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Suffocation are, for all intents and purposes, my death metal home base. I was weaned on the mid-90s death metal scene in New York City, and Suffocation were royalty. Pierced from Within is an all-time favorite and my personal benchmark for heaviness in metal. Despite my youthful devotion, I haven’t been an early adopter of the band’s post-reunion material. Each album has wormed its way into my heart and music collection, but the process has been deliberate. Pinnacle of Bedlam, however, is another beast altogether; a threshold of instant gratification has been crossed.
Pinnacle of Bedlam keeps all of the Suffocation hallmarks intact. The cataclysmic cadence and crushing triplets are here. The dominating riffs are present, pitting elasticity against closed-fist crunch. The explosive speed and oscillating anti-grooves are familiar and well worn. But there’s something else here, something luminous and deadly that recalls the band’s finest work.
Tumbling, tangled guitar lines seem to do battle with themselves, inflicting staccato stab wounds. You’ll witness fascinating moments where riffs diverge in the stereo plane, one guitar flying apart and the other holding the line (“Inversion” is a prime example of such restrained chaos). More bits of hammered-on oddity and freakish friction have crept into the riffage; Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais have dug deep into the well of creativity. Each compositional curve comes with extra fractals of complexity; these don’t render the music impenetrable, but give it depth and intriguing intricacy.
The leads are more dynamic and memorable than on recent efforts, adding subtle bits of melody. There are shocking moments of articulate, sinuous, and proggy pragmatism in these solos. The majestic flourishes and persuasive clean guitar passages drive home the album’s regal mien.
Each song plummets through meters both tame and unfathomable. A mind boggling array of rhythmic devices are represented. Dave Culross has seamlessly picked up Mike Smith’s sticks, as he has successfully done once before. To my ears, the difference in drumming manifests in an increased fluidity and a slightly decreased swagger.
The recording is modern and articulate without coming across as over-produced. In the annals of Suffocation production values, Pinnacle of Bedlam is near the top. There’s still a place in my heart for the fat, grinding guitar tone of Despise the Sun and the self-titled album, but this balanced sound suits the record well.
Frank Mullen is, as always, a singular character and one of death metal’s greatest vocalists. His performance here is top-notch; the man hasn’t lost one bit of guttural gas. The extraordinary sense of timing is intact, utilizing sonic interstices to brutal effect.
Pinnacle of Bedlam provokes the same tactile, savage, superhuman sensation that Pierced from Within conjured in my 17-year-old self. You’d think Suffocation would be too old to be able to transmit such rage; you’d think I’d be too old to receive it. In the end, we’re all beasts barely restrained by cognition; Pinnacle of Bedlam crosses the lines that we can’t. "If thoughts could lash out, you'd all be dead."
Originally published here.
When I first heard about this album coming out I had high hopes for it. Lyrically, the album was said to be based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is not what I had in mind when I read this news. When you hear something like that, you expect an album with dark, gritty production similar to earlier Suffocation releases, but that is nowhere to be found. Even Blood Oath, which was a weak album, had that signature Suffocation sound.
What made an even worse first impression on me was listening to As Grace Descends, which was released prior to the album. It's the weakest track not just form this album, but is in my opinion the worst Suffocation song ever (not to mention the music video). When the album finally arrived I listened to it in hopes of finding something worth listening to more than once. And I did. It's not all bad, but it's certainly a big disappointment compared to all the other albums prior to Blood Oath.
The guitar work is pretty good, but somehow the first thing that came to mind when I was listening to this was: did they relapse Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais? Seriously. The drumming is the best part of this album. I always enjoyed listening to Dave Culross on Despise The Sun, so no disappointment on that part. The bass here cannot be heard. Again, this is coming from a guy who we could hear clearly on previous albums and on ...And Time Begins from Decrepit Birth. Frank Mullen is still as great as ever, but his voice has seen better days.
I'm sorry to say this and it pains me that this band, that is a legend in the genre, has become just another modern death metal band. If you are interested in all the new death metal bands that have overly clean production and have forgotten about the dark, raw energy of the genre, then this might be your stuff. I'll just stick to their earlier works.
