Sunday, June 30, 2013

Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam

Too long after the release of Blood Oath, the brutal death masters are back with a new release. It appears that Suffocation have been getting on the three year gap pattern in between albums since the release of their self-titled album. With a bit of scattered touring here and there after the release of Blood Oath, Suffocation have actually been taking things fairly easily this time around, with vocalist Frank Mullen taking time to work his other job that he very much enjoys, and for the other guys to do whatever shit they do when they’re not playing death metal. I’m going to jump right into my biggest concern at first and say that drummer Mike Smith was always my favorite thing about this band. Well, unfortunately, while Suffocation was spending some time playing a few festivals, Mr. Smith decided that his time in Suffocation was over. So after shaving off all his long dreads, he finished all of the last scheduled shows the band had until they started writing their next album. I was actually very upset to hear this, but it’s not a complete loss because his replacement is technically an ex-Suffocation member.

Dave Kulross, most known for the many years he spent drumming for Malevolent Creation, was the guy who played drums on the Despise the Sun EP in 2002. I don’t exactly consider him to be a true Suffocation veteran since he wasn’t even on a true full-length, but whatever. So with that, I was interested in hearing what this guy could really do, because one measly EP isn’t enough material to compare this guy to Mike Smith. Smith’s overall drumming style is so unique that it’s obvious to anyone that’s heard it that it’s nearly impossible to replicate it. Although his style was superb in the 1990s era of Suffocation (that being an understatement), the drumming that he did on Souls to Deny, Suffocation’s Self-Titled record, Blood Oath, and The Close of a Chapter (the band’s live album) is so mind-blowingly talented, creative, complex, and amazing that it’s one of the hardest things for me to accurately put into words.

The first track off the record, Cycles of Suffering, pretty much starts right off at full force without any sort of hesitation. If you told me that Mike Smith was the one behind the kit in that recording, I would’ve believed you without second thought. Dave Kulross is a fucking beast and he managed to pull-off what many were convinced was an unthinkable task and master the Suffocation drumming style. Of course, after listening to the record straight through, you can tell that it’s not Mike Smith because…well…considering the fact of how similar to Smith this guy has managed to sound, there are some things that he doesn’t do that you would expect to hear from Mike. But even then, it’s not much of a loss at all because you’re distracted by all of the chaotic brutality already surrounding you.

Unlike Blood Oath, which focused primarily on creating floor-leveling grooves at a maximum brutality rate, Pinnacle of Bedlam puts 70% of its focus on blistering technicality. Of course, since it’s Suffocation, the brutality factor is maxed-out, so that in itself is a no-brainer. But really, Pinnacle of Bedlam could easily be Suffocation’s most instrumentally complex record since Pierced from Within, which was released almost 15 years ago. And by technical, I don’t mean the drumming, because that’s a given on any Suffocation record. What I mean when I talk about technicality on this record is the complexity of the guitarists and bassist. The lead lines are slightly less catchy, have a lot more to them, and to put the icing on the cake, it’s a hell of a lot fucking faster.

If you want a really good taste of everything this album brings, listen to As Grace Descends. That song, in particular, captures everything that you will hear on this record and magnifies all of its strongest traits. As Grace Descends is easily the catchiest song on the entire record. The drumming is basically something Mike Smith would play, but with Dave’s own personal twist to make it extra unique. The energetic tremolo picking that the guitarists do while steadily jumping around between five or six different chords intensifies literally everything about this track. And to top it off, of course, what would Suffocation be without the mighty Frank Mullen belting out those deep guttural growls like a fucking badass while shaking his hand in the air.

On one last note, Suffocation has always had a tradition of going back and re-recording one old song from one of their early records for each release. For example, the last track on their self-titled record is a re-recorded version of a song from their second album, the seventh track on Pierced from Within is a re-recorded version of a song from their very first release, the Human Waste EP, etc. Well, the re-recorded song on this album is Beginning of Sorrow, the first song off their second album, Breeding the Spawn. Here’s what really makes me smile about this: Mike Smith was the drummer on that album, so what the band did is they brought Mike Smith back (as a guest musician) to do the drums on the re-recorded version. That, right there, is fucking respect. And it also shows that they’re all on good terms with each other.

Everything, literally everything about this album is perfect. Perfect enough to make the whole fucking album perfect. Suffocation has never released an “average” record, but Blood Oath was definitely starting to head in that direction; so I’m very glad that the band picked up the railroad tracks and re-positioned them back in the right direction. If you love death metal, if you’re new to death metal, or even Suffocation, this is an album that you need to hear because it’s not only one of the best albums that this year has seen so far, it’s also one of the best albums in Suffocation’s extensive catalog of releases. When I say perfect, of course I’m implying that this album gets a perfect score, 20/20 for this one and will probably end up putting it on my “best of 2013” list at the end of the year.