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 Flesh, Beheaded, 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.