Suffocation’s latest effort is a punch in the face. Not only a hard one, but also an accurate one. No wonder they are, by far, one of the most influential death metal acts out there.
That was straight, I’ll give me that, and that’s exactly how this record takes off: straight to your nuts. Now, that’s not really a surprise, is it? If you’ve listened to anything these guys have released in the past — at least what’s left of’em , you know they won’t waste time with elementary intros talk. Needless to say they won’t give the listener a minute of peace until the record is over.
Aside the usual crushing technical riffs, blasting drums and growls, there’s one staple of Suffocation’s sound that makes their fans keep listening to their albums: It’s called coherence, you know. Coherence within the songs that goes beyond the mediocrity of most br00tal fuckos trying to sound eebol. You can bet your ass the subtle way they make their themes and leif motifs to make sense goes unnoticed for many. Still, it’s there.
Perhaps, “Sullen days” is the most illustrative example of what I say. Even though the guitar line in the beginning might feel relaxingly mesmerizing, as soon as it’s there you know it won’t last. So, what could have been a brake for your miserable ears becomes another element of tension. We all know an instrumental ballad is not something we may expect from these New Yorkers, but then again, they do know how to slow the pace and still make it heavy. Also, and without simply modifying the melody to make it a distorted riff, it’s to be noted how riffs and melodies always make sense, no matter they were written for part A, B, or C of the song. In fact, there’s nothing like A-B-C patterns here; it’s all about a complex knitting that you need to understand altogether. You can try at least.
I used that example because it’s easier to identify and analyze such elements in slow motion, but make no mistake, all songs here are thoroughly written and well-thought. They’re full of details and nothing is there by chance. Many so called technical bands tend to forget music for the sake of showing off. Suffocation don’t.
Being this the first record released after Mike Smith’s second departure, drumming is to be paid attention to. Luckily for us all, I can gladly inform that he won’t be missed; Mr Dave Culross fulfills his duties well, and not being a stranger, he got the hang of it pretty soon if you ask me. Also, he adds for the traditional death metal beat of this contemporary release.
In general, I’d say no one could be disappointed by “Pinnacle of bedlam”. Suffocation stand for consistency if anything, and although they’re sound is a bit faster and the production is cleaner than usual, that shouldn’t be a problem. Thumbs up.
Pay special attention to: “Cycles of Suffering”, “As Grace Descends”, “Sullen Days” and “Beginning of Sorrow”.
—Originally written for www.globaldomination.com
If you are seeking utter brutality and intense blast beating with riffs soaring all over the place, "Pinnacle of Bedlam" hits home. I even like it more than their self-titled work plus it's the only other Suffocation album that I own. What a damn quality production to this one, everything all encompassing with the deep vocals, insane riffing, and relentless snare drum pounding away to this awesome technical death metal band. They really were able to annihilate the masses once again with this one. It just does not let up in intensity (only brief clean work) and constant catchy guitar that seeps through your speakers.
This genre of metal I don't have much experience with, however, the band I've known about for years, just never really got into this genre. But after hearing a lot of newer metal albums that disappointed me, I decided to give this one a try. It really doesn't let up at all. It's so fast and furious, that hatred is just rampant. Pretty all of the riffs are way technical and original. The clean bits gave way to some letup in the brutality factor, but overall, this is just a triumph! It's so damn fast and amazing in every aspect. Leads are furious as they make their way through the fretboard with just all over the place annihilation. Simply crisp and utterly flowing!
Bar chords mixed with artificial harmonics and riffs that are utterly monstrous. Every song on here deserves praise. This album can be spun multiple times because with each succeeding hearing, there something new that you can catch up and hear. The music just pounds with lead guitar that's just amazingly executed. I can see why this band has gained such utter influence on the metal scene. They just blow you away with fury and all of that hatred that exists in the music gets spewed forth here. Even the lyrics are comprehensive and well thought out. They blend totally with the music.
