New York’s Suffocation is one of a select few bands who sounds like itself. …Of The Dark Light, the act’s latest release, upholds the band’s mission of sonic destruction. This is a band who figured out it’s deadly sonic recipe early in it’s career, stuck with that formula, and is now a pinnacle act in it’s chosen niche habitat: brutal American death metal.
Expecting ballads, love songs, hummable melodies, or reasonable tempi? Shop elsewhere. What brought Suffocation to the fore over two decades ago is still what’s so good about it: evisceratingly heavy music, taken to as many extremes as possible. Like fine British grindcore or San Francisco “bay area” thrash, New York death metal, or NYDM, pioneered a sonic uprising within metal’s ranks. Torchbearers like Suffocation keep the subgenre lively.
On …Of the Dark Light, nine songs of uncompromisingly heavy, fast, and intense death metal await. These tunes are abrasive, cold, dark, and foreboding. The 35 or so minutes spent listening feel more like time spent desperately gripping the seat’s edge, afraid to let go, or risk plunging into an abyss, or maybe a giant meat grinder. These guys fire away, all guns blazing; Suffocation remains vicious and aggressive in all the right ways.
That said, Suffocation has it’s formula and doesn’t stray far. New elements like cinematic sub-octave bass drops (“Of the Dark Light”), ‘clean’ synth-toned guitar (“Return to the Abyss”), and tempo shifts with nonrepeating ‘heads’ a la free jazz (“Caught Between Two Worlds”) seep in like a menacing subterranean ooze. Low tuning, dissonance, blood boiling tempi driven by abrasive, staccato drumming, odd syncopated passages, guttural vocals, and guitar solos that beckon and howl like ethereal demons underlie and garnish each track. These are subgenre hallmarks that Suffocation helped cement into the collective musical subconscious of extreme metal, beginning around 1991. As a true genre keystone, Suffocation’s dedication to its art is refreshing.
With their extra high energy, the songs on …Of the Dark Light evoke a remarkable sense of kinesis, a nearly unstoppable forward momentum. What chiefly differentiates one tune from the next is lyrical content. None of the songs are first-pass memorable at the ‘riff level’, but after about three minutes, a sense of meticulous attention to detail and overall production are apparent. This album has enough insanity to evoke wonder: like listening to thrash or grindcore for the first time, all over again. Suffocation’s music harnesses emotion with hyperacute, frantic immediacy, dramatic passages, and violent fury: it brings forth an intense catharsis.
Excellently engineered, mixed, and mastered, the contemporary-sounding album takes full advantage of true stereo tracking, with vocals that pan from right to left and back again. There are points where, due to the tempo, the bass drum “disappears”, trading it’s thump for a rattling texture, like a delay effect used on a guitar. Overall, the disc is very nicely balanced. The arrangement and layering are every bit as planned as for a radio-ready rock song. Like most death metal, it’s also better LOUD.
Tastefully placed, emphatic guitar solos are one part whammy bar abuse, two parts legato quasi-shred, and one part ‘pig squeal’ false harmonics. There are points where most of the song ends up beneath the machine-gun drums, due to riff structures, and the way the tune is mixed. Reminiscent of mid-period thrash metal, the bass guitar is occasionally buried under layers of guitar and drums. Brief bass solos and bass lines, when apparent, are quirky and progressive.
As headline-quality music, Suffocation has always been a pleasure to see live in concert. After an aural assault, the band’s crispness and attention to sonic balance cut through a tired yet hungry audience’s banter like few others. Songs on this album sound like they will translate very well to the live setting. Some tracks might be ‘more speed, less punch’, but the machine gun drumwork in “Some Things Should Be Left Alone” or the breakneck stop-start work in “…Of The Dark Light” are surefire crowd pleasers.
Old-guard Suffocation isn’t here for pleasantries. The band will behead you aurally, and gleefully feed it to its rabid, moshing audience, as it has done for decades. Pick …Of the Dark Light up for an exponential, and thoroughly enjoyable, change of pace. These guys are at the top of their game, and it shows.
1. Clarity Through Deprivation
2. The Warmth Within the Dark
3. Your Last Breaths
4. Return to the Abyss
5. The Violation
6. Of the Dark Light
7. Some Things Should Be Left Alone
8. Caught Between Two Worlds
9. Epitaph of the Credulous
Frank Mullen – Vocals
Terrance Hobbs – Guitars
Charlie Errigo – Guitars
Derek Boyer – Bass
Eric Morotti – Drums