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First things first: famously, the production on this album is not all that it could be. It’s trebly, weirdly-mixed (for lack of a better description), and in some of the more aggressive segments it can be a little… tricky to tell exactly what’s going on. Still, it’s not without its pluses: the bass guitar frequently sticks out as an individual voice, and tone is generally preserved better than it was on Effigy of the Forgotten (which sometimes sounds like indistinct thumping in spite of what’s going on with the guitars; clarity was sacrificed for “heaviness”). To some extent, it’s sort of nice to have a “different”-sounding album in Suffocation’s back catalog, just for variety’s sake.
Overall, it’s not actually such a big deal once you let your ears adjust. If the production “ruins” this album for you, you don’t deserve to enjoy it anyway. Frankly, I don’t want you reading my prose either. Go away.
If you want to understand the appeal of this band, the title track of this album is as good a place to direct your ears as any. Have you seen director David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly? If not, I recommend that you do so – aside from being an excellent movie on its own, it will allow you to better comprehend the following simile: the first few moments of the song “Breeding the Spawn” sound like what you’d get if you sent two (or more?) distinct riffs through a telepod together, yielding some horrible, twitching, barely-alive monstrosity of death metal guitar playing whose mere existence is a blasphemy against creation. A lot of Suffocation’s better moments are in that vein. They tend to be pretty good about not playing the exact same bar of music over and over again – but neither do they shift about at random – instead, they deliberately mangle the hell out of whatever it is that they’re playing as they go, offering a number of variations of each idea, making for music with a real sense of depth and complexity.
Suffocation’s predecessors never approached that style of songwriting, their contemporaries branched in different directions, and their (many) followers have tended to degenerate into technical abstraction, in a hopeless game of one-upmanship – or else turned to hip-hop grooves. You will seldom hear this style of metal done as well as it’s accomplished here.
The first half of the album was mostly written by Doug Cerrito, the latter half mostly by Terrance Hobbes. It makes for a slight shift in tone and feel – broadly speaking, Cerrito’s music is more deliberately convoluted (the aforementioned title track is his) while Hobbes’ songs are somewhat more experimental in aesthetic and “melody”. Check 1:17 of “Anomalistic Offerings” for an interesting example of the latter. Perhaps also worth mentioning is the presence of solos from both guitar players in all of Suffocation’s music, as solos have largely been forsaken by the newer generation of brutal death metal bands.
Vocalist Frank Mullen sounded a tad different every time the band released an album. Back on Effigy of the Forgotten he barked like a muzzled animal, while by the time Pierced from Within came around, he was sounding nearly-coherent, if as gravelly as ever. On Breeding he’s a little closer to yelling than he is anywhere else; you get the impression he’s using English words, but without consulting the lyric sheet it’s impossible to be certain.
Anyhow, enough said. “Comeback album” possibly excepted, Suffocation’s music has been consistently high-quality, so other than a possible minor black mark on account of the production, this is about as good as anything else they’ve ever done, or anything else in death metal for that matter. If you only listen to one brutal death metal band, this one’s probably a good choice.