grew dormant, but an appreciation of those three qualities never entirely went away. In fact, many metalheads can still summon a large chunk of that original thrill given the right state of mind, which speaks to nostalgia, yes, but also attests to the abiding quality of those works.

One tries to apply the same standard to newer bands; unfortunately, newer bands suffer the double handicap of lacking inspiration and existing in a world that like an extreme junkie always craves a little more. Structure, melody, and emotional resonance are no longer enough to satisfy the crowd; newer bands now have to also slot into the little niches that define us as Politically Aware Individuals (TM). Failing which, their best bet is to be sufficiently unthreatening, so we can bestow upon them anodyne platitudes like “sick” and “evil”, all the while subconsciously relieved that our precariously-surviving identity has had to endure no challenge to its foundation.

This is not to discount that every individual has a certain threshold of tolerance, arrived at either through social conditioning or studied introspection. Depending on this, he makes a decision on which manner of offence in the metal he listens to can be reasonably tolerated and efficiently compartmentalized, and which would induce a restless cognitive dissonance inside his mind too great to ignore and lead an honest life. If only that were to be the end of it, if only he hadn’t taken it upon himself to be the arbiter and fashioning force of outraged, popular opinion, if he hadn’t placed himself in one of two camps, a decision which by default forces him to assume a confrontational stance, if he had realized that this rigid bifurcation into left and right is in fact the underlying reason for his perennial unease, if he had embraced a more syncretic perspective on the world, if he had possibly considered metal in spirit as sound and poetry, ugly and beautiful by turn, instead of always reading a literal interpretation into it, if only, if only…well, he would perhaps then identify metal as the transcendent force for self-empowerment that it can be.

Sound and poetry; hear metal as such without the baggage we foist on it or the baggage we so masochistically accept from it to bear on our backs. Treat it like you would the confessions of a serial killer or some despised figure from history if you have to; or indeed an inheritance from distant forebears; as a scholar would, cultivate an enlightened detachment without becoming dissociated and it might just be possible to rediscover the honesty with which you heard this music for the first time.

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Mercyless – Pathetic Divinity (2016)

The first two Mercyless albums are held in high regard by death metal fans, but even those weren’t the easiest to get acclimatized with. Abrasive and bludgeoning chord choices, tempo shifts, and an understated avant-garde nature, much like Swedish band Deranged, made them a veritable minefield to navigate; what served to mitigate this effect was a sense of early 90s Euro-style melody that leavened the harsher aspects of that sound.

After the missteps of the late 90s, Mercyless returned to form with 2013’s Unholy Black Splendor, an album sitting nicely between the relatively linear debut Abject Offerings and the classic Coloured Funeral. Unlike the faceless ambient masquerading as death metal today, Mercyless seemed to retain their appreciation for sharply-defined, riff-based songwriting; death metal is inherently structuralist music, often composed with a bottom-up approach, where ideas are improvised along the way as a combination of intuition and musical acumen. Anything more high-level in perspective than the bend around the upcoming corner would necessarily compromise the spontaneous intensity so required of this music.

Pathetic Divinity still adheres to these principles – reiteration is used to emphasize individual riffs as a labor of conscious intent – but an overly quantized, clipped drum sound and just generally hyperactive playing centered around cascading fills frequently drowns out the underlying content. Groove is a new addition to the band’s sound, while the quasi-Gothic melody of Coloured Funeral now emerges rarely; where previously that sense of theatre was woven into the body of the song itself (there is no ‘Serenades‘ to be found here), here it is the lead guitar that occasionally alleviates the elephantine-dissonant footstomp of the slower sections.

This lack of color compromises Pathetic Divinity‘s memorability and makes it a difficult album to invest emotionally in. The twisted sound realized on Coloured Funeral remains in tact, but minus the sporadic epic appeal of that album, Pathetic Divinity feels like an aborted case study in the band’s idiosyncratic songwriting style.

