It’s easy to slip into cynical crank mode and pine for the good old days of death metal, most notably the fertile early ’90s explosion from around the globe. After all, nostalgia is a powerful thing. Fortunately the modern death metal scene is currently flourishing, but it’s often overwhelming sifting through the massive quantity of bands to find stuff worth holding onto. Thankfully, certain labels are championing the exciting and ugly new breed of death metal bands, led by Dark Descent and Blood Harvest Records, taking the dense and claustrophobic bent of classic Incantation and the Florida death metal scene, while adding blackened, experimental or progressive elements. The latter label is handling the anticipated debut LP from rising Minneapolis crew Suffering Hour, entitled In Passing Ascension. Have they unearthed another gem, or is Suffering Hour destined to fall by the wayside, overshadowed by worthier contenders?
I missed the band’s previous EP, 2014’s Foreseeing Exemptions From a Distant Beyond, however it achieved decent underground buzz, so I’m sure many will be anticipating the band’s return. Creepy opener “Insufferable Scorn” does a tremendous job establishing the darkly mysterious and unsettling atmosphere the band’s dense and dissonant brand of blackened death feeds off; strange bending melodies and colossal doom-death riffs are blanketed in a thick, tar-like ooze, creating an ominous vibe. The brutality kicks in proper on follow-up tune “For the Putridity of Man,” an absolutely monstrous endeavor oozing malevolence and boasting chest crushing riffs, lashings of speed and filthy guttural grooves, evoking Bölzer in places, albeit in a far more dangerous, guttural and developed form.
Suffering Hour largely succeed at mixing weird and unhinged harmonies and spaced-out flickers of darkened melody with ominous, doom-riddled Mordid Angel-esque madness and rabid bursts of aggressive old school death. “Devouring Shapeless Void” cuts to the chase, making a beeline straight for the throat with it’s decaying attack of thrashy old school mayhem, before contorting into a more complex, progressive swirl of blackened death. At around the 3:05 minute mark a sharp and chugging riff demonstrates their song-based ethos and ability to get the head-banging amidst the carefully constructed chaos. The unpredictable and tightly structured nature of Suffering Hour’s deathly template can be challenging, flitting between straightforward tendencies and more experimental and proggy outlets. Initially it proves a slightly jarring and disorientating listen, however, despite the exhausting content, it’s a consistently enjoyable ride and Suffering Hour’s adventurous and hugely ambitious death metal rarely splutters or misfires, with the engaging songwriting and varied delivery a treat to gradually unlock and decipher.
In Passing Ascension works best in its full album form, becoming seemingly more deranged, immersive and darker as it hurtles towards the challenging back-end. Hooks snake their way out of the murky stew in subtle ways, as the constantly challenging, shifting nature of the music and claustrophobic assault of the senses takes a while to comprehend, creating an unconventional but never dull listening experience. The guitar work is a particular highlight, always keeping you guessing and maintaining a strong value for the power of the riff, an element that grounds the shimmering melodies, otherworldly leads and unusual alien-like harmonies swirling through the likes of the bizarre and compelling “The Abrasive Black Dust” and dense, proggy clusterfuck of the epic “Procession to Obscure Infinity.” These highlights are hallmarks of the impressive skill and capabilities of this impressive trio, however, overall the album falls just short of reaching a consistent level of greatness. But they don’t sound far off. The excellent production is another feather in the band’s cap, emphasizing robust, organic tones and featuring stellar dynamics without spit-shining Suffering Hour’s uncompromising delivery and thick, slightly muddied sound.
Suffering Hour have cemented their position as another immensely tight and talented force in the current death metal scene. Combining intelligent, challenging compositions with unhinged atmospheres, old school values and forward thinking brutality, In Passing Ascension can be a tough nut to crack but the rewards are plentiful for the patient listener, revealing a debut platter that achieves success and flirts with greatness. In Passing Ascension is a top quality companion piece to other finely crafted and supremely sophisticated death metal albums from Ingurgitating Oblivion, John Frum, Sunless and Artificial Brain to drop so far in 2017. Yet I get the feeling even greater things are in store for the future. Until then, Suffering Hour are a very promising band, well worth your undivided attention.