Saturday, June 10, 2017

Suffocation - ...of the Dark Light


There have been a lot of changes in the Suffocation camp over the last few years.  I've been fairly vocal that their original run is one of the greatest streaks in extreme metal history and they've never really recovered since the reunion (despite still being good), so all of the personnel changes only signaled worse things for me.  Mike Smith leaving was pretty up in the air, since he has a well known aggressive personality that makes him hard to work with (and let's be real, he didn't play on Pierced from Within or Despise the Sun either and those albums rule anyway), and then Frank decides to more or less retire from vocals and only play select local shows and perform on albums, then Guy left, leaving Terrence as the sole remaining full time original member of the band.

What this really means is that there are now a lot of young guys in the band who grew up listening to the band well after their classic run in the 90s.  Seriously, I am older than Eric and Charlie, and I don't know Kevin's age but he certainly looks like he's in his early 20s at the very latest.  Derek was notably "the baby" in the band after the reformation and he turned fuckin' forty this year.  So there was always the chance that this meant the band would be re-energized with all this newfound youth, but to me it signaled that the band would lose its signature character.  I mean right away the aesthetics of ...of the Dark Light were just wrong.  This slick, Fallujah styled cover isn't at all what we know the band for.  Song titles like "The Warmth Within the Dark" and "Caught Between Two Worlds" just seemed so modern and indicative of proggy Jacometal bands like Beyond Creation or The Faceless that have gotten so popular lately, clashing strongly with immediate imagery of classic tracks like "Jesus Wept", "Brood of Hatred", and "Infecting the Crypts".  So many of the old guard death metallers are getting old and retiring, and so it's really up to these young guys to help continue carrying the band onwards and upwards, and that's a monumental task considering this is Suffofuckingcation we're talking about here.

Well ...of the Dark Light is finally here, and holy fuck it's their best album since Despise the Sun.  I never expected this, not in a million god damned years, but all these kids had the absolute best case scenario outcome after all.  Terrence sounds reborn as a guitarist, the writing is very much in line with the slightly more straightforward but still unfairly brutal Despise the Sun, a style of death metal with all of the leftover thrashiness found in spots on Effigy of the Forgotten completely excised and enough theatrics to keep the showboating instrumentalists happy while still retaining a base of just seriously fucking good riffs.  The energy is completely off the charts, which was showing signs of picking up on Pinnacle of Bedlam after bottoming out on Blood Oath (their only "eh" album), but this time around the band sounds like they're in their 20s again.  And it's because they are.  Terrence is still obviously the main writer, but there's a ravenous hunger that we haven't heard in decades on here.  That twisted, chaotic malevolence that he would flail around with on the early albums is back at it's most unhinged and frantic, while still managing to fall in lockstep with the eternally virgin-tight rhythm section.

One of the reasons I get such a strong Despise the Sun vibe off of this is because Eric Morotti obviously takes more influence from Culross than Smith in terms of the band's previous drummers.  Smith's off kilter weirdness is still missed to a degree, but that absolutely punishing salvo that Culross delivered on that legendary EP (and the previous full length in 2013, to be fair) adds so much merciless power to their backbone, and Eric steps up beautifully.  You could argue that they lost a bit of a dimension with Smith's anarchic approach to percussion, but I'd counter-argue that Morotti's style only further improves the punishment that's already present.  It's Suffocation with a shot in the arm, not a third arm that makes them even more unique.  You might be wondering why I'm praising the band so much for normalizing in a way, and that's because having a third arm makes it really fucking difficult to buy a shirt.

Tracks like "Clarity through Deprivation" and the title track have the most devastating breakdowns since "Brood of Hatred", while "Your Last Breaths" ups the technicality to a level potentially unseen with the band.  There's a lot on display, but what makes it so special isn't that it's a new bag of tricks for the band, because it's not, but it's special because it's the most well performed this tricks have been in two decades.  It doesn't even feel like a throwback as much as it feels like the logical continuation from right before the initial breakup.  ...of the Dark Light is the hypothetical lost album from 2000.  It's just loaded to the gills with fearless brutality, delivered at a pace not unlike a JATO powered tank.  This is definitely their fastest and most ferocious album in a long time, and even occasional bits of atmosphere like the end of "Return to the Abyss" sound apocalyptic instead of odd.

Frank, while being functionally out of the band when on the road, sounds great as well.  He's one of the legendary vocalists in the genre for a reason, and his beastly roar is in top form here.  His hilariously New Yawk inflection is still there too, so even there they retain a lot of the signature character despite all the new blood.  New guy Kevin Muller doesn't get a whole lot of opportunities to shine, but the few moments he does get in the spotlight aren't wasted.  One of the only times I can really pick him out is on "The Warmth Within the Dark", otherwise he's such a dead ringer for Frank that we might not even need to worry about his eventual retirement, and that's something I never thought I'd say.

Overall there are precisely zero things I dislike about this record.  This is the sound of a band finding their footing again, powering forwards to reclaim their throne.  The pummeling battery backing the frantic and crushing guitars provide the soundtrack to the endtimes.  Suffocation may have a lot of new faces in the band, but they've only made the band better, against my fears.  Drop everything and pick this up, I'm not kidding.  We're almost halfway through the year and so far there have only been two albums to instill immediate confidence in me towards their potential to be the Album of the Year.  Satan's Hallow is one, and ...of the Dark Light is the other. 

RATING - 94%

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