Don't pass this one up because it's such an awesome technical death metal frenzy! If you've been following this band for a while, then you will hear that intensity show up once again and blow you away. All of the riffs on here are so damn heavy and chaotic. A great release here as you will not be disappointed in any way by it's intensity. There is just no letting up. It's a pury orgy of riffs and vocals that suit the music perfectly. There is no song on here that doesn't deserve praise-they all rule and take a look at the lyrics as well because you'll see how well they fit with the music. A true monument in metal here. Get it ASAP!
When the cover of Suffocation's seventh full-length, along with teaser track 'As Grace Descends', was revealed I got scared, really scared. The artwork was butt ugly and mostly resembled a cheap Job For A Cowboy-rehash. The teaser track simply reeked of thrash and hardcore influences. Would this be the end of yet another death metal behemoth? Had Suffocation done the unspeakable and started cheating on me with that bitch deathcore? Naturally, I prepared both the noose and the kool-aid before I gave the album a first spin.
So how did it all end up? Well, I am still here, am I not?! Actually 'Pinnacle Of Bedlam' shows Suffocation taking both some steps back and a couple forwards. Continuing on the atmospheric journey of 'Blood Oath', adding the intricate melodies of 'Souls To Deny' and the technical extravaganza of 'Pierced From Within', it really is good old Suffocation back behind the wheels. The modern influences are kept to a bare minimum with the exception of the aforementioned track and the still butt ugly album art.
The most notable musical changes compared to previous albums are in fact the vocals and the drumming. Frank Mullen is more pronounced and less guttural than you have ever heard him before. This trend had been going on the last few albums and I think he pulls of the vocals brilliantly once again showing he is not only one of the best death metal vocalists out there but also one of the most versatile. Probably the most discussed change beforehand was that of Dave Culross replacing Mike Smith behind the drum kit. The departure of Smith's dynamic and unigue drumming is of course a loss to any band but Culross is incredubly tight as well and has a style that is well on par with Suffocation's current musical evolution. The band has also started to experiment with slow atmospheric pieces, e.g the intro and outro of 'Sullen Days', which is an unexpected, but welcome, addition to the deadly Suffocation arsenal.
What really stands out though on 'Pinnacle of Bedlam' is the production. Gone is the thick trademark wall of sound, replaced by a crisp, clear modern production. At first I thought this basically brought the entire album down but after a few listens I started to see what the band really is onto. One cannot help but wonder though how this really strong material would have sounded with a "classic" Suffocation-production. Like all Suffocation albums 'Pinnacle of Bedlam' keeps growing with each listen and for the moment this is their best effort since the under-rated masterpiece 'Souls To Deny'.
2012 was the year the old titans showed the youngsters how extreme metal really is done. 'Pinnacle Of Bedlam' surely display that 2013 will follow that trend.
Originally written for www.metalcovenant.com
For those who have never heard of the band before Suffocation are pioneers of the brutal death metal sub-genre. They are renowned for their fast and furious approach to music and were among the first, if not the first band to feature slams in their music. Their early works are frequently mentioned among the finest death metal albums of all time. Effigy Of The Forgotten shot them to fame within the death metal community and Pierced From Within solidified this status two albums later. Following this the band seemed to lose focus despite the fact that all of their albums have enough good features about them to save them. 2013 heralds the return of this titan of death metal with their album Pinnacle Of Bedlam, and surprisingly this is the band's weakest release to date.
Pinnacle of Bedlam is by no means a bad album but is certainly not of the same consistency in quality as their self titled or any other post-Pierced From Within Suffocation album. Its real saving grace is the solos but the band seems to have held back a little with soloing. They are still found frequently but not with anywhere near enough presence as on past material. The solo to Cycles Of Suffering is one that really sticks out due to its extended length and the fact the first half of it is calm until it just explodes and goes all over the place. Eminent Wrath opens up with a short piece of quick lead work and whammy bar abuse that feels to be too short to have any sort of impact. For the most part the solos are just there except for the longer ones which are more than enough to leap out at the listener. As Grace Descends is the finest example of how the solos can really save the song as this song was just a song that steam rollered on until the point of the solo. The quick runs up the fret board on this particular song were its saving grace.
