Longevity brings its own share of challenges. For many artists whose early releases are widely considered classics of the genre, equaling that output in quality might be challenging. Even when the artists maintain consistently high standards throughout their career, their newer releases are often unfairly compared to classics rather than allowed to stand on their own merits. It is, therefore, refreshing to hear a long-running band who can produce a worthy addition to their storied discography without reinventing the wheel and losing track of what made them great to begin with.
Death metal veterans Suffocation first surfaced at the tail end of 1980s, and have quickly established themselves as genre leaders, surviving the turbulent 1990s and a hiatus near the turn of the millennium to remain a viable and relevant artist in 2013. The band's new album, "Pinnacle of Bedlam", continues in the tradition of gut-crunching brutality framed in precision technical playing, melodic touches, and enough heaviness to make all genre newcomers take note.
Through the album's ten tracks, the core sound of Suffocation remains intact. Frank Mullen still belches out guttural odes to apocalypse over the heavier-than-thou guitar work of Guy Marchais and Terrance Hobbs. The bass playing of Derek Boyer is audible and adds noticeable stomp to the proceedings, while drummer Dave Culross, replacing departed long-time skin-beater Mike Smith, lives up to his esteemed pedigree first refined on 1998's "Despise the Sun". The subtle melodic touches on songs like "Sullen Days" serve to accentuate the high degree of musicianship without taking away from brutality, and while the occasional use of breakdowns might draw parallels with dreaded deathcore moniker, this element has been an important part of Suffocation's sound long before the likes of Suicide Silence began to make music.
More importantly, the songs maintain a degree of identity that is often missing from the output of many heavier bands. While "Purgatorial Punishment" or "Rapture of Revocation" are not running a risk of being played at a local Clear Channel station, the riffs are sufficiently distinct to give each song a different feel. The album's brutality is measured and employed as a weapon in the band's arsenal instead of being means to a mindless, if pummeling end. Some songs do blend together, but that is a pitfall common to many death metal releases, and the band manages to keep instances of that to a minimum. Suffocation's newest is easily as heavy as anything else the band (or their peers) released, but the heaviness serves a purpose, and produces a mostly memorable outcome.
Fans old and new will find much here to enjoy. "Pinnacle of Bedlam" is not an album that will change the world, but it sits very well alongside the recent Suffocation releases, and is a worthy addition to a discography which includes classics like "Effigy of the Forgotten" or "Pierced From Within".