You can blame Suffocation for (unwittingly) creating the worst sub-genre of death metal. Without 1991’s Effigy of the Forgotten, there would be no slam movement (also known as brutal death metal). It might seem harsh to point the finger in their direction. Surely, artists deserve respect for influencing other musicians to follow in their footsteps, right? That’s true, but the next accusation is just as damaging. Would deathcore exist without Suffocation? After all, they pioneered the breakdown as a vital ingredient of brutal death metal. Then there’s the meme that relates to the New York legends. As the godfathers of technical brutal death metal, they offend the tastes of those that prefer brutal technical death metal. What should we make of album number nine from one of the most imitated metal bands of the last thirty years?
As one of the “big four” of New York death metal, these days Suffocation is the sole concern of founder member, Terence Hobbs. At his side is bassist, Derek Boyer (ex-Decrepit Birth/Dying Fetus/Deeds of Flesh), who joined the group in 2004. Hymns from the Apocrypha also represents the debut recording for Disgorge vocalist, Ricky Myers, who bagged the gig with the godfathers of slam in 2019. Long-time fans will be keen to hear how he performs at the microphone, and the slam faithful can be assured that he does not do anything radical. After all, you wouldn’t want the vocalist of a brutal death metal band to go off script, would you?
Forty-one minutes of absurd musical complexity is a difficult assignment for the most committed death metal fan, but Suffocation suffer from the most common flaw of their genre – monotony. The opening title-track starts well enough with forceful blast beats and lightning-speed riffs cutting through the mix like pristine rotary blades. Myers approaches the microphone in the mindset of somebody being force-fed an entire insect farm through a funnel. Naturally, there’s a resistance, yet he shows great fortitude in the way he protests without losing his poise. Listen with care, and you can detect traces of Chuck Schuldiner’s imaginative fretwork in this song, even if it resembles an algebraic puzzle rather than an entertaining spectacle.
In fairness, the timbres in Suffocation’s music are not just black, but the flashes of swampy green struggle to retain a permanent presence. That’s because the guitar parts seldom repeat into formations you can remember. The bomb blast technique from drummer, Eric Morotti, is impressive in ‘Perpetual Deception’, but what more can you celebrate in this song other than the virtuoso performance of the musicians? ‘Dim Veil of Obscurity’ reminds you why Pig Destroyer are a more enjoyable listen – they squeeze their murderous combinations into less than one minute. Suffocation need four-and-a-half for most of their tracks. If you want something to focus on here, listen to the fast shred riffs that plug the gaps in the syncopated chug rhythms – Yngwie Malmsteen would deliver a thumbs up.
Suffocation are at their best when they operate in the same mid-tempo grind of the Morbid Angel albums from the mid-90s. ‘Immortal Execration’ and ‘Delusions of Mortality’ will earn repeat plays if you upload these two highlights onto a death metal playlist. The former strikes a fine balance between malevolent hostility and alternating tempos; the latter crunches against the guitar strings like an elite soldier entering the theatre of conflict in peak condition and state-of-mind. You can remember most of the action in these songs, but it’s an uphill battle for most of the album. ‘Descendants’ sounds like a technician testing the workings of a tumble dryer. ‘Embrace the Suffering’ thrives on the type of Decapitated scale patterns that made the latter’s 2002 sophomore album so memorable. Yet the one-dimensional vocals and excessive tempo changes distract you from their brilliance. The truth is that you’re too jaded to care at this stage. Every song brings a new set of challenges for an overworked mind. Revising for an undergraduate Physics exam is more fun than this album.
Suffocation’s musicianship is exquisite. Their ability to entertain is not. Now you know why the nightwatchmen on the Titanic failed to see the icebergs ahead – the vast ocean of the night failed to excite them.
Release Date: 03/11/2023
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Standout tracks: Hymns from the Apocrypha, Immortal Execration, Delusions of Mortality
Suggested Further Listening: Bonecarver – Evil (2021), Osiah – Loss (2021), Introtyl – Adfectus (2022)