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Clarity Through Decent Songwriting - 67%

Larry6990, October 6th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Nuclear Blast

Being one of the biggest innovators of a genre like death metal means Suffocation are beyond most qualms. Therefore I won't be referring, or making comparisons, to their definitive works like Effigy Of The Forgotten because the band is a very different creature from the early days. If a veteran act is to remain relevant, what matters is right now. Four years after the moderately divisive Pinnacle Of Bedlam, the Long Islanders return with brand new LP ...Of The Dark Light. Vague title notwithstanding, this is yet another record set to divide fans as a gradual veer towards less popular death metal traits continues. Bottom line: this is a good album with flaws that I hope don't pervade the future songwriting process.

Now, I don't expect brutal or technical death metal acts to be instantly accessible, but Suffocation suffocate themselves a little by making ...Of The Dark Light unmemorable. Except for several pretty darn awesome segments - which unfortunately mean that moments, rather than whole songs, are what stick in the listener's mind - this record can become monotonous very quickly. If you're going to avoid the 'atmospheric build-up' approach and go straight for the jugular, then it would be sensible to include memorable refrains, recognizable vocal patterns and more powerchord-centric riffing. Opener "Clarity Through Deprivation" bombards the audience with blast beats in complex time signatures - never letting up until we hit the (admittedly brilliant) breakdown at the end.

This moment is not unique - in fact, it might be the most simplistic on the album - but the clarity (hehe) with which it is performed, especially vocally, sets the stage for similar sections throughout the record. Frank Mullen, despite still sounding brutally wholesome after thirty years, is responsible for some awkward vocal patterns which alienate the listener more and more. He triumphs on the 'You gag - cannot swallow' section of "The Warmth Within The Dark", and the refrain of "The Violation" is equally enduring. These are refreshing sections that make brutal tech-death weirdly singalong-able. Derek Boyer's work on the bass is also commendable. He is the only thing making the last two tracks anywhere near noteworthy, and his brief break in "Your Last Breaths" before a crushing riff pounds the listener is one of the best moments on the album.

Not many songs feel like they comfortably flow from one section to the next. Several numbers, especially "Return To The Abyss", follow that tertiary structure pioneered by Chuck Schuldiner - but otherwise, the rhapsodic feel of this LP can have an estranging effect. Contrary to most reviewers, I actually favour the periods where the texture is stripped back and the tempo is brought crashing down, such as the latter half of the title-track or the breakdown in "Clarity Through Deprivation". It seems almost insulting to say so, but with ...Of The Dark Light the death metal legends have made an album of near-background music. Incredibly competent background music! Well executed but not necessarily well prepared - this record at least has appropriate artwork and some stand out moments to make your ears perk up. Fans only.