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Necrophobic – Mark Of The Necrogram (2018)

Necrophobic have circumvented the law of diminishing returns better than many worthies of the past; ever a band in touch with the lineage of classic heavy metal, Necrophobic somehow managed to subsume their intensely melodic and syncopation-heavy writing style into a theatrically progressive narrative not dissimilar from contemporaries Unanimated, Dawn, and Sacramentum. It is a thematic tightrope that the band has walked with great skill; while the riffs have come to predominantly represent the cyclical nature of speed metal since 01’s Blood Hymns, the band preserve the undeniable dark mood and energy of their heyday. It is some feat, considering the melodic landscape they occupy, a balance that has occasionally eluded many a band: it seems a rule of thumb, especially in extreme metal, that utilizing greater harmonic space is but a precursor to ill-advised detours, but Necrophobic‘s musical and emotional maturity has steadfastly given the lie to this formulation.

It is hard to think of a modern album that has oozed more metal from its marrow than Mark Of The Necrogram. Virtually every technique worth studying and imitating on the consonant end of metal songwriting is documented here; that in turn directly implies that there are things like repeating motifs, bookends and breaks for lead guitar to be found here aplenty, all of which far from being indulgence actually grant these songs genuine identity, an endangered commodity in modern metal music.

Where a band like Dissection kept simplifying a kindred template to the point of the Youthanasia-like Reinkaos, Necrophobic remain a fundamentally ambitious band. Ideas lurch forward, then are interrupted by lateral fissures opening upon the face of composition, only to be eventually recapitulated. The strength of this band’s work has been in keeping individual minor-key phrases short, sharply-defined, and ending on points of tension, and the use of subtle dissonance as a flavoring agent to accentuate that tension. The latter is no longer as pronounced as it was on The Nocturnal Silence, still the band’s pinnacle, but neither is Mark Of The Necrogram the sound of a band short of inspiration and going quietly into the night.

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Origin of pride

Pride, integrity, and self-respect are qualities that have nothing to do with one’s intelligence quotient. I have seen simple men act with the virtue of lions and by the same token I have witnessed those of exceptional intelligence behave little better than slugs squirming in the slime. The latter condone their behavior under the sobriquet of social etiquette, impelled as they are by the need to go along to get along. But look closely and you will note with what great cunning they choose their lieges. These are the same people who will regularly express outrage on a variety of subjects…as long as those subjects are sufficiently distanced from their immediate circle of intimates. Self-righteousness is convenient when the object of your ire has no bearing on your personal relations or estimation within that circle; but if the vile influence of that object perchance emanates from the center of that circle, then that same outrage tucks its tail between its legs and changes into subservience.

It is a repulsive spectacle. To the proud and sensitive man, it immediately indicates that further engagement with such forms of life on any level is futile, that the only possible counter to such hypocrisy lies in it being crushed under the heel of the boot. But the rules of civilized society prevent us from pursuing this course of action, and therefore we view an agonizingly latent indifference as our only alternative. Sometimes, out of naivete, we ascribe pride to a person that eventually proves undeserving of such faith, and it is then that we realize a basic truism: pride cannot be learned through persuasion or command.

This pride I speak of is constituted in the essence of a person. It is very different from the pride one has in their work or the achievements of their kin. External factors matter little to it; instead, it is a soliloquy with the self. The lay term for this might be conscience, but even that doesn’t do it justice, because this kind of pride is not a mere moral agency; there is nothing of the right or wrong about it, nor is it a universally mandated code of conduct. It is molded, like so many other facets of life, by the deportment of those under whose aegis we live out our formative years; but ultimately pride comes into its own only through the willing embrace of the introversion that rests inside the individual’s soul. From this arises the ability to truly observe and introspect, upon the actions of others or those of our own, and the motives governing them. These actions don’t exist in a vacuum; they always strike a chord, jarring or pleasant. Pride develops when we remain attuned to those notes and the reactions they elicit in us.

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Suffocation discography overview: post-reunion

Suffocation‘s albums since their reunion in 2003 have seen the band rein in the speed of their youth for a more simmering style. Mike Smith returned and then left again, while Guy Marchais and Derek Boyer consolidated their positions on guitar and bass over the decade that was to follow. The impact of these changes on the band’s sound has been felt acutely; described as stodgy and uninspired by the once-loyal, the new albums can’t possibly compare favorably with the classics, but do they have anything of value to offer to the increasingly cynical old fan?