The riffs to this album are where it has really lost its punch. Suffocation have always prided themselves on playing a technical brand of death metal but on Pinnacle they have over stretched themselves. In place of the well thought out riffs of Effigy are a collection of pieces of guitar work that just clash too much. The songs have no real flow due to the fact that most of the time one riff does not lead into the next one particularly well. One note-worthy exception to this would be Sullen Days. This song opens up with some nice clean guitar work before a bludgeoning riff kicks in with some nice use of pinch harmonics. The song meanders around by adding a few different ideas to the same riff for the first two minutes before it really picks up. Fast palm muted riffing is the main course for the next minute before a slightly slower interplay of chords and tremolo picking comes in. Following this is the best riff of the song at 3:30 that never fails to amaze. The one thing this song is missing is a solo to really capitalize on its clever riff set.
The vocals on this album are a massive let down from past Suffocation releases as well. Gone are the incredibly guttural and indecipherable mumblings of their earlier works and in place are powerless grunts with little energy or emotion behind them. For the most part the vocalist keeps to the same low tone with every word being understandable but with no reason to strive to hear what he is saying. The vocal performance on Pinnacle Of Bedlam is the only truly bad thing on this album. This also has an enormous impact on the effect of the slower moments of the album and during the slams where the vocals would usually be at the forefront. The chorus to Cycles Of Suffering before the solo had potential to be interesting and enjoyable and a good means to break up the flow of the music. With the slower nature of the guitar work and stop-start style to it, the vocals are right at the front of the music. However due to the lack of power behind the growls, you will just want to skip this section.
The highlights of this album are solid enough songs and definitely fit in well among the band's past works however. Cycles Of Suffering opens the album up with a punch. There is no clean introduction or song dedicated purely to random noises to kick this album off. In place of this the band leaps directly into the heavy as hell riffs and vocal work with thrash beats and fast double bass throughout this song before the aforementioned monster solo. This is possibly the second best opener to a Suffocation album, joint with Liege Of Inveracity. Even the vocal performance is not a problem on this song aside from the slowest sections. The title track is another good song with the band's signature blast beats playing a big part of it as well as some really cool jumps between chords and tremolo picking to open it up. Thirty seconds in the song introduces the much more technical riffing that really does work and does not feel as though the band has taken this side of their music too far for once. The slower riffs backing the soloing are fantastic and the drum fills mark the finest drum moments of Pinnacle Of Bedlam. The worst song on the album is Inversion which opens up with some quick blast beats and tremolo picking but it just feels like the band is merely going through the motions of creating "a Suffocation album". Just under a minute in the song gets a lot more enjoyable but even that does not save it from being just a boring pile of nonsense for its last sixty seconds.
Suffocation's 2013 outing is not a complete failure but is definitely their first true misstep. Hopefully the band will not consider continuing down this more-technicality-than-required style of music they took for this album in future. It is not a bad album with some solid riffs and solos that really will amaze the listener but the vocals and some of the weaker riffs truly do drag it down to being merely an average death metal album.
Suffocation made their name early with their memorable releases of "Effigy of the Forgotten", "Breeding the Spawn" and "Pierced From Within". After these releases, many people thought that Suffocation would never make a better album. Well, in my opinion, they did. "Pinnacle of Bedlam", the seventh full length for the brutal technical death metal masters, is some of the best material that Suffocation has ever put out. From the guitar work, drums, bass, vocals and lyrics, Suffocation has put out a true masterpiece in "Pinnacle of Bedlam".
The first track, "Cycles of Suffering", is a perfect start for the album. Compared to their previous release "Blood Oath", Frank Mullen's vocals have improved, and sound flawless throughout. The guitar solo by Terrance Hobbs is one of many throughout. The work from both Guy Marchais and Terrance Hobbs is excellent, and some of the best written material they have done in many years. After the departure of long time drummer Mike Smith, former member David Culross fits the empty slot perfectly, and provides a great percussion performance throughout. The lyrics of the song are excellent as well. Provided by bassist Derek Boyer, the lyrics go very well with the overall theme of the album.
