Suffering Hour emerged fully formed upon their first release. This is likely due to the fact that all three members had been playing together for the better part of a decade, having risen from the ashes of a different band entirely, the progressive thrash act Compassion Dies. The rapport established during their formative years comes through strongly in their music. The band's 2017 album In Passing Ascension turned heads because it's a confident offering of blackened death metal with an uncommonly unique voice, showcasing uncompromising heaviness with bold unpredictable melodies that are altogether rare in blackened death. 2019 saw the release of a single track EP, Dwell, a record that showcased the band’s strength at potent, longform song structures with no filler. This year sees the band maintaining their steady clip with the release of The Cyclic Reckoning, a long player that is at once very much grounded in what they do well while simultaneously spewing forth new methods of vicious attack.

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In a recent interview, the band relayed how they'd debated internally how much farther down their rabbit hole they wanted to go with expanding their sound on their next full length. Their previous releases evidenced an over-abundance of talent in songcraft. With The Cyclic Reckoning, they decided to stick with what works and not go off the deep end just yet.

Album opener "Strongholds of Awakening" has all the hallmarks of Suffering Hour's trademark sound: big, billowing guitars and thunderous drums exploding over vast expanses, depicting charred fields of black oppressive smoke. The lone guitarist plays in a distinctive style that encapsulates rhythm and lead parts within a vast majority of his riffs. The rhythm section’s interplay with the guitar is constantly evolving and branching out. This first tune could almost be an outtake from their debut, and that's not a bad thing in the least. It's also the shortest song on the record, as if the match is just getting lit.

From here on out, it becomes clear that regardless of efforts to play things close to the chest, Suffering Hour’s adventurous streak was bound to break through. Almost immediately into the second tune, "Transcending Antecedent Visions," the band begins to tear at the reigns and the ride starts to get wild. This happens less than a minute in—at the 22 second mark to be precise—and it is transcendent indeed. The guitars wail high up on the neck, and all of a sudden Suffering Hour starts to show that there's more in their arsenal on this outing. It's exhilarating, like the first time you learn to use a new curse word in a foreign tongue. On this track and those that follow, Suffering Hour's music gets positively anthemic, the sound growing so huge that it's easy to forget they're a three piece.

"The Abrasive Black Dust Part II" is the ballad of this record, diverging into slower tempos and even more melody than usual. A favorite moment comes during the final movement of this piece: the band has been plodding along murkily for around five minutes, when the rhythm section drops out. The guitar bends its way through a smeary riff, then some super strange chorus effects lace a psychedelic chromatic descent. By six and a half minutes, the drums have re-entered in double time for a full throttle black metal buzzsaw attack. Here it's the bass player's turn to stand out, as he cuts through the mix in half time mirroring the spiraling descent from before. It's dizzying and delightful, the intricate layers of composition revealing new rewards on repeated listens.

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Suffering Hour’s careful attention to detail in seamlessly stitching together each dramatic plot twist is what makes The Cyclic Reckoning so strong. The band’s brilliant use of dynamics keeps things interesting and unpredictable throughout the entirety of this sophomore LP. In any given song, you’re liable to hear a frenzied black metal assault, a mid-tempo death dirge, a spaced out shimmering breakdown, or all of the above and then some. All this is evidenced in "Obscuration", the fourth track, another stand out. Ever-shifting intricate drum patterns underpin triumphant twisting guitar melodies, the rhythms fluctuating at hairpin turns in the music, nearly but never quite fully bursting through the guardrails.

Every time you see a spiral staircase in a horror film, you know things are going to get hectic and stay that way. This describes the feeling of listening to The Cyclic Reckoning, a harrowing journey away from all possible escape, led breathless and desperate into the jaws of a trap. Unmooring from conventions of genre tropes, Suffering Hour taps into the adventurous spirit of their previous output, ratcheting things up to otherworldly new heights. The album is defined by this palpable tension between orthodoxy and experimentation. The Cyclic Reckoning is an intricate and well-honed statement of purpose from a band at the height of its powers, executed with careful precision. If this latest LP is the band’s version of going with what they know, it will be a thrill to see what happens as they push themselves closer to the precipice, furthering their vision’s descent.

—Bryan Camphire

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The Cyclic Reckoning releases today, February 19th 2021, via Profound Lore Records.