Death metal legends Suffocation return with crushing new ‘Pinnacle of Bedlam’

It’s reassuring to know that, as our path through heavy metal and all of its changes and metamorphoses progresses, there always will be those bands on which we can rely to keep order and remind the younger wave of bands how it is done.

I defy anyone to challenge the credibility, influence, and altogether brutality of death metal legends Suffocation. The Long Island-based band has been at it more than two decades now, releasing flattening records that continue to up the ante when it comes to audio violence and leaving exhausted audiences in their wake then they play live. Any indication that this band would mellow or slow down with age simply is not there, because these guys do not stop and never relent in their assault. And to their credit, they’re not just mashing you for the sake of being able to do so. Their music remains imaginative and challenging to this day, and their latest record “Pinnacle of Bedlam” is an excellent example of that point.

Suffocation - Pinnacle Of Bedlam - ArtworkSuffocation have gone through some changes lately, with drummer Mike Smith once again exiting the band, only to be replaced by Dave Culross. Again. In addition, Frank Mullen, one of metal’s most engaging and interesting frontmen, has decided that touring full-time is something he no longer can commit to continuing, with family and work commitments needing his attention. Maybe something would halt a different band or have the other members pushing for a change at vocals, but these guys aren’t dumb. Mullen’s presence in Suffocation is one of the things that make the band as special as it is, and these guys understanding that home responsibilities sometimes trump all shows the strength and bond this band has and that they’re not irrational dudes.

All of this, and the band’s incredible past and wealth of experience they’ve amassed over the years spills over on their seventh record “Pinnacle of Bedlam.” Much of the content on this album is inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead and life and death cycles, a pretty heady and intriguing topic, and the music not only encompasses their brand of brutal, incredibly well-played death metal, but you also get some tastes of power and thrash as well. Also interesting to find on the album is a re-recording of “Beginning of Sorrow” from their 1993 “Breeding the Spawn” album, a curious choice to act as the album’s final chapter.

If you thought Suffocation would ease you into this record, you’re dead wrong. Opener “Cycles of Suffering” just ignites right off the bat, with grinding fury. Mullen’s deep, monstrous growls, and awesomely exploratory lead lines and soloing from Guy Marchais and Terrance Hobbs highlight this ferocious piece. From there it’s on to “Purgatorial Punishment,” a song with a similar tempo, style, and feel as the opener, with some wicked crunch and soaring fury to boot. “Eminent Wrath” feels thrashy and violent, and the drums are positively mashed during this one. “As Grace Descends” is fast and maddening, with more adventurous guitar playing and strong compositions that prove Suffocation are more than just pure brutality. “Sullen Days” is the curveball, opening and ending with clean, atmospheric guitar passages like it’s going to be a ballad, though inside it contains damage and auditory violence, yet with more reflective, personal-sounding lyrics.

The title cut is a total mindfuck, with tricky guitar work that’ll leave you dizzy, spacious leads, and pushy, powerful vocals that have Mullen in total command. “My Demise” is one of those cuts where they just let loose and force you face first into a steel industrial fan, with blood and guts splattering everywhere. “Inversion” pulls back a bit on the tempo, though certainly not the heaviness, and there’s a good bit of thick, muddy mangling here to keep you full for hours. “Rapture of Revocation” has all the parts you want from a Suffocation song, with even a hint of East Coast hardcore muscle throw in for good measure and a close that feels inspired by Bay Area thrash. Their re-do of “Beginning of Sorrow” rounds out the package, capping off one of Suffocation’s strongest, most cohesive records in years. And they’ve had some damn good records the past decade, but this one rises above all of that.

Who knows how much more carnage is left in Suffocation’s tank? They’ve been one of the best, most consistent death metal bands of the past 25 years, and they have nothing left to prove to anyone. But if “Pinnacle of Bedlam” is any indication as to how much fire is within them, then chances are those raging embers won’t subside any time soon, and we’ll have Suffocation leading the way well into the future.

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