The second and third tracks of album, titled “Purgatorial Punishment” and “Eminent Wrath”, are mainly riffs with one solo each. These are not as fast in tempo compared to past Suffocation songs, but I like that about the record. It’s not too fast. Some death metal bands, such as Cannibal Corpse and Deicide, have mainly fast paced songs. I don’t like the rush, and this album is definitely not rushed. It has a perfect tempo from start to finish.
We were first introduced to “Pinnacle of Bedlam” when Suffocation released the song “As Grace Descends”. When this song was released, people kept going off about the production being too clean. I love the production of the entire album, and cannot find a single flaw in the mixing whatsoever. It’s clean and yet so brutal, and perfectly done. Recently, Suffocation put out a music video for “As Grace Descends”. This is one of my favorite songs on the record, and was a great way to introduce the fans to the new album.
As you move forward, one track that really stands out on the record is “Sullen Days”. This song starts off with a soft guitar melody, and maintains the slower speed throughout the majority of the song. This was a different look at the writing that Suffocation is capable of. It’s also a longer song. Timing in at four minutes and fifty seven seconds, it is almost a full minute longer than most of the songs on the record. This song was an excellent addition to the brutality of “Pinnacle of Bedlam”, and is perfectly placed in the record.
Last year, we were all saddened to learn that legendary vocalist Frank Mullen would not be able to tour full time with the band in the future. He has a new job that requires him to miss time with the band. However, he still participates in the album as the lead vocalist, and still does most of the shows when they go on tour. What a performance from Mullen on this album. This is the best vocal performance I have ever heard in any other piece of music made by Suffocation. They sound great and they’re very clear. This may be the same instance on other albums, but I noticed that the majority of the lyrics were not written by Mullen. He did write them on one of the songs, titled “Rapture of Revocation”. Other than that, the lyrics are written by bassist Derek Boyer and lead guitarist Terrance Hobbs.
Many people had worries and were unhappy with the exit of long time drummer Mike Smith. He was a member of Suffocation for many years, and everyone was sad to see him go. Some even thought he was irreplaceable. Enter David Culross. Culross was the drummer for Suffocation for only a year, but he was happy to get back behind the kit. He does a fantastic job on the record, and I thought he fit the position very well.
Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais have been in Suffocation for many years, and have always had excellent performances in every album they’ve been involved in. The majority of the solos are done by Hobbs, but there are a few done by Marchais. Hobbs wrote the majority of songs on “Pinnacle of Bedlam”, but one song was written by only Marchais, titled “My Demise”. This was a heavier song, and shows the differences in writing from Hobbs. These guys did an excellent job on the record, and put some of their best material into this album.
The bass performance is excellent as well. Derek Boyer not only wrote the majority of the lyrics, but gives a great addition with the bass on the record. It is easily detectable, and played strongly throughout. In parts of some songs, he has little bass grooves, but no extensive solos. It would have been nice to hear a bass solo or two, but at least you can hear the bass on the album, which is unfortunately rare on most albums from bands in the metal industry.
The closing song, titled "Beginning of Sorrow", had a rather interesting and unique ending. It was also written by every member in Suffocation, according to the lyric book. The ending is more of a breakdown. It’s also one of the longer songs on the album. The finish was interesting, but I liked it. It had a different ending to it than traditional Suffocation album, but this was a different album from Suffocation. It was much better than their last release, and in my opinion, the best Suffocation record ever made yet.
Though it may disappoint the diehard fan of classic Suffocation albums like “Effigy of the Forgotten” and “Breeding the Spawn” because of its clean (and in my opinion, flawless) production, “Pinnacle of Bedlam” shows some of the best riffs, solos, and writing in the long career of the death metal legends. This album surpasses all expectations and is my favorite death metal album of all time. It is as close to perfection as it gets. Pick this album up at once, it is a true masterpiece of death metal, produced from the true legends known as Suffocation.
