Album Review: SUFFOCATION ...Of the Dark Light
Suffocation have always been pretty "no bullshit" for a technical death metal band. Technical more in a composition sense than a bombastic one, Suffocation have long been buoyed by Frank Mullen's influential, ultra-guttural vocal attack and a penchant for intelligently layered riff patterns more tasteful than flashy. The band have been plying a reliable strain of instantly familiar, mildly technical death metal for so long that they've become largely critic-proof in much the same way that other "standby" bands such as Overkill and Motorhead have enjoyed over their careers… an exultant review may serve to reaffirm fan expectations, but a negative one barely moves the needle at all.
I'm going to come down somewhere in the middle here. I acknowledge that there has long been a certain stagnant, interchangeable quality to most of Suffocation's catalog, but I would counter that the real mojo with this band is in engaging with the group's tight instrumental dynamic. That's definitely no less true on …Of the Dark Light, and if I called them only "mildly" technical one paragraph above I mean that only compared against even more breakneck math metallers such as Dillinger Escape Plan and the like. There's a sense of controlled abandon in the precision details of Suffocation's music that demands scrutiny while defying background music consumption, and that kind of intensely rendered attention to detail is something worth celebrating.
But goddamn am I going to have trouble remembering which of these songs is which when they roll through town with Morbid Angel and Revocation next weekend. About the only thing that separates one Suffocation song from the next is whether Mullen is croaking in full time or half time on top of the rhythm, and even then both of those things often happen within the same track, so being a fan of this band is really more of a volume proposition: it's much easier to celebrate their catalog as a whole than it is to cherry pick individual songs as favorites.
That's not to say that individual moments within songs don't stand out as highlights, though, even if the track as a whole doesn't. The breakdown 2/3 of the way through the title track is guaranteed to get some serious mosh pit activity going at any Suffocation show. Current drummer Eric Morotti is a capable substitute for much-missed founding member Mike Smith, absolutely pummeling this way through rhythmically complex numbers like "Return to the Abyss" and the ever-shifting time changes of "The Warmth Within the Dark". "Caught Between Two Worlds" showcases the interplay of the band, accelerating and decelerating in tightly woven patterns.
Too much of the album feels a bit retread, though. As good as the band have been for several decades now, they've nonetheless shown little inclination for artistic evolution beyond the now shopworn template of their first couple of albums. No one does it better, granted, but it does make one wonder aloud just how many times we need it recreated in the first place. …Of the Dark Light, then, is for the die hards, those who have worn out their copies of Breeding the Spawn and Pierced from Within, and just need some kind of new Suffocation material… even if it's fairly indistinguishable from the old stuff.