Suffocation are, for all intents and purposes, my death metal home base. I was weaned on the mid-90s death metal scene in New York City, and Suffocation were royalty. Pierced from Within is an all-time favorite and my personal benchmark for heaviness in metal. Despite my youthful devotion, I haven’t been an early adopter of the band’s post-reunion material. Each album has wormed its way into my heart and music collection, but the process has been deliberate. Pinnacle of Bedlam, however, is another beast altogether; a threshold of instant gratification has been crossed.
Pinnacle of Bedlam keeps all of the Suffocation hallmarks intact. The cataclysmic cadence and crushing triplets are here. The dominating riffs are present, pitting elasticity against closed-fist crunch. The explosive speed and oscillating anti-grooves are familiar and well worn. But there’s something else here, something luminous and deadly that recalls the band’s finest work.
Tumbling, tangled guitar lines seem to do battle with themselves, inflicting staccato stab wounds. You’ll witness fascinating moments where riffs diverge in the stereo plane, one guitar flying apart and the other holding the line (“Inversion” is a prime example of such restrained chaos). More bits of hammered-on oddity and freakish friction have crept into the riffage; Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais have dug deep into the well of creativity. Each compositional curve comes with extra fractals of complexity; these don’t render the music impenetrable, but give it depth and intriguing intricacy.
The leads are more dynamic and memorable than on recent efforts, adding subtle bits of melody. There are shocking moments of articulate, sinuous, and proggy pragmatism in these solos. The majestic flourishes and persuasive clean guitar passages drive home the album’s regal mien.
Each song plummets through meters both tame and unfathomable. A mind boggling array of rhythmic devices are represented. Dave Culross has seamlessly picked up Mike Smith’s sticks, as he has successfully done once before. To my ears, the difference in drumming manifests in an increased fluidity and a slightly decreased swagger.
The recording is modern and articulate without coming across as over-produced. In the annals of Suffocation production values, Pinnacle of Bedlam is near the top. There’s still a place in my heart for the fat, grinding guitar tone of Despise the Sun and the self-titled album, but this balanced sound suits the record well.
Frank Mullen is, as always, a singular character and one of death metal’s greatest vocalists. His performance here is top-notch; the man hasn’t lost one bit of guttural gas. The extraordinary sense of timing is intact, utilizing sonic interstices to brutal effect.
Pinnacle of Bedlam provokes the same tactile, savage, superhuman sensation that Pierced from Within conjured in my 17-year-old self. You’d think Suffocation would be too old to be able to transmit such rage; you’d think I’d be too old to receive it. In the end, we’re all beasts barely restrained by cognition; Pinnacle of Bedlam crosses the lines that we can’t. "If thoughts could lash out, you'd all be dead."
Pinnacle of Bedlam will be out on February 19th via Nuclear Blast Records.
Buy the album on Amazon.com for $9.99.