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Just... no. No. Almost nothing about the instrumentation on this album really works as metal. Being really honest, the music featured in Return To Despair sounds a whole lot like a much, much softer version of Obey The Brave, and Obey The Brave is a damn hardcore band, not a metal one. Even with the tiny bits of At The Gates influences here and there, it's almost impossible to remember any riff, because there isn't a lot of riffs to begin with. Just your brocore chugs that get scene kids pumped and if there are any riffs at all, it's just the same generic, predictable chord progression that bands like Bullet For My Valentine or even My Chemical Romance use. So, most of the time it's just hitting the 0-0-0-0-0-0-0 formula over and over again.
The vocals are a positive aspect, though. At least the growling vocals, since they do sound very influenced by other death metal vocalization styles, but they're still not very impressive. Just your typical cookie-cutter low vocals. Still, they do the trick. The high pitched screamo-ish vocals, on the other hand... nope. Just nope.
Another positive aspect is the song Vanish. Even though the chords are simplistic, the song manages to capture your attention and stand out, and it's a freaking instrumental track! And it also features beautiful lead guitar work that manages to get stuck in your head for a bit. Too bad that right after the song is finished, the band goes back to bland crowd-pleasing brocore music.
You could say the lyrics were definitey influenced by depressive black metal, but seen through the eyes of a teenager who got tricked into going to the dentist when his parents told him he'd go to McDonald's. When you pay attention to the lyrics, it's really hard not to think about some angry fat teen at the back of his parents' car thinking "you said we would go to Carl's Jr.! Now EVERYTHING IS LOST. FUCK THIS PLACE." 'Cause nothing says metal more than shallow lyrics about being sad with a ton of infantile swearing, right?
Drums sound alright, but you could easily replace the drummer with Superior Drummer and no one would really notice the difference.
After that nauseating piece of shit that “No Mercy, No Forgiveness” was, the new Suffokate incarnation got much success in the modern deathcore scene, and they went on tour with some well-known bands of the same current, including Carnifex (without doubt, a better band). Yes... as predictable, the dumb “100% breakdown” formula worked, commercially speaking. Obviously, for a band, it’s important to capitalize on success once it’s arrived, so, just a year and a half later, Suffokate returns with a new album: “Return to Despair”.
This album shows that Suffokate intends to continue with the horrible breakdown-driven formula of the previous effort. So, prepare to hear again a dumb gallery of breakdowns and chugs in every fucking song, with that merciless “mechanical” and repetitive sound that won’t renounce to hurt your nerves over and over. But wait... there is an incredible thing I have to admit. While still wanting to follow the same style of the previous album (because it fucking sells!), the band has tried to add some little hints of actual quality in their formula.
First of all: variations in breakdowns are a bit more frequent than before. Not more an interminable “0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0” sequence: surely, the result is still asphyxiating, overdone and repetitive, but sometimes the breakdown sequences follow a pattern composed by more than one fucking note, building up something that I could slightly define as “melody”. And, believe me, this is a great thing for the modern Suffokate course. The opener track, “My Darkened Eyes”, is a good example of it: dumb beyond every level, but quite catchy, I admit. Shame that, however, boring “open-string chugging” sequences haven’t disappeared and still cover a good part of this release.
Another side that was quite rare to find on the previous album and that has improved a bit on here is the riffage. On “No Mercy, No Forgiveness”, melodeath tremolo melodies were just useless background elements to put over the breakdowns, and even if there were some rare attempts at actual riffing, most of them were pretty useless as well. Everything was totally succubus to the breakdowns. Now, there’s some space left for riffage. Unfortunately, the result is still pretty poor. Most riffs still consist in formulaic melodeath stuff, totally plain and forgettable, differently from what a “melodic” riff should sound like. Just worthless All Shall Perish worship. It’s evident that the Suffokate guys are trapped in a ridiculously big compromise: having heard the criticism from some old fans about the second full-length, they increased a bit their melodeath component to make their new music sound a bit more like “Oakland”; but, hey, there is still the moshcore crowd to please, so, let’s stick to our current formula! In fact, “Return to Despair” lacks absolutely that balance between breakdowns and riffs (not perfect, but acceptable) that “Oakland” had. On “Vanishing”, the band tries even to fool the listeners putting some “long and complex” solos to demonstrate that “hey we know how to play our instruments”, but the result is totally vapid and tasteless. If you want to put a solo in a song, you must have a good melody in mind, instead of doing pretentious pseudo-virtuoso bullshit. If you can’t create a coherent melody, you should at least be able to make some cool dissonant stuff, like Kerry King does.
