Suffering Hour's latest is steeped in a fog of mystery, permeating from its lofty lyrical theorems and barbaric speeds. The Cyclic Reckoning is a pendulum that swings between the abrasive and the ethereal. The sturdy chain link that supports this metaphorical blade, as it cleaves through the listener's mind with potent purpose, is the memorable songwriting. A balance of complex disharmonies compositions and aggressive outbursts, with just enough deep space drifting for one to catch their breath and ponder this musical enigma. This ambitious record is an extreme metal overture in five movements. Although there is nary an anthemic chorus to shout along to, this trio spawns forth riffs with lasting power.
The opening "Strongholds of Awakening" fades into being with ominous hum, as the guitar creeps through the haze with a sinister twang. The guitar tonality throughout this record reverberates with a wet chorus effect, like surf rock for frozen tidal waves. One might hear a similarity to the tone profile of Devil Master, but unlike their punky counterparts, Suffering Hour wield this crisp surf rock crunch like a deep-sea creature slithers through the abyssal depths. It's like the black metal equivalent of a glowing gulper eel, a thing whose existence is so defined by constant extremity that it is practically alien.
But for its frosty melodies and harsh overtones, The Cyclic Reckoning has got soul! Dreadful, tortured, miserable soul, but The Cyclic Reckoning punches straight to the primal gut. “Transcendent Antecedent Visions” sizzles with a brooding arpeggio riff—a melody that churns like gears in a philosopher's mind. The guitar leads pierce through with searing high – almost with a bit of that slow, bright quality that makes David Gilmour's lead work in Pink Floyd so mesmerizing.
"The Abrasive Black Dust Part 2" takes its time to gather stream with a moody string of power chords, almost evoking a sort of post-metal vibe. But just when these guys border too much on sounding like the Deftones, they rip back to earth like an asteroid on a collision course. This one culminates in a signature riff that is one of the finest moments on the record. A spooky slab, reminiscent of Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd, with a hint of King Crimson. The resulting chaos sounds like a death spiral through a psychedelic house of mirrors, narrated by animalistic shrieks and vengeful growls, with riffs that slice like icy spindles.
Descriptors like "dissonant," "atmospheric," and "depressive" get thrown around a lot in the black metal realm. But The Cyclic Reckoning embodies these traits within its own nefarious DNA. It's a struggle to find any other band in extreme metal that sounds like them, which is one of the highest compliments a band can receive in the oversaturated state of headbanging affairs.
One of the few criticisms is the lack of traditional guitar solos, as it is evident these ghouls know how to shred. The Cyclic Reckoning has moments of acapella guitar noodles in the quieter passages, and plenty of those soul-screaming high sections, but I yearned for more. However, this is an unorthodox record, so it makes sense within the musical psychology that Suffering Hour shuns the traditional heavy metal hot dogging.
The other criticism is the run time. Although it's only five songs, the average length is seven minutes, and the closing "The Foundations Of Servitude" clocks in at around 15 minutes. Suffering Hour is at their strongest when they unleash a nightmarish kaleidoscope of hooks, so I wonder what the result might have been if they trimmed down the drone meanderings just a bit. But they also avoid the half-assed crime of leaning too heavily on their delay pedals and feedback for minutes on end, something more than a few "raw" black metal bands are guilty of.
Still, these critiques are both splitting hairs. This record is very good. The Cyclic Reckoning gambles with its heady aspirations, and it pays off. Suffering Hour deliver a darkly exhilarating listening experience, crafting their voices from the NetherRealm into an overarching malevolent architecture. One might ask themselves "what did I just listen to?" after their first encounter with The Cycling Reckoning, only for its hooks to remain wormed in their mind's inner playlist for days after. The answer is simple: it's Suffering Hour.