[15th February 2013]
01. Cycles of Suffering
02. Purgatorial Punishment
03. Eminent Wrath
04. As Grace Descends
05. Sullen Days
06. Pinnacle of Bedlam
07. My Demise
09. Rapture of Revocation
10. Beginning of Sorrow
All eyes were on Long Island legends Suffocation with the release of Pinnacle of Bedlam, after the somewhat bitter departure of what fans consider the band’s essential element, Mike Smith (despite it being his second resignation). Expectations where both high and dubious. Unthinkable changes in the components of a group that has been at the forefront of its field for over two decades can either make, break or generally breathe fresh life and influence into a group of such stature. With Pinnacle of Bedlam, we get to see which it will be for the brutal death metal protagonists.
Suffocation’s style is very distinct, and has remained that way since they started in the late eighties; it has spawned and inspired extreme genres with its unique emphasis on low-end rooted riffs laced with shrill melodies and savage blasting. As soon as this record kicks in you know you’re back in the same ball park. The first two tracks – “Cycles of Suffering” and “Purgatorial Punishment” – are a pounding and dizzying waltz of sorts, reminiscent of Morbid Angels inclination on their album Heretic. It really has the sort of brooding quality found in darker classical music, except processed through a relentlessly shredded guitar and accented with industrial precision. Dave Culross does a splendid job filling the drum throne,(for the second time.) In fact all of the musicianship feels ‘ramped’ up a notch, a statement if any that the death metal mainstays relevance to extreme music has lost none of its clout. Terrance Hobbs and Frank Mullen are without question at the top of their game, and the same can certainly be said of Guy Marchais and Derek Boyer. Their combined efforts ooze the soul of death metal’s old school origin, and a proficiency that surely only can be obtained by being at the top of their game for so many years. All this aside, the differences are there to be observed.
There definitely feels like a lessened amount of the raw authenticity for which Suffocation are best known, and I put this down to production decisions. I personally am neither for or against them – they have their pluses and minuses from different industry standpoints – but I can imagine this creating a division between attitudes and preferences within the fan base. This seems to be the double edged sword for prolific, long established death metal bands trying to find a happy medium way down the line in their career. Cannibal Corpse were met with similar scrutiny on their album Eviceration Plague in 2009; the fine balancing act of appeasing modern standards against retaining the raw ideology bands are famous for is a difficult one. The production is by no means bad – it’s impressive and clean – just a little different from what some people may be attached to. It’s ‘softer’ and more modern-minded, so purists will have to decide on what they prefer. With the absence of ‘integral’ members, is this an unwelcome evolution in sound?
The album is nicely broken up by midway song “Sullen Days“, and is followed by momentum-altering highlight “Pinnacle of Bedlam”. Most of the latter half of the album steers towards Suffocation’s familiar, deeper and aggressive side, and this is where the album becomes a lot more enjoyable; tracks like “Inversion” and “Rapture of Revocation” are just giddying in technicality and brutal satisfaction.
As much as I have a hankering for the New York death metal scene’s colder and clinical nature (in comparison to the more vibrantly flavored Florida scene), this album suffers in terms of memorability somewhat. No matter how proficiently it is applied, I really felt myself missing being able to get into the essence of a track as I was whisked into a hurricane of notes that only gather up dust and go nowhere. Because of this, a few tracks felt like they ended too quickly, just as I was waiting for them to begin. There are great parts in Pinnacle Of Bedlam - just nothing memorable enough to grab onto. At its core, Pinnacle of Bedlam is what Suffocation have always been though; pounding, relentless, brutal death metal. For long time fans of them, Immolation, Blood Red Throne and Dying Fetus, give this a listen without regrets.