Album of the Week 07-2013: Suffocation – Pinnacle Of Bedlam


With drummer extraordinaire Mike Smith out of the picture, I didn’t quite know what to expect from the new Suffocation album. Luckily, Dave Culross was his replacement and ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’ turns out to be one of the band’s best efforts, easily their best since ‘Souls To Deny’. Everything that made Suffocation so brilliant on albums like ‘Effigy Of The Forgotten’ and ‘Pierced From Within’ is present here: the unpredictable song patterns, the top-notch musicianship, the vicious high-speed riffs and just a bunch of extremely well-written Death Metal tracks.

Many contemporary Death Metal records annoy the hell out of me because of their obsessed focus on either groove or technicality. Suffocation seemed to fall into that trap as well with ‘Blood Oath’, but the aggression lacking from that record is more than made up for on ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’. Gone are the song length breakdowns and back is the unbridled aggression. That much was already clear when ‘As Grace Descends’ first surfaced; all the Suffocation trademarks were there, but there was more room for the Thrash riffs and rhythms than there have been for a while in Suffocation’s music. And I welcome them back.

Culross does a more than decent job replacing Mike Smith. While his blastbeats aren’t quite as loud as Smith’s – no one’s are – he fits with Suffocation’s sound perfectly. He doesn’t stick to one drumming pattern for too long, which is a delight to me, as my ears get tired of constant blasting. Representing all the shifts and changes in Suffocation’s songs isn’t for anyone and frankly, I think that only Smith and Culross would be able to pull it off currently. Culross even does a couple of amazingly placed ghost notes in the intro of the fantastic ‘Purgatorial Punishment’, which has a lot happening for the less than three minutes it lasts. Smith does make a guest appearance on the traditional remake of a ‘Breeding The Spawn’ song. This time it’s ‘Beginning Of Sorrow’.

The others do a fantastic job too. Terrance Hobbs’ and Guy Marchais’ solos are remarkably melodic for the type of brutal Death Metal they’re playing. Many bands in the genre rely on the Slayer-style whammy bar stuff and wouldn’t even try their hand at the amazing solo section of the album’s title track. Both Hobbs and Marchais do a brilliant melodic solo over this monumental riff of arpeggiated chords. There’s some great sweeping involved in many of the songs. Derek Boyer has a right hand that many a bassist would be jealous of, but his main merit for this album would be his lyric writing.

One song I would especially like to point out is the mindblowing ‘Sullen Days’. I haven’t been this impressed by a single Suffocation song since ‘Demise Of The Clone’. Not unlike that track, ‘Sullen Days’ is based on what seems like endlessly repeating cycles of a very, very long riff. That riff in ‘Sullen Days’ doesn’t sound like anything the band has ever done before. There’s a brutal faster part in the middle, but what really tops this off is the beautiful, yet ominous clean guitar part that opens and closes the song. Closest Suffocation ever came to a ballad, if you don’t count the deranged “romanticism” of ‘Entrails Of You’.

‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’ exceeded every expectation I could possibly have of the album. Suffocation was always miles ahead of their brutal Death Metal competition, but this album truly consolidates their position at the very top of Death Metal. As a nice bonus, you get an amazing album cover and – if you buy the limited edition – a very entertaining “making of” documentary. But even without all those extras, ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’ serves as the aggressive, grooving and technical standard for Death Metal these days.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sullen Days’, ‘Purgatorial Punishment’, ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’, ‘My Demise’

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