However, there are still some good ideas on here. “Drag the Waters” and “Distant Words” have some good melodeath riffs (even if the latter has a somewhat “poppy/cheesy” feeling and, however, after their respective displays of good ideas, both songs get ruined by the same old predictable formula). “The Hole Beneath” begins with a cool tremolo riff, then a mediocre/average melodeath riff ruins everything; also “It’s Fading Away” should be mentioned for having a decent intro riff. After this, I can’t remember anything else really worthy.
Beyond breakdowns, you will find some ridiculously insipid downtuned up-tempos (“My Darkened Eyes”), other attempts at “melody” that resolve into mellow poppy shit (“Vanishing”) and, most of all, prepare for something even worse... Suffokate have added gang shouts to their usual formula. Believe me, their gang shouts are simply awful, and they contribute to make their music even dumber than before. Anyway, this isn’t even the worst thing on here. The real bottom-line of the album is the outro track, “Dissolving”: a horrendous, formless mass of breakdowns and horrible downtuned pseudo-riffs. It goes beyond any level of decency.
So, this album, even being better than “No Mercy, No Forgiveness” (not a big effort after all), is still worthless in every sense. However, one thing consoles me: after this second abomination, Suffokate went through other lineup problems. All the members except the drummer (the only original member) left the band, including the scene-kid fag Ricky Hoover, who’s having fun nowadays as an hairdresser (luckily, he’ll never torture our ears again, or at least I hope so), and the new lineup features musicians coming from the american death/grind/thrash scene (one of them played even in Hatriot, Steve Souza's current band), so I hope they will contribute to give back a minimum of dignity to Suffokate’s name. Only the future (and a new full-length) will tell.
Across the Suffokate library, you'll find a fair amount of sound changes from album to album. Return to Despair is the final one with highly body modified vocalist Ricky Hoover as frontman, as well as slowest and bumpiest one they have put out yet. A huge majority of the songs sound almost exactly like All Shall Perish with some tempo variations. Everything that All Shall Perish has done for the past few albums and are known for are present here; chugging/bumpy rhythm guitar sections with leads taking all the technicality, crunchy bass and even Ricky Hoover's growls sound almost precisely identical to that of All Shall Perish's Hernan Hermida. To keep through all this and pass it off more than just a coincidence; both these bands are from the same city: Oakland, California after all. So I can't say I'm not too surprised by all these similarities. However, some originality could have pertained relevant and while this record does maintain that in some aspects, its continuous draws to sounding like an All Shall Perish clone is definitely one of its biggest faults.
The first track on the record "My Darkened Eyes" is probably the strangest one on here. It's almost danceable. The rhythm sections are very chuggy, bumpy and almost club worthy if it wasn't for the extreme vocals and heavy drums. Not a bad song but at the same time a strange one at that. Moving on, things take up in speed with the proceeding song "Always Hopeless", which is pretty catchy as it is heavy. It's at moderate speed compared to a majority of songs on the record and while gang shout vocals and the breakdown in it take most of lead, their drummer definitely shines in this one as well. However, everything I just explained here is nothing compared to the song "Let the Waters Rise", which is most definitely the best song on the album if not the best Suffokate song yet. It has a beautiful main riff that makes the entire song, if you have to hear anything from this album, just hear this one track. Not only is this riff incredible but the drums stack up beyond each verse into a persistent array of percussion that makes the song all that better. Man, the snare tone rules on this album.
It's become apparent by this time that their drummer is the most redeeming thing for the band, or at least on this record. He is talented and while the guitarists get to show a bit more of their talent on parts such as the instrumental piece "Vanishing", Lar Diaz's playing and creativity dominate most of the music. One of the only problems I have though is by after about half the record, the songs again tend to blend into each other, either that or pull too much of a close sound (again) to All Shall Perish. It's almost like you can literally take a track off here (preferably "Never Found"), give it to any All Shall Perish fan and say it's a new song by them and they'll probably believe it.
Now that I've talked about everything else, I guess what I have words left for is the vocals. Hoover on here has growls that yes, sound pretty close to Hernan Hermida, but they're surprisingly understandable. Every vocal by him, whether screaming or growling, are usually totally intelligible without the need of reading the lyrics, which is definitely a highlight in my book. Now his screams, while not sounding so much like Hermida, sound more of like a shrieking skeleton (at least that's what comes to my mind every time I hear it on here). His shrieks compliment the music at the beginning or end of lines while growls are slightly more abundant. All in all, not a bad vocalist, he may be a tad breathy at times, but not a bad singer.
All in all Return to Despair is about as good within the realm of Suffokate's library among the post-Jared Armitage as it seems it's going to get. It has variety, yes, but still falls short in some aspects.
Check out the songs: "Let the Waters Rise", "Everything Is Lost" and "Always Hopeless"