Review: Suffocation “Souls to Deny” [Relapse Records]

Review: Suffocation “Souls to Deny” [Relapse Records]

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Rating 80%
Baroque Suffocation
80 %
User Rating : 4.2 (1 votes)

Brutal death metal legends Suffocation take their act to a somewhat avant-garde area of their sound as they voluntarily switch up from stark atonality to a rounder melodic direction. The intensity and technical proficiency that was always associated with the band are very much still present, only they’re now pervading sections with a much more pronounced melodic guise. Parts alternate between the usual brutal assault of power chord breakdowns, raging riffs mixing raw death metal energy with the recurring melodic element, and then outright melodic licks whether on tremolo picking or single-note fret work.

The band had always demonstrated an innate capacity to depict a sort of cataclysmic drama within the music, but instead of opting for full fledged seismic chaos as on previous works the band now channel that inner tumult and drive it towards a general atmosphere of tragedy. The melodic aspect doesn’t act at all as some kind of alluring bait to sweeten the overall flavor, instead it has quite the opposite effect as it only makes the music more tragic as it is now more detailed with how descriptive it is of the existential anguish the band has always been about, and certainly meant to express here. A title like ‘To Weep Once More’ for example clearly shows that melancholy with words, fitting the instrumental ambiance.

The riffs quite often sound like outright classical music influenced bits of death metal, mostly borrowing from Baroque and its powerful grief in minor modes. It would be a bit of a stretch to compare ‘Souls to Deny’ to some collection of church organ works from the 17th century, and surely a composer like J.S.Bach would be on another level altogether, but one could conceive some of the moments off this album here played by more traditional acoustic instruments and sounding quite coherent. A short link section towards the end of the first song ‘Deceit’ is straight up Bach; chord progression and melody distinctly.

Of course, make no mistake about it this is still Suffocation and tracks like ‘Souls to Deny’ or even more so ‘Surgery of Impalement’ are monumentally heavy death metal: deep, dark, and deliciously menacing death metal. Not to mention some of the grooves on this album could make catholic nuns head-bang spontaneously and despite often not getting its due credit this is among some of the very heaviest the band has ever been. It may not have the raw cult aura of an ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’ or ‘Pierced From Within’, but the music hasn’t suffered one bit. If anything the songs are now more focused with the song-writing and feel like songs in the true sense of the term and less like dumping grounds for various riff ideas. Every song is catchy material; without exception; and although there’s a common thread to them all in tone and sound they don’t feel like one same song with minor changes on a loop.

Interestingly the vocals are panned and in full stereo mode, as opposed to the regular focused voice at the center. They seem to be sharing the space out wide with the guitars. They sound girthy and mighty although well boosted on the higher frequencies to gain more separation and dynamism. The drums sound particularly organic. It almost sounds like a live recording of the kit as they sacrifice a bit of post-processing definition for a more natural feel, with a noticeable although subtle reverb presence at the back. The guitars are pure distortion power drinks and would quench any sucker for high metal gain’s thirst, while the bass brings its sharp snappiness and loose string flapping. It’s a bit of a mystery what they were going for with the leads though here: they sound downright disgusting in parts, and at best under-produced and not on par with the album, and while they do fit the music generally they sometimes sound like they’re out of place.

Suffocation don’t mess around. Whether they’re playing heads down brutal death, classical music or country, they’ll bring that oomph along with them and make sure they leave nothing in the tank, and will ensure the listener leaves the experience in a body bag.

Release date: April 27th, 2004

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