Suffocation in their nearly 30 years of recording music, have secured their place in death metal history. Their entry into 1991’s all-star death metal season, Effigy Of The Forgotten, turned 25 on Saturday. Very nearly the first American northeast death metal album of import, it dropped a few months after Immolation’s Dawn of Possession and but just before Incantation’s Onward to Golgatha. Much ink is spilled over the importance of the by-then established Floridian scene, but the northeast bands have their own metallic legacy. Hell, Suffocation launched Relapse Records’ very first CD in the form of the Human Waste EP 5 months earlier. Three of those songs even made their way onto Effigy.

Chock full of furious technicality, Effigy can be a tough nut to crack on the surface level, but what appears to be cacophonous noise is a multi-layered bean dip with something new on each subsequent listen. Frank Mullen’s vocal style embodied the brutal adjective applied to the burgeoning death metal scene in the northeast in the early 90s. Other than the unique vocal style, the album features one of the first real breakdowns in death metal on “Liege of Inveracity”. Mike Smith on the battery was something to behold; he pounds the skins in unison with Mullen’s throat from beyond and alongside the mathematical rhythms of guitarist Terrance Hobbs. Toss in a Scott Burns production job at Morrisound Studios and Dan Seagrave album artwork and we have a bonafide death metal classic sonically and visually.

Effigy’s all-encompassing sound is quite obtrusive to the traditional thrash and crossover crowd. Smith credited the record’s off-the-wall approach to a potluck writing style: “If you have an idea you put it on the table if it sounded sick we kept it. We all wrote pieces to form the whole.” You certainly get that feeling throughout the album’s thirty seven and half minute run time. “Mass Obliteration” is one of those tracks that keeps you guessing on all fronts. When I listen to this record straight through, I find myself wondering “this is track 7, how the hell do they still have this many ideas left?” As far removed as Morbid Angel was from thrash, Suffocation spilled the blood even farther.

Which isn’t to suggest that the northeasterners had any animosity toward the Floridians or vice versa. When the band nearly collapsed the studio, it drew the interest of then-Monstrosity vocalist and current Cannibal Corpse frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher who naturally lent his own vocals to a few tracks. The album was dedicated to Atheist’s Roger Patterson, who passed away in February 1991. “We were too new into the scene to be losing one of the greatest contributors to the genre,” Smith said in an interview about the record, “We were both touring and playing the same club circuits.”

The band would go on to record the ill-fated Breeding The Spawn a year and a half later. For that album, Roadrunner refused to let the band join Scott Burns in the studio again, which led to a poor recording and eventually Smith’s first exit from the band (he returned when the band reformed in 2004 with Souls to Deny). But for a shining moment in 1991 Suffocation were one of the most promising, new, brutally heavy, technically sound bands on the scene. 25 years later this is still one of the heaviest albums ever recorded.

-Tom Campagna



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