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As most seasoned fans of death metal are already well aware, Suffocation's first full-length release, Effigy of the Forgotten, has been legendarily influential on the evolution of the genre. It is an album of monumental importance. However, the problem with bands releasing remarkable albums is that time and time again the metal community has seen the bands in question provide us with follow-up efforts that are serious letdowns (for a good example of this, see Judas Priest and their highly influential album British Steel, which was followed by the awful Point of Entry).
If you're like many bands, after you've released an album like "Effigy of the Forgotten", you've used up all of your good material and the subsequent effort is bland and uninteresting. However, if you're Suffocation, instead you go into the studio with a lineup of material that is every bit on par with your previous effort. Then, regardless of recording difficulties you lay down the tracks to a sophomore release that is just as enjoyable as the first. Most bands don't do that, but Suffocation did. Often panned for its thin production and for simply not being Effigy, "Breeding the Spawn" is an outstanding effort and offers listeners even more of Suffocation's trademark style, brutality, and technicality, this time in a package that is arguably more enjoyable than before.
Yes, the production on Breeding the Spawn is of worse quality than on Effigy of the Forgotten. Deal with it. Seriously. Fans of heavy metal should understand that many bands in this field suffer from perennially being screwed over by the recording industries, and usually if an album has production that is inferior to its predecessor it is not the fault of the men behind the music. It certainly isn't in this case. The album comes across my speakers more quietly than the Suffocation albums that bookend it, but simply turning up the volume a few notches remedies the problem and the sound comes through with a satisfying roar.
What really draws me to this album is not its similarities to Effigy, but rather its differences. Effigy was crucial to the foundation of technical death metal. In contrast, Breeding the Spawn expands upon that groundwork. The slight change in direction is apparent as soon as the album begins. Effigy, although very firmly rooted in death metal, had a considerable amount of thrash influence. That influence is diminished on this album. Save for a few moments, such as the introductory riff of "Marital Decimation", Breeding the Spawn stays completely in technical territory.
The opening track, "Beginning of Sorrow", is phenomenal. The band wastes no time jumping headfirst into the fray. The frantic yet controlled pace at which the song begins does a fantastic job at setting the mood for the album. Mike Smith's blast beats through the opening section are flawless and highly memorable, and his drumming is one of the standout performances on this album. Also exceptional is the tremolo picking in the guitar tracks through this opening section, particularly apparent after the brief bass break. The most important part, though, begins at approximately 1:45 into the song, when the drums briefly drop out and allow the guitars to lay down a couple of measures of the next riff. This riff melts the mind the first few times it is heard, because there is a stark contrast in the guitar and drum styles through this section. The riff is slow, but the drum track is fast. Without giving the section a very careful listen, it seems that the two are out of sync with one another. In reality, there is actually a somewhat of a polyrhythm going on here, which is both memorable and bizarre.
The title track is one of Suffocation's classic anthems, and the band thought so highly of the song they decided to re-record it on their following album, Pierced from Within (worthy of note, Suffocation has actually re-recorded several songs from this album on subsequent releases, perhaps to provide the fans with well-produced versions). The highlight of the track is the slow, crawling, creepy riff in the middle of the song, which is one of Suffocation's many breakdowns which influenced all of their brutal death metal successors.
"Marital Decimation" is another one of the songs the band would later feel compelled to re-record (see the album Blood Oath). This was for good reason - the song is excellent. Similarly to the opening track, this one wastes no time jumping right into the fire. The intro to this song is one of the more thrash-oriented moments on the album, with a jumping riff that perpetually compels me to bang my head. In my opinion, even though the riff doesn't last very long, I think it's one of Suffocation's most memorable.
"Prelude to Repulsion" offers more of Suffocation's trademark slow, chugging breakdowns. The first of the two begins around 1:05, and the second around 2:15. The second of the two, in particular, is a standout moment on the album and another moment when I simply must bang my head. Yet another begins at 3:15, and this one is followed by a blistering, frantic solo from Hobbes. The most unfortunate part of this album's production is that the few times that Hobbes really lets it loose and goes nuts on his strings, such as he does here, the sound fades out, and in the middle of the solo there is a moment when his guitar seems to momentarily go silent. This can be noticed in a few other tracks as well, and it's my only real complaint about the production.
The closing track, "Ignorant Deprivation", although not the album's best, has a few standout moments. In particular, I refer to the breakdown around 3:00 that is easily the slowest passage featured on the album. There's a creepy bass line running underneath it that makes the sound feel like dripping molasses. Or perhaps blood, given the nature of the music. You can take your pick. Also, the closing riff, which begins about forty seconds from the end of the track, is one of my favorite closing lines in death metal. What stands out about it is that it's not overdone. It's simple, it sounds really cool, and it fades out. It leaves the listener thinking instead of reeling.
As I see it, although this album doesn't quite make it into the category of being an essential release, it is remarkably close to it. I admit that some people will be upset with the production quality, and although I think that's foolish, I also accept that it is a legitimate complaint. For me, the key to this album is the evolution of the band's sound and what it meant for the technical death metal genre. If you ask me, it meant very, very good things.
Highlights: Beginning of Sorrow, Breeding the Spawn, Marital Decimation, Prelude to Repulsion (and for the latter three on that list, you can enjoy the band's re-recorded versions as the closing tracks on the albums Pierced from Within, Blood Oath, and Suffocation, respectively)