SUFFOCATION are the Death Metal masters. Their first run produced nothing short of quality releases that laid everything in their paths to waste while casting a tremendous influence over the Death Metal & Grindcore scenes, and then, after taking a 5 year hiatus, they released an album that some of us (me *ahem*) were overzealous in praising, but followed it up with an absolute MONSTER. Their previous release, a self-titled album, felt like it was forged within the depths of hell and unleashed upon the world with a fury of a thousand suns. So with bated breath I awaited the follow-up to 2006’s “Suffocation”.
The first thing that I noticed about “Blood Oath” was that, unlike ANY of the other SUFFOCATION albums, the opening riff has this weird swing mixed with Death Metal sound (!). It threw me off because their previous albums always started off with a fast and heavy number (or at least the opening riff). Forty minutes later, I have come to one conclusion:
SUFFOCATION have changed their sound without sacrificing any of the brutality and the sheer destructiveness of their music, and “Blood Oath” still sounds like a SUFFOCATION album, albeit sounding like the band approached their usual philosophy of music (which is to write brutal songs that are awesome) from a different angle. The percussive nature of the music has been increased about a thousand fold on “Blood Oath” when compared to their older material, and there is a very claustrophobic and (pardon the pun) suffocating mood with the riffs. They twist and turn in every little direction and create an absolutely crushing wall of sound, which, granted, the band is known for at this point, but it feels like the band consciously decided to try to create a vile and disgusting atmosphere (in a good way) using their idiosyncratic techniques, instead writing another “pummel the listener’s head in” album. This subtle change in approach has had a pretty big ramification on how I first perceived this album. SUFFOCATION albums have generally been pretty direct with me, where I “get” them pretty quickly, but this one had a very different approach and sound, and it took me a while to warm up to. What makes this album sound more, ahem, suffocating is the production, where everything sounds monolithic, and this makes for a more brutalizing record.
All the technical wizardry that SUFFOCATION is known for is present on “Blood Oath” in spades. Frank Mullen still sounds like an ungodly beast. Mike Smith (drummer) has an incredible control on the drumset, showing the ability to play with surgical precision with all of the time and tempo changes present while sounding like he’s decimating his drum set. The guitars still have the SUFFOCATION staples: a blitzkrieg of tremolo picked single notes mixed in with complex single note patterns and a very dissonant approach to playing melodies (“Come Hell Or High Priest”). The guitar playing is (unsurprisingly) both complex and intelligent, yet earth shattering. Oh yea, and the bass player has the unenviable task of following the guitars’ crazy patterns.
Yea, SUFFOCATION have released another awesome record. You expected anything less? It’s a bit of a change, but man does it work.
(Online July 26, 2009)