New York brutal death metal pioneers, Suffocation, have never sounded better. Even though their seventh studio album, Pinnacle of Bedlam, is the first without longtime drummer Mike Smith, the music’s percussive section has not lost its technical edge. Dave Culross—whose drumming last appeared on Suffocation’s 1998 EP, Despise the Sun—fulfills his role as the band’s blast-beating machine well. From the opening burst of percussive gunfire in opening track, “Cycles of Suffering”; to the sluggish, cymbals-heavy drumming heard in tenth and final track, “Beginning of Sorrow”; Culross displays an aptitude for adjusting the knob on the tempometer as and when appropriate. Still, there is not much creativity when it comes to filling in the aural blanks between both tracks, as Culross predictably serves up a plethora of blast beats. But hey, this is Suffocation. Expecting their drummer to do anything else but that is like expecting Crucio Siege Tanks to remain in tank mode while defending Terran bases [It’s like he’s speaking Klingon — Steel Druhm].
In their 24 years of existence thus far, Suffocation have only released seven studio albums. They are not the most productive death metal band around, but their reputation is one of the most revered and hyperbolically praised. Commonly cited as “kings of death metal” and even “major innovators of the death metal genre,” having alternative opinions on such claims is about as recommended as utilizing Mutalisk clouds on a Terran Valkyrie Frigate fleet. But being the brave martyr that Happy Metal Guy is, he is going to put it out there that both claims are essentially PR writing.
Effigy of the Forgotten (1991) has justifiable hype since it is the quintessential “classic” that any worshipped metal band has to have. Beyond that, however, Suffocation doesn’t deserve much hype on their subsequent albums right up until Blood Oath. They have stubbornly stuck to their heavily downtuned, technical style with a penchant for breakdowns ever since (with the most noticeable change being the increased quality of album production on the later albums).
Suffocation (2006) was nothing short of boring and roused much regret over the CD purchase in the aftermath of that succinct mental review. Blood Oath’s album artwork is more morbidly gratifying than Pinnacle of Bedlam’s, but the music it contained was merely listenable. On Pinnacle of Bedlam, though, the overall sound is a little more exciting.
There is less murky, pointless sonic pummeling going on and more clear, straight-to-the-point guitar sections. Suddenly, Terence Hobbs sounds more musical than before. Songs such as “Purgatorial Punishment,” “Eminent Wrath,” “As Grace Descends,” “Pinnacle of Bedlam” and “Inversion” feature sunny licks and solos that pierce through the stormy clouds of riffs and breakdowns. There’s even a peaceful guitar strumming section to kick off fifth song “Sullen Days,” which eventually transits into a memorable guitar motif that is repeated intermittently throughout the song. Who would have thought that Suffocation’s music could actually sound a wee bit hopeful?
Frank Mullen’s growls are one-dimensional as usual and add nothing new to the mix. He sounds about as interesting as watching a Protoss probe harvesting minerals, but is nonetheless a stable and consistent element of Suffocation’s iconic sound. Bassist Derek Boyer has no solo moments and does nothing other than providing the bassy foundation on which the other instrumental parts rest upon. However! He does fulfill the role of “clean-blonde, long-haired dude in that metal band”. Happy Metal Guy is sure he is forgetting a particular Guy, but whatever, anyone other than the lead guitarist usually warrants no mention.
Featuring the most sophisticated vocabulary in their album titles since Effigy of the Forgotten, Pinnacle of Bedlam is sure to induce fingers typing for the meaning of “bedlam” in Google search. To save those poor, illiterate bastards the trouble, Happy Metal Guy has already done it—elevating his status to respected, literate academic in the process—and found out that “Bedlam” can refer to either a former asylum in London or a scene of uproar and confusion.
This explains the “twisted Justice-lookalike holding a tipped scale” motif of the album artwork and the pessimistic track titles. It’s the broadest concept Suffocation has utilized to date—albeit a cliché one—and sees them falling under the banal class of death metal bands singing about disorder. Still, it fits the criteria for having metal appeal since disorder and asylums are metal, and order and sane people are (probably) not metal (Happy Metal Guy grudgingly bows to political correctness).
Suffocation fans should be fawning over Pinnacle of Bedlam once it is released, while people who hate brutal death metal might probably dig the greater musicality of the lead guitar part. For the StarCraft players who got the references, y’all will wish the rebels blasted this album in their raids on Dominion outposts and bring to bear its theme by elevating the state of things to a chaotic climax. Down with Emperor Mengsk! [This review was brought to you by the Twenty-Sided Die Industry — Steel Druhm].