Head Shots: Suffocation
Whether it’s due to maturing tastes or shifting allegiances, one’s musical taste can change over time. But what about those bands they signed off on a long time ago? The Head Shot gives writers a chance to re-examine bands they don’t like, allowing them to either re-evaluate their opinion or sign off on it once and for all.
The words “fat”, “dumb”, and “bald” often combine in my vocabulary to define a very specific type of metal. It is overly earnest and overly traditional and lacking in subtlety. It's inexplicably and deeply powerful in the lives of the people who, apparently, live for it. Sonically, it represents the most identifiable aspects of a genre and does them to death. For example: the mid-2000s saw a big influx of hardcore I’d describe as fat, dumb, and/or bald.
Growing up, I always considered Suffocation the epitome of fat, dumb, bald death metal. Their music was death metal done to the basest of extremes. Part of it was their die-hard fans at the time; they were deeply loved by inveterate suburban death metal dudes obsessed with the ultra-technical but perpetually-tactless. I remember catching Suffocation live and hearing one lumbering breakdown and useless squeal after another, nothing special, nothing that technical, despite the dickfaces doing air-riffing over their heads in the front row of the show. It was Dying Fetus, but drier and faster.
But as I grow into a repulsive old man, more misanthropic and violence-hungry than ever, I've begun to devour brutal death metal at an alarming rate. It’s pure, lumbering might makes sense in my hopeless caffeine- and alcohol-driven life. The idea of cackling, arms spread, as my guts are torn out is one I can identify with, philosophically and emotionally. So maybe I just wasn’t ready for Suffocation yet. Maybe it’s time to look back into that.
Effigy of the Forgotten, the famous debut. Immediately, I wish there was more of a room sound on the drums, and that the guitars were louder. But that’s where my adolescent opinion ends: this album rules. “Infecting The Crypts” and “Seeds of the Suffering” are both death metal classics, full of all the unrelenting atmosphere and tempo switches that you want in a death metal album.
Breeding The Spawn definitely loses something with its cloudier production. It sounds as though the band wanted more of the room that I was talking about, and I was wrong, it’s actually not better. And the album still has the same punishing vibe and furious pace as its predecessor. There’s also a shit-ton of bass audible in the mix, which I love in an on-school death metal album, though the vocals sound was better on Effigy.
Here’s the one issue, though: now that I’ve discovered that I do, in fact, like Suffocation, I get the feeling that I’m not going to find much difference between albums, as I did with my Head Shots of The Dillinger Escape Plan. That’s a strength of a band like Suffocation—they stick to their guns. This also allows me to hear the minute differences in each record’s production. Already, the guitars on Pierced From Within are lusher and grimier than those on Breeding The Spawn. It also has some creepier moments, such as the slow burn of “Torn Into Enthrallment” and the primal drumming of “Brood of Hatred.”
Fast forward to 2004’s Souls to Deny, the band’s comeback album, and things have obviously changed a bit—Suffocation sound decidedly modern production-wise but with all the metallic clinks and whinnying horse solos of early 2000s death metal. I’m also not entirely sold on frontman Frank Mullen’s vocal production on this record—it sounds too far in the background, and a little dry and coarse. Maybe he added some distortion? All I know is that every time he comes in, the entire sound shifts somewhat, and it keeps the vocals from merging perfectly with the rest of the band. Still, “To Weep Once More” and “Demise of the Clone” have all the menace and stomp I’ve grown to crave from Suffocation.
2006’s self-titled record opens with a spacey intro track, not quite what I was expecting (though the cover art should’ve been a giveaway). But when “Abomination Reborn” kicks in, it’s obvious the band is still in full-form. Frank’s vocal issues are gone, his full-throated growl in perfect guttural form. I also dig the album’s atmosphere—more emotional, more pained (don’t get me wrong, there’s still “Bind Torture Kill” and “Entrails of You”). Meanwhile, Blood Oath takes a much crisper production sound, and immediately introduces the band’s weirder, darker side in the title track, a foreboding, almost satanic creep factor that sticks around for the whole album (again, could have guessed it by the cover). Last year’s Pinnacle of Bedlam takes the clear production in a weird direction, shoving Frank’s growling to the back and hosting a guitar sound that’s much steelier than that of previous records.
I came up with the title of this series on the idea of the head shot in horror films, you know, putting one in the head before you walk away to make sure the villain stays dead. My intention was to make sure these bands I thought I hated stayed down. With Suffocation, a band into which I, frankly, expected to pump round after round, I found myself pleasantly surprised to discover I was wrong as a teenager. This is a band with an awesome consistent sound that still has a lot of variety throughout their career. Maybe Suffocation are fat, dumb, bald death metal, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite, actually—they’re champions of their form. Let’s let this monster live.