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Holy shit, a decent Suffokate album! - 73%

Hellish_Torture, July 16th, 2014

The first Suffokate song I ever heard, few time ago, is “Not the Fallen”. I was really shocked by its level of shittiness (a single-note breakdown played for the whole song!) and I temporarily elected it to “worst deathcore song ever”. Searching informations about this abomination of a band, I found some interesting shit, for example the fact that, until few time ago, they had a vocalist with extremely dilated lobes and with more tattoos than pores on his skin, and he has recently left them to become... a hairdresser. What an enterprising guy.

Suffokate, at the moment, have recorded three albums. The curious fact is that the first album, “Oakland”, came out in 2004, a time when deathcore was a respectable genre, excluding few stuff like The Acacia Strain (totally crappy band). So I wondered: did this band use to suck even ten years ago? Was already an Acacia Strain clone? Was one of the first bands to spread the disastrous “moshcore” virus around? So, I committed a totally masochistic act: I downloaded all their three albums. And my suspects were confirmed: yes, the latter two albums opened me a world of unique boredom and dumbness, beyond every human limit (especially “No Mercy, No Forgiveness”), but the first album, the one which came out ten years ago... is actually decent.

“Oakland”: this title is a clear homage not only to the place of origin of the band, but also to the nascent californian deathcore scene (which had his fulcrum right in Oakland, where All Shall Perish were the leaders and their fame was increasing). Beyond All Shall Perish and Suffokate, also Antagony (the true inventors of deathcore), Animosity, As Blood Runs Back and similar names were moving their first steps. Between them, there was also the inauspicious act Suicide Silence, which would have contributed to commercialize and dumb down the deathcore formula in the second half of the 2000s, but well, never mind. At that time, deathcore bands knew how to use breakdowns tastefully, and they actually had death metal influences in their music (in various forms: principally melodeath and slam/brutal), differently from modern deathcore bands like Emmure (have you ever heard death metal influences in Emmure?). The Suffokate debut is a fine little piece of the californian deathcore scene and manages to epitomize it pretty well.

Luckily, what we find here is not an endless gallery of mechanical breakdowns, but a “sane” deathcore formula. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but yeah, there is a lot of riffage on this album, and, holy shit, it’s great riffage: you find a lot of typical melodeath stuff, à la “Slaughter of the Soul”. The best melodeath riffs are probably on “The Wrath”. Sometimes, a blast-beat comes in, and it’s accompanied by excellent tremolo riffs, in the perfect melodeath fashion (a good example of it is on “Forever” and on the last two tracks). Sometimes, the tremolo stuff is put over the various breakdowns/slams (like on the “Intro” track), and, this time, it works (on the next two albums, it won’t be sufficient anymore to save you from the incredible boredom). On “Betrayal”, you will even find some “surgical” death metal phrasings (yes, I said “death metal”, not “melodeath”) and this is a great surprise in a deathcore album. Along with it, you will find also a lot of up-tempo hardcore riffs, groovy/sludgy stuff and, overall, many mid-tempo palm-muted riffs, sometimes very insistent (“Slaughter Your Enemies” is the epitome of all the stuff I mentioned in the last sentence).

Now, the mosh stuff. Yes, this album is full of breakdowns and slams. But not like you’d expect from Suffokate: they are decently diluted with the rest and, most of the time, they actually sound very heavy and powerful, differently from the next two albums where everything sounds frustratingly mechanical. The slams are, obviously, the heaviest thing on here: the ones in the “Intro” track are probably the best, and also tracks like “These Eyes Will Watch you Die”, “5 Years” or “Forever” deliver some excellent slamming madness. The breakdowns, honestly, are very variegated and play an important part. Very often, they tend to be very insistent (like on “Slaughter Your Enemies”) and, sometimes, a bit too prominent and tiring (like in some parts of “The Skies Were Filled with Fire”), but however still doing a nice job. On the opposite, on certain episodes, the alternation between different elements (riffs, slams etc.) and breakdowns sounds surprisingly fresh and entertaining to hear, and you can’t help but wanting to mosh around like a fucking beast even if you’re the thinnest guy on Earth; you just don’t give a shit about anything.

I wanna spend some words about the vocals, too. Luckily, this album doesn’t feature Ricky “Dumbo” Hoover, which is a totally generic vocalist. On the contrary, on “Oakland” there are two vocalists in almost every track (except the last two): Carlos Guiterez and Jared Armitage. The “dual vocals” formula is really good. The growls are ugly, deep and very expressive, and I must admit that the result is very “menacing” for a deathcore band.

And, yeah, “menacing” is the most fitting term for this release, as unbelievable as it could seem to most people. This variegated mix of slams, breakdowns, various grooves, mid-paced riffs, melodeath stuff and wicked vocals has almost an “intimidating” effect on the listener. On the other hand, it’s a very funny listen. I have to confess that, if I had known Suffokate ten years ago, before all the shit that they released in the last years, I would have liked to see them live, because “Oakland” is a perfect album if you wanna mosh like hell and I’m very curious to know what would be the impact of these songs, if played live. Obviously, I’d NEVER go to see them live nowadays, but, at that time, it would’ve been sweet.

In conclusion… “Oakland” is a pretty good early deathcore album. It has its notable flaws: sometimes, the songwriting would require more consistency and, occasionally, some breakdowns should have less space (some songs are a bit overlong and some parts could be cut without problems); but, if you want some deathcore that manages to be perfect for mosh but also creative and “intelligent” at the same time, this album’s for you. Give it a try and forget what came after.