A Devil's Dozen

Suffocation

posted on 5/2016   By: Last Rites

The late 80s and early 90s brought a great awakening in death metal, stretching the style from its embryonic origins into a wide array of new and experimental styles. However, much of the innovation of the era saw death metal’s branches growing outward instead of refining the basics of the genre itself. For every stubborn Obituary and Cannibal Corpse there was a jazzy Cynic or Atheist, a constantly more progressive Death, or a gothic-leaning Paradise Lost.

Suffocation was different. They were inarguably just as important to the development of death metal as any of the above bands, but where those bands were looking outward, Suffocation was looking to push the strengths of DEATH METAL to their absolute limit, flexing every muscle until it ripped open into a torrent of maniacally technical riffs, leads, and drum patterns.

When the Human Waste EP dropped in 1991, it essentially birthed both brutal and technical death metal. With that EP, and 90s albums such as Effigy of the Forgotten and Pierced from Within, Suffocation absolutely changed the game for what was possible in death metal. Frank Mullen’s guttural, deep growls; Mike Smith’s blast-happy drumming; Terrance Hobbs’ twitchy, slithery, absolutely bonkers riffage; and the band's labyrinthine, blink-and-you'll-miss-it songwriting. Their goal was to treat death metal like a largely contained space, and increase the pressure within that space until it could crush diamonds. Part of that pressure: THE SLAM. To this day, no band has managed to deliver a hefty, greasy, filthy slam as well as these beasts from Long Island could in their earliest days.

With the exception of a four-year break from 1998 to 2002, the band has also shown a surprising amount of longevity. There isn’t a real clunker in their entire catalog, Breeding the Spawn production be damned, and they remain to this day a monstrous live act… at least, when Frank is in the lineup. Due to Real Life, Mullen is often not with the band on the road these days, but when he is, look out. Frank’s goofy stage banter and blast-beat-karate-chops combined with Hobbs’ shit-eatin’ grin and flawless guitar playing combine for more fun than should be possible with music is so unrelenting. But that’s just part of what makes Suffocation special. They were originators in their youth, and still play the music like kids today, never tiring for one second of the music, the scene, or the lifestyle.

There are countless symbolic things that we can all appreciate about Suffocation, but what really matters is the jams. With that in mind, we are extremely pleased to present a career-spanning collection of slam-ridden, broot-bringing, growl-inducing favorites.

Our beloved genre of death metal simply does not get better than this, folks. Enjoy.

[ZACH DUVALL]

 • • • • •

Catatonia

[Human Waste, 1991 / Despise the Sun, 1998]

 

A song so awesome Suffocation had to record it twice, “Catatonia” appears on both of the band’s EPs. Featuring neck-snapping tempo changes and spidery angular guitar riffs, “Catatonia” embodies the brutal New York death sound. The harmonized riff at 1:09 ties a noose around the listener’s neck, the song builds its tempo in stages to increase the tension before snapping the rope tight at 2:30. The Human Waste version featuring Mike Smith is the superior pick here, because despite the thicker guitar sound on Despise the Sun, Dave Culross just doesn’t capture that same thunder.

[KEITH ROSS]

 • • • • •

Translucent Patterns of Delirium

[Suffocation, 2006]

Choosing a song like "Translucent Patterns of Delirium" is essentially casting a loud vote for the other crucial element to Suffocation's prevailing severity: The voice of Frank "Don't Take a Dump in the Tour Bus Bathroom" Mullen. Sure, the music is as crushing as you'd expect, but it's Frank's uncanny ability to remain completely comprehensible while roaring like a silverback that just had its foot run over that makes the song indispensable. The subject matter is serious as a heart attack, as is Frank's delivery, but anyone who calls themselves a Suffocation fan has had run-ins with yammering meatheads, bosses, teachers, siblings, authority figures, significant others, etc. where "SHUT UP. SHUT UP… YOUUU" springs lovingly to mind. Frank's the best in the business, on and off stage, and "Translucent Patterns of Delirium" is the kind of song that spotlights his unhinged explosiveness perfectly.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 • • • • •

Liege Of Inveracity

[Effigy of the Forgotten, 1991]

The first track on their first album: in many ways, this one introduced a lot of people to Suffocation, and though it's not their finest hour, it's a damn fine opening salvo for Effigy, for sure. The riffs are Suffo-cating, all chunky and weird and almost never repeating the same part twice, with Mike Smith's drums swinging effortlessly between blasting death metal and groovier beats. I've never been wild about the choked-vocal production treatment of Frank Mullen's growl that spans Effigy, but nevertheless, there's absolutely no denying that this was among the heaviest of the heavy when it landed in 1991.