As the fourth album since their 2002 reformation "Pinnacle of Bedlam" takes brutal death metal maestros Suffocation past the 3-album mark they attained before splitting during the demise of metal in the mid-90s. It is pretty clear that the influence of their early records will never be matched (nor the gritty production values) but as a mark of intent "Cycles of Suffering" sets the standard - a more immediate introduction to an album I cannot remember - with Frank Mullen's gruff vocals hammering against the de rigueur technical song structures that define the band as the song flows through winding rhythm passages and finger-tapping solos in the typically solid way that these New Yorkers do things.
"Eminent Wrath" intersperses the blastbeat driven passages that have always sent the pits wild with a pleasant amount of fretboard dexterity while "Purgatorial Punishment" distinguishes itself with some strong soloing in another uncompromising 3 minutes. As a reflection on the similarities in guitar tone that is unfortunately prevalent across the landscape of high-production metal releases these days the opening to "As Grace Descends" could be easily mistaken as being culled from a modern Exodus record before the song at least progresses in its latter section into the most dynamic period thus far.
And so it continues. The feeling of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' is at the heart of the Suffocation remit in the 21st Century as the album continues to flow through offering no surprises to existing fans of the band. Closing trio "Inversion", "Rapture of Revocation" and "Beginning of Sorrow" prove just how little Suffocation have mellowed with age as they offer no respite from the barrage. How does this hold up against previous outings? I am not finding that much lingers in the memory once the 38 minutes up but with the formula hardly having changed and the production that bit sharper I don't expect to hear many disappointed Suffocation fans following their "Pinnacle of Bedlam".
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
It's really funny how a change in lineup, regardless of how small the changes were, can change the sound of a band. Returning drummer Dave Culross replacing Mike Smith has changed the band a lot to the point where Suffocation has pretty much changed. Aside from the fact that Culross doesn't have that same raw power that Mike Smith does when it comes to beating the drums, he also has a much more traditional tech death feel when it comes to drumming. He's...faster, I guess? Though I feel that he's not as precise as Smith is when the latter was still in Suffocation. I'm not really sure how to describe his drumming style as I’m not a drummer, but if affected Suffocation as a whole. So how does that change for the rest of the band?
For one, the songs here, save for "Sullen Days" and the rerecording of "Beginning of Sorrow", are faster and has an obvious thrash influence. "As Grace Descends", a song that was released before this album was released, was an indication of that. Additionally, the breakdowns that Suffo is known for aren't nearly used, although they're still used to great extent. Despite the change to a faster, less (IMHO) sound, everything you'd expect is still there. The guitar solos, brought to us by Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais are still dark and atmospheric, slow, doomy, etc. and the riffs are still heavy, despite that the songs here don't seem to be as brutal in exchange for being faster. Bass-work by Derek Boyer also follows the same atmospheric creepiness, though at times (more often than not) it differs from the guitar-work. Frank Mullen didn't seem to change as much from Blood Oath to here as much as he did from the self-titled album to there. He still has the same guttural growl as before. No changes there.
Others might bitch about the production being too "clean", but I don't mind. Then again, I'm not one to complain about modern stuff, but than again, that may have been because I got into metal music fairly later than others.
Overall, it's a good album, an improvement from Blood Oath,which I felt was a disappointment to an extent but I really doubt that Suffocation will ever be able to top the masterpieces that were Effigy of the Forgotten and Pierced from Within.
In many circles, the expectations for any new Suffocation album run high. When the artwork for the band's newest, Pinnacle of Bedlam, was first unveiled, the message boards were buzzing with comments such as "The cover looks like a deathcore album," and "What's with the font they used for the album title?" I didn't think too much of it since we all know the old saying involving books and their covers. Yet when the first track released to the public, "As Grace Descends," hit the web, there were several "See, I told you so's" from the more skeptical fans in internet-land due to the song's odd style. I must admit I was a little concerned myself. But no one would know for sure until hearing the whole album.