Souls To Deny (2004)
Souls to Deny, Suffocation‘s first album after reuniting, and very first recording minus Doug Cerrito, sees the band attempting a consolidation of the gains of yesteryear whilst adding a few novel touches to their sound. At this time, the field had been swamped with bands influenced by Suffocation; stakes in both technicality and brutality had been raised to near-breaking point (see: Deeds Of FleshBeheaded, Internal Suffering, Ingurgitating Oblivion, etc). Wisely, Suffocation refused to engage all-out with the younger generation, instead opting to sharpen a melodic sensibility more than ever before. The introduction of melody is tastefully done, and never amounts to more than a flavoring agent, but it is a double-edged sword all the same: while songs now have distinct hooks, the same also pose a temptation for the band to revisit touchstones best left behind, a temptation they don’t always avoid. A preponderance of repetitive, middle-tempo parts with not nearly enough internal movement also hints at greater vocal indulgence on Frank Mullen’s behalf. These factors in concert have caused many to peremptorily dismiss new Suffocation as boring, but closer listens reveal Souls To Deny to be an album of decent, honest ideas that could have done with more judicious editing during composition.

Suffocation – Suffocation (2006)
Part A -> Part B – > Part A -> Part C -> Part A. What sticks in the craw with latter day Suffocation is the obvious repetition of Part A throughout the body of the song. Repetition previously existed as a riff stacked atop itself but once that sequence was exhausted, the band would quite organically move on to the next part. On Suffocation, however, riffsets are reintroduced time and again; what’s worse is that many of these riffsets are inherently static, serving in no discernible way future movement within the song; hearing ‘Redemption‘, for instance, makes it hard to interpret this phenomenon as anything other than a chance for Frank Mullen to superimpose words over music. Did the band have populist aspirations with such a maneuver? Or was this a case of experimentation in tempos and general delivery? One surmises the truth lies somewhere in between, but the irony is that despite such possible goals, Suffocation remains the most abrasive album in the band’s discography, its conflicting mix of shambling dissonant chords and blasting making for an experience as thick, unpleasant, and inextricable from as tar.

Blood Oath (2009)
Mike Smith is on record expressing the band’s desire to appeal to a new generation of listeners, one perhaps not as enthused with the labyrinthine chaos of the early albums. This intention dovetails with the caveats of the previous two albums; but Blood Oath, despite being a mostly mid-tempo affair, is again anything but accessible. In many ways, this is the most complicated album the band has written since Breeding The Spawn, but where that album saw only the beginnings of syncopation, here the  soundscape is dominated by a staggered, eighth-note, palm-muted chug with minimal lateral motion, from which the occasional stab of melody arises to provide orientation. Add to that a production that almost entirely cuts the mids out of that chug, and there remain but the faintest vestiges of what might be going on underneath. One may be tempted to call this slam, but is slam without groove even slam? Instead, one gets the feeling that Suffocation genuinely try writing in a new paradigm, but there is such a thing as digging a hole too deep to extract oneself from.

Pinnacle Of Bedlam (2013)
Pinnacle Of Bedlam is the showiest album Suffocation have ever written; harmonically brighter textures, not unlike those practised by the California school of techdeath bands (Odious Mortem, post-Crown Of Souls Deeds Of Flesh, etc), threaten to overwhelm it at various points. The returning Dave Culross injects much-needed momentum into the songs, and a charging speed metal technique, sorely missed since the 90s, responds favorably, too. The inescapable fact here, however, is that the blockily staccato guitar strum has come to be a permanent feature of the band’s sound, and not just as a brief aside. In the process, much of the phrasal fluidity of the past – the spontaneous bleeding of one idea into another at high intensity – is lost, perhaps irretrievably. It is a strange trap bands walk into, and willfully by all accounts; a similar fate befell Krisiun once they incorporated stuttered time signatures, presumably to convey a martial effect, on Works Of Carnage. For lack of a better analogy, it is almost tantamount to an obsessive-compulsive physical reaction, like a twitching eye: harmless as long as it remains involuntary, conscious acknowledgement, instead of bringing it to heel, only seems to exacerbate it further. We as observers and listeners are witness to it, but the bands themselves appear incapable of controlling the habit.

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