[ANDREW EDMUNDS]

 • • • • •

Synthetically Revived

[Human Waste, 1991 / Pierced from Within, 1995]

 

A song so awesome Suffocation had to record it twice. (Wait a second!) This time the rerecording on Pierced From Within is the definitive version. Frank Mullen’s roar is fully defined and the guitars feel like a million pounds. Using a guitar solo as device to change the tempo and key (if the song can be said to have a key) adds extra complexity to a song already built out of precision riffs. Slow, fast, slow, fast, faster, slow, fastest. The band assembled a song out of such disparate pieces but plays it in such a way to convince you that they all belong together. Suffocation inspired this approach throughout all of brutal death metal, but they execute it best here.

[KEITH ROSS]

 • • • • •

Souls to Deny

[Souls to Deny, 2004]

Although the killer "Despise the Sun" EP stopped the gap somewhat, it was still one hell of a wait between the untouchable classic Pierced from Within in 1995 and Souls to Deny in 2004. In that same timespan, death metal had been dethroned as the vanguard of extreme metal, meaning that Suffocation confronted a very different landscape. Any trepidation was swiftly crushed, however, as Souls to Deny finds our conquering heroes in magnificent form, with the return of Mike Smith on drums, the drier, slightly clacky production, and the knotty but crystal-clear song structures all combining into a wonderful bridge between the landmark early albums and the band's more modern later work. The title track is a perfect anthem in that transitional style, with just enough trickiness to keep it arena-proof, but also graced with the kind of riff-backed chorus and churning midsection that suggests a closer kinship with fellow New Yorkers Immolation than had ever previously been apparent. Trends come and go; Suffocation is forever.

[DANHAMMER OBSTKRIEG]

 • • • • •

Prelude to Repulsion

[Breeding the Spawn, 1993 / Suffocation, 2006]

Once again we encounter a song so good that America’s greatest death metal band, Suffocation, chose to record it twice. The first recording was for their 1991 sophomore LP Breeding the Spawn and then again for their 2006 self-titled release which featured some of the band’s best production to date. In typical Suffocation style the track is a mish mosh of parts and styles opening with blistering blasts, melting into a sort of groove-oriented middle with a swirling guitar solo, squeals and poppingly clean bass finally culminating into a brutal outro. "Prelude to Repulsion" is simply Suffocation at their best. The track is dense, angry, dissonant and contrasting in its style and composition, revealing Suffocation’s brilliant blend of brutal death metal and technical death metal. Tracks like "Prelude to Repulsion" show why Suffocation are potentially the kings of American death metal: the combination of technical proficiency and utterly uncompromising brutality. “I am tired and need rest, but the forces pulls me to my destination” and that destination, for Suffocation, is death metal immortality.

[MANNY-O-WAR]

 • • • • •

Thrones of Blood

[Pierced from Within, 1995]

Say what you will about Suffocation, but when those dudes decide to hit a note, that note god-damned well knows it’s been hit. “Thrones of Blood,” the second track on Pierced from Within, is a prime example of the band’s elite-level bludgeoning. This song bottoms-out more than a slammed Civic on a dirt road. But hey, what’s that at 2:45? Is that melody? Nah, couldn’t be. Wait, there it is again. Well I’ll be dipped in shit: actual melody in a Suffocation tune. That would seem almost dainty of them if old Frank wasn’t bellowing about axe murder, but then it wouldn’t be Suffocation without that, would it?

[JEREMY MORSE]

 • • • • •

Mass Obliteration

[Human Waste, 1991 / Effigy of the Forgotten, 1991]

The inclusion of pre-Cannibal Corpse George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher as a guest vocalist – at least on the Effigy of the Forgotten version – cements this song’s reputation. But it is the rolling blastbeats that give "Mass Obliteration" a certain bounciness that is sort of fun. Mike Smith also showcases his considerable skills behind the kit with stop-on-a-dime time changes (without getting too technical), and the slowdown mid-song is another crowd pleaser in a live setting.