So has Suffocation gone "deathcore," or at least strayed from its classic sound on Pinnacle of Bedlam? The short answer is "sort of." Fear not, Pinnacle of Bedlam is most assuredly not deathcore. However, Suffocation has definitely tried a few new things on this album. The biggest change is in the songwriting style itself. Overall, Pinnacle of Bedlam doesn't feel as dark and evil as the band's past work. It's more bright sounding due to both the clear production and an undercurrent of melody in the songs. For example, the melodic riffing in "Sullen Days" and "Purgatorial Punishment" doesn't sound like typical Suffocation. Though some of the riffs on this album seem out of character, they make the songs more catchy than usual and never seem too weak or wimpy. The aforementioned "Sullen Days" also features a clean intro that sounds more akin to the beginning of a Killswitch Engage song than the early Suffocation classic "Torn Into Enthrallment." This riff and several others spread across the album don't have the dark, minor tonality one would expect. Plus, there's a surprising number of thrashy parts sprinkled throughout the album with "As Grace Descends" being the most obvious example. There are also some odd rhythmic choices in "Rapture of Revocation" and an uncharacteristic swinging feel to "Purgatorial Punishment." These changes to the songwriting style may go by unnoticed to some, but should stand out to most Suffocation fans.
Despite all of this branching out, Pinnacle of Bedlam is still easily recognizable as Suffocation. The basic framework of the band has not changed. All of the playing is top-notch, with most of the songs featuring classic Suffocation moments. "Eminent Wrath" and album highlight "My Demise" impress with their classic-style riffing and dark ripping solos. Frank Mullen's vocals remain the same genre-defining growl of old. Derek Boyer's bass continues to play a featured role and pops out for some chunky fills every now and then. Dave Culross picks up right where he left off bashing the skins on Despise the Sun, and his playing is sure to make jaws hit the floor on several occasions. In this sense, not that much has changed. Heck, there's even the requisite re-recorded Breeding the Spawn track, "Beginning of Sorrow." So regardless of the new ingredients, there's plenty on Pinnacle of Bedlam to please most Suffocation fans.
In all honesty, Pinnacle of Bedlam does kind of sound like it fits its album cover. Like the artwork, the music is a little different than what we expect from Suffocation. Taken on its own merits, Pinnacle of Bedlam is pretty impressive. Compared to most of the bands past efforts, it weakens somewhat. Nevertheless, I commend Suffocation for trying something new and actually succeeding at it without stepping too far outside the box. Personally, I would be pleased if the band could keep churning out Pierced From Within's, yet that would probably become really boring for the band, and for me too eventually. While Pinnacle of Bedlam is not exactly what I want from Suffocation, it's still an album full of extremely catchy, well-played death metal. Though it may be slightly disappointing to some, this album deserves a place on any serious Suffocation fan's shelf. How you receive Pinnacle of Bedlam really depends on what you want from Suffocation.
Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com
The kings of New York death metal known to the common man only as Suffocation have had quite an impressive run in their 25 years or so of existing. After injecting the death metal genre with a lethal dose of brutality with genre classic Effigy of the Forgotten, the band went on to record the similarly excellent Breeding the Spawn and Pierced from Within. After calling it quits in 1998 with the EP Despise the Sun, the band took five years off before returning with original drummer Mike Smith, original guitarist Guy Marchais, and then-Decrepit Birth bassist Derek Boyer to unleash Souls to Deny, a self titled album, and Blood Oath upon the world. The three records, while still regarded highly among extreme metal fans, weren't considered to be on the same legendary level as their material in the 1990s was. Fast forward four years and one more Mike Smith departure later to Pinnacle of Bedlam, the band's seventh full length record and ninth when counting the aforementioned Despise the Sun and their debut EP Human Waste. Having taken on a more modern riff style and a thrashier edge musically, this is most definitely the best album Suffocation have made since reuniting.
Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Bedlam goes by pretty quickly, as is the case with many death metal records, both past and present. The big musical difference between this record and the past three Suffocation records is that while they were more on the plodding, crushing side of death metal, this record takes on a much more thrash influenced frenzy of furious guitars, crazy, blast filled drumming (courtesy of the returning Dave Culross), and the most modern tech death riffing the band has ever employed. The difference between Suffocation and many other modern death metal bands however is that Suffocation still manage to create a memorable song with this new guitar style; whereas many other newer death metal bands take the hypertechnical and instantly forgettable tech death approach pioneered by Brain Drill and the second Necrophagist album, Suffocation on Bedlam retain a sense of structure and repeating parts, thus leading to the music staying inside your head for many minutes after a song has ended. The signature elements of the Suffocation sound, including hammer blasting and slamming breakdowns, are still included on this record, although admittedly they aren't as prevalent here as they were in the past, with hammer blasting only appearing on the album's title track, "Inversion", and the re-recorded "Beginning of Sorrow", and breakdowns only really appearing in the true sense of the word on "Cycles of Suffering", "Rapture of Revocation", and the aforementioned "Beginning the Sorrow". Probably the most memorable tracks on the album are the two previously released "singles" of the album, "Cycles of Suffering" with its unrelenting atmosphere and slam filled middle and end (although, much like the pre-release version, the beginning of the song sounds cut off, as if we're joining the song in progress), and "As Grace Descends" which is the most thrash influenced song on the record, especially near the end where it takes on a mutated punk-meets-Slayer-gone-technical form, as well as "Sullen Days", which is Suffocation's take on death/doom at a more midpaced tempo. The song also features clean guitars, a first for a band as famously brutal as Suffocation. The only real flaw I can find with the record is the production style. Being the most modern sounding Suffocation album musically, the production also is brought into the modern era on this record; oh how I wish it stayed back 15 years ago like the last three records had. The record has very little low end, leading the guitars to sound very thin and hollow. The whole affair is also brickwalled to oblivion as well, as is common in modern album production, although it is nowhere near as bad as some other records. The bass is audible at least, so it has that going for it. Overall on the production side of things, it's not my own preferred style of album sound, but it beats the crap out of the mix on Nile's latest record, which I consider to be one of those records you show an aspiring metal album producer and tell him "This is NOT how to mix an album."
In terms of instrumentation, all five members of Suffocation bring their A game on Bedlam. Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais slay on the guitars, never letting up for a second. Derek Boyer too is thrashing away on the bass, although he's mostly following what the guitars are playing. Frank Mullen, true to being one of the greatest extreme metal vocalists of all time, does not disappoint, tearing at his vocal chords with such guttural groans and grunts that it sounds like the entire world could be quaked into perfect halves. Dave Culross, replacing the band's original skinsman Mike Smith, may just be the most responsible for this updated sound Suffocation have adopted, as his own style is so different from Smith's that it very well has that capability of changing a band's sound. Whereas Smith was more of a hands player than a feet player, Culross is a bit more the opposite of that, including many foot tricks that Smith never in a million years would have included. His hands are no slouches either, utilizing more common death metal fills than Smith but also providing us with more high speed traditional blasting than you can shake a Marduk album at. Smith is not left out in the rain though, as he makes a guest appearance on the re-recording of "Beginning of Sorrow" from Breeding the Spawn. An interesting thing to note is that when listening to "Beginning of Sorrow" along with "Rapture of Revocation" (the track that immediately precedes it), it is very easy to tell that Culross is drumming on "Revocation" and Smith on "Sorrow". Listen to their ride cymbals during blast beats. Culross accents his downbeats on the ride, usually with a bell hit, while no such accenting is done by Smith.
Suffocation overall have hit the extreme nail right on its metal head with Pinnacle of Bedlam, showing that even though they may be getting up there in age, they are no slouches and can still pound skulls into dust through their music. The return of Dave Culross to the drum kit may just have been the shot in the ass the band needed after three great, but slightly underwhelming, records. Even with Frank Mullen's retirement from full time touring, the band has shown that they will not be stopped and will continue to show up their hundreds, if not thousands, of imitators through simply brutal death metal. As mentioned many hundreds of words ago, Pinnacle of Bedlam is the best album Suffocation have created since their reunion a decade ago. A most high recommendation indeed.