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Album Review: SUFFOCATION Live In North America

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Death metal can pay the bills. If you work hard, pinch pennies, keep a careful ledger, sell a shit ton of merch, and/or play in bands named Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, and Immolation. Sometimes, however, the financial remuneration that comes with playing a tensile, body racking brand of metal and singing about, well, death just doesn't cut the economic mustard. Which was unfortunately the case with long-time Suffocation frontman Frank Mullen (a.k.a. Frank the Tank, Death Chop Frank and probably a whole bunch of other goofy nicknames that have been lost to the black hole of inside tour jokes doused in liberal helpings of alcohol).

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Really, though it took Mullen a good five years, at least, before he ultimately made the decision that something had to give when it came to juggling work, family, turning the corner on life's back nine and a suffocating (sorry…) tour schedule that has only increased in concert with the band's upward popularity trajectory since signing to Nuclear Blast for 2009's Blood Oath. That alone should tell you that for most of these folks, it's more about the love of the game and not just the buckaroos. Heck, even the tour which begat this album, which was supposed to be his final run with the band before his official retirement, wasn't his final tour as he reportedly hooked up with his old mates a year later for one last chop at Japan.

However, because breaking up is hard to do, back in 2018, emotions were running high as Mullen embarked upon his final victory lap around North America. And now, despite being in the tail end of almost two years of you-know-what-and-you-know-what-the-impact-has-been, the reissues, live albums and records written and recorded during COVID are still turning up as they continue to make their way through pressing plant backlogs and the clogged supply chain.

Suffocation's Live in North America isn't rocket science. It's Suffocation recorded live somewhere in North America. Specifically, it was captured at the Massachusetts stop on the celebration of Mullen's final stand with the band he co-founded in 1988. If you're a Suffocation fan with deep connections to their brand of brutal, technical death metal, prepare to experience a collection of generally spot-on renditions delivered via a crisp and clear sonic quality that leans more toward a raw and wicked sounding soundboard tape as opposed to something obviously and overly tweaked in post-production. Fans who can never get enough of the band's first three albums will be rejoicing as the majority of Live in North America is culled from Effigy of the Forgotten, Breeding the Spawn, and Pierced from Within. Having attended the Toronto date of this tour three-ish years ago, my recollection is spotty as to how much what I saw live may have deviated from what I'm presently listening to. But it seems the appropriate thing to do — send Mullen off performing some of the band's most beloved material, songs that have become widely recognized as death metal classics that he helped put a stamp on.

Fans looking for more out of a live album than the band playing the songs live will come away from Live in North America disappointed. Aside from the unexpected pinch harmonic or solo that crashes into a furious, whammy bar kissed dive-bombing, there aren't a lot of extraneous goodies making this an essential listen or purchase. Even Mullen's legendary off-the-cuff stage banter and whatever bit of comedic rambling that would normally break up the notes/beats per minute overwhelm and elevate the enjoyment of a Suffocation show has been understandably limited to Mullen profusely thanking everyone for 30 years of death metal and repeated shout outs about how much he's going to miss everyone.

In that sense, this gears Live in North America more towards completionists and those who are really, really going to miss Mullen. Though it's somewhat disappointing — and very strange, if not disrespectful, to say — that the Mullen that's captured here for posterity is the contemplative, thankful and elegiac Mullen as opposed to the balls out and brains off of legend. Still, hearing him say, talk about or describe anything in that thick Long Island accent (see the 1:50 mark of the video below), before Jekyll and Hyde-ing into his guttural death vocal persona, will never not bring a smile to this hack's face.

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