[DAVE SCHALEK]

 • • • • •

Funeral Inception

[Despise the Sun, 1998]

The Contaminated 5.0 compilation represents both the best period in the storied history of Relapse records, and in a sense the end of their heyday. Leading off disc two of that monster is the best and most important song Suffocation has ever recorded in "Funeral Inception," which also features the best breakdown in the history of recorded music. I wonder how many car accidents could have been avoided had Frank Mullen not inspired so many of us to take our hands off the wheel to grab the nothing in front of us whilst screaming "GOD FORBID!" at the top of our lungs. The numbers don't matter, really; this one is worth dying for. While Relapse will likely never attain this level of consistent quality again, 5.0 will be a constant reminder, and there was never a better choice to lead that off than the almighty Suffocation.

[CHRIS REDAR]

 • • • • •

Suspended in Tribulation

[Pierced from Within, 1995]

The deadly combination of losing the savage drumming powers of Mike Smith and coming off the heels of a fairly sizable production cock-up the album prior had some folks fairly tentative when Pierced From Within first dropped. Luckily, the record beat faces in like a bully with a wolverine stuck up his ass, and the amazing "Suspended in Tribulation" was, and still is, a paramount piece to the record's overall capacity to crush. The song hits like a goddamn truck right from the gate, and that overwhelming breakdown around 1:15 is only surpassed by the even slower, grosser version that eventually drops during its close. "Suspended in Tribulation" punts you directly in the junk with a leaden foot, and eventually grinds you to death with all the massive weight of Godzilla slowly chewing through your wimpy bones as he surveys the destruction he just inflicted on your lame city. You know, a great Suffocation tune.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 • • • • •

Bind, Torture, Kill

[Suffocation, 2006]

Like much of Suffocation’s 2006 self-titled album, “Bind, Torture, Kill” does a bunch of things that are classically Suffocation in nature but also just the slightest bit unique for the band. The success of the song title repetition is clearly driven by the understandable nature of Frank’s vocals on the album, while the heft and – dare we say it – fun of it all carries a kind of looseness; at least, looseness inasmuch as a band with Suffocation’s immense instrumental prowess can sound in any way loose. The whole thing is just so goddamned greasy, as if you could go slip-and-slide across those riffs and basslines for days.

But let’s be serious for a second. If we’re talking greasy, and we’re talking about this song… we’re talking about THE DROP. At just before the 3:10 mark, “Bind, Torture, Kill” delivers what is perhaps the single most oozing, bottom-feeding, and gnarly breakdown/slam of Suffocation’s entire career (and folks, that’s a lot of oozing, bottom-feeding, gnarly slams). Every element, from Frank’s monstrously raw growl and Mike Smith’s rapid double kick drums to the ludicrous heft of the guitars, is utterly perfect and instantly memorable. That’s how you linchpin a linchpin track on the way to making a later career classic album.

[ZACH DUVALL]

 • • • • •

Pierced From Within

[Pierced From Within, 1995]

The opening number from the band's best album, this one holds a special place in my heart because it's the first Suffocation song I ever heard. And, damn, what a serious hello -- "Pierced From Within" does just that, but in a less direct way. It's not a straight shot through your brain or your heart; it's more of an insidious approach, pummeling you from without, and then the result of it slowly gnawing at your senses, until the whole of it consumes you, and you're sold. Sheer brutal perfection.

[ANDREW EDMUNDS]

 • • • • •

Infecting the Crypts

[Effigy of the Forgotten, 1991]

 

As a staple of Suffocation’s live set, it’s a tossup as to whether you’ll hear “Infecting The Crypts” or “Liege Of Inveracity” within the first few songs, or as the encore. Frank Mullen has a somewhat humorous introduction to this song and plays with the crowd a bit right as the tempo changes; so, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear it early. “Infecting The Crypts” rises above the muffled production of Effigy Of The Forgotten with a dense sense of weight and some incredible blasts from Mike Smith to open the song. The song also features early Suffocation at its best with varied songwriting, a variation that immediately vaulted Suffocation to the top of the nascent brutal death metal genre. Suffocation has not relinquished the throne since.

[DAVE SCHALEK]

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