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...even by me, until recently. When most people, even most hardcore Suffocation fans, list Suffocation's greatest works, it almost invariably comes down to Effigy of the Forgotten, Pierced from Within, and/or Despise the Sun. All three were unmistakably masterpieces, but many act as if Breeding the Spawn didn't even exist, or at best it was just a black mark in an otherwise stellar catalogue. I was in this camp as well, until I "rediscovered" the album.
As most everyone knows, the reason for the popular opinion is obvious from the first second of the record: the production is basically shit. It's not all bad - the vocals and the bass sound great. But the guitar tone is thin and very quiet sounding - it sounds like they took a cheap practice amp and recorded it with a $5 computer microphone. I don't understand how Suffocation went from the tone on Effigy to this one. It's like night and day. However, the poor production on the guitars really showcases the bass, which, as I will get to, is a very good thing. The drums similarly sound very thin. In addition, Smith's two bass drums are poorly matched, such that moments such as the opening of the title track, they sound very awkward, and when he goes very fast, they just turn into a low rumble. I don't know why they didn't just use triggers like on Effigy. In short, the production is, shall we say, lacking.
However, the album is an absolute masterpiece. Let's begin with the technique. I read the following in an interview of Doug Cerrito right after Pierced was released:
We weren't too technical on [Pierced]. We actually tried to veer away from that, as we felt we were too technical on our last album. This album is faster than our last. When writing for this album we were on our guards against becoming too technical.
At the time, I was quite familiar with Pierced from Within, and as a guitarist, I can tell you that that album is, if possible, even more brutal to play as it is to listen to. It's nuts. So when I first read that, I found it difficult to believe. After all, nobody talks much about the guitar work on Breeding the Spawn -- nobody says much anything about except that the sound sucks. But take my word for it: it's true. The riffs on this album are Suffocation at their absolute most insane, twistiest and downright mindblowing at times. Not just in terms of technique but in terms of creativity. Naturally, Suffocation's signature mind-bending and impossibly difficult riffs are out in full force -- just listen to the final track "Ignorant Deprivation," where you'll be presented with one of the craziest guitar riffs you've ever heard (that is, if you've skipped the first seven tracks). But you also have elements truly unique to their other albums, and to metal in general. For example, the breakdown in the aforementioned song which starts as a very simple super-slow chug session, but then suddenly adds a strange and haunting bass solo which takes the listener completely by surprise.
That element of surprise is key to the genius of Breeding the Spawn. Transitions come out of nowhere, riffs twist and turn like Morbid Angel with Tourrette's syndrome. The characteristic twistyness that has made Pierced so famous is even crazier on this album. On the aforementioned followup album, Suffocation honed and refined the approach, as well as improved the production (quite the understatement). Thus, while you might say Pierced is controlled chaos, Breeding is pure refined chaos -- or would be were it not for the staggering talent of the musicians involved. Discounting the production, it is similar in many ways to its successor, and I think of them almost as companion albums. Both were technical masterpieces and display Suffocation at their most inventive. Where Pierced is a tighter package, with more advanced drumming and more mature songwriting, this album makes up for it in sheer insanity and pure creativity.
This leads me to my other complaint about the album, which is Smith's performance. While the other instruments display technical prowess never heard before (and in many cases, since), Smith seems to be struggling to keep up with the rest of the band. Don't get me wrong, Mike is no slouch on this album, but he simply hadn't evolved the way the rest of the band had. On Effigy, Mike's drums were a tour-de-force of gut-punching brutality -- no small feat for a 17-year old. On that album, guitars and drums were perfectly matched to each other, combining as perfect compliments to each other. But on Breeding, Smith seems to be trying to adapt the same style of Effigy, while the other instruments are a whirlwind of technicality that Smith doesn't seem to gel as well with. That said, he keeps up more than adequately for the most part, and displays some great moments of creativity. Suffocation's next drummer Doug Bohn took many cues from his predecessor stylistically, but was able to compliment the crazy guitar work with similarly crazy drumming (including the addition of blast beats) while simultaneously keeping things tight, which was key to the success of Pierced. The Mike Smith of today could drum circles around Doug Bohn (and just about everyone else), but at the time he was simply a bit out of his league when put alongside musicians like Richards, Hobbs and Cerrito.
However, the other member of the rhythm section (if such a word is even appropriate with a band like Suffocation), bassist Chris Richards, more than makes up for the drumming with a performance that, if Breeding the Spawn were not so maligned, would be rightly considered legendary. This album was his debut with Suffocation, and he truly made his mark. The basslines, including some solos such as on "Epitaph of the Credulous," are not only ferociously complex, on par with Cynic or Atheist, but incredibly well thought out, and really fit into the music. For most bands on most albums, the bassist is simply an obligatory instrument which serves to fill the need for low end. The albums Suffocation recorded with Richards, particularly Breeding and Pierced, are some of the few that treat the bass as an equal partner with the guitars, with a voice and character of its own. In my opinion, the Hobbs-Cerrito-Richards trio was the among most lethal and visionary the world of metal has ever known. And one of the greatest pleasures of Breeding (and to a degree a result of its shoddy production) is being able to experience Richards' bass to its fullest extent, albeit at the sacrifice of the other instruments.
It's worth mentioning that Frank's vocal performance on this album is incredible. He sounds different on every album, and this one is closer to his work on the two post-reunion albums in that it's raspy. But simultaneously, it's lower than those two, and less comprehensible (in a good way). It also has a fair amount of reverb which gives it a unique feel to other albums, making it sound closer to the "old school" death metal vocalists like Schuldiner and Vincent.
If I could afford it, I would gladly pay for Suffocation's original lineup to reunite for the sole purpose of rerecording this album from start to finish (and maybe one day I'll get my wish; for now I just have to content myself with the two tracks that have been, "Breeding the Spawn" and "Prelude to Repulsion"). The production is surpassed even by Human Waste -- which was a demo, for crying out loud. But honestly, don't believe all the hype about the production. I've heard worse, for sure. And after a few minutes of listening, possibly coupled with a bit of tinkering on your music player's EQ, you get used to the sound and just get lost in the frenzy.
Breeding the Spawn is an amazing gem. From a guitar and bass standpoint, it is probably Suffocation's most advanced work. It displays amazing creativity, a great vocal performance, fantastic riffs and songwriting that keeps you constantly guessing what they're going to pull out next. Discounting the production, it is similar in many ways to its successor, and I think of them almost as companion albums. Both were technical masterpieces and display Suffocation at their most inventive. Where Pierced is a tighter package, with more advanced drumming and more mature songwriting, this album makes up for it in sheer insanity and pure creativity.
To sum up, if you've been avoiding this album because of it's reputation as Suffocation's worst, you're doing yourself a huge disservice. If you listened to it once and thought it sounded like crap, give it another listen (or twelve). In fact, even if you think you just plain hate Suffocation, listen to this album and it might change your opinion. The next time you're cruising your friendly neighborhood record store, skip the tripe from the overhyped copycats of the day and buy this album. It'll probably cost less anyway, and you'll still be listening to it for years after you forgot the name of that other band you were going to buy.