When a band is considered a “pioneer” of any musical genre, there is a certain high standard the band has to live up to. Every album released is scrutinized, dissected and picked apart by those on the outside; the loyal followers who wish for albums that can match the early outputs. If any small tweaks are made that directly affects the core sound, cries of outrage and anguish are voiced, usually louder than those who are nonchalant about the changes.
Suffocation has long been recognized as one of the top dogs of technical/brutal death metal, making a splash with their 1991 debut Effigy Of The Forgotten. Over time, through line-up changes and a long hiatus in the late 90s, Suffocation has stayed relevant, even with bands such as Origin, Obscura, and Necrophagist becoming the new faces of the genre. Blood Oath, Suffocation’s sixth studio album, is the continuation of the direction of their self-titled album, trading off between sharp, nasty riffing and mid-paced romping, with a slight groove infused within.
The opening title track is the blunt force trauma to the head caused not by a chainsaw, but the repeated strikes from a sledgehammer. The intensity is at a fever pitch, as the guitars squeal notes of agony and the drums engage in a ground and pound assault on the eardrums. The other nine tracks follow this same design, with a few speedier sections scattered throughout the album, mostly notably with closer “Marital Decimation” and the insanely fast “Dismal Dream.”
Unlike their self-titled album, there are no clean sections to be found throughout the forty-odd minutes. The only melody is found in the lead guitar work and a brief reprise in the epic harmonies on “Undeserving” and the slow build-up on “Provoking The Disturbed.” Most bands would succumb to repetition with nothing but a gung-ho approach, but in the case of Suffocation, there is enough variety to avoid the tracks blending together. Their sheer technicality and awe-inspiring musicianship keeps the listener entranced and focused the entire running length.
In a band with top-notch musicians from top to bottom, drummer Mike Smith is the standout member. His precise fills, pummeling blast beats, and unorthodox time changes make even the sluggish moments stand out. Bassist Derek Boyer fills out the rhythm section with his solid bass playing, adding in timely lead work from time to time. Guitarists Guy Marchais and Terrance Hobbs are riff machines, churning out a barrage of endless melodies, with good lead work to boot. Vocalist Frank Mullen still has his trademark powerful raspy screams and growls that get good mileage on the album.
Blood Oath has a clean and sterile production that makes each instrumental completely audible, but also drains any substantial power from the album. The band had this issue with their self-titled album, and while this reviewer appreciates a crisp production, there is such as thing as too glossy. In Suffocation’s case, the lack of grit hinders the impact that Blood Oath could have.
Suffocation may be the elder statesmen of the technical brutal death metal genre, but they can still hang with the young guns. Blood Oath is another strong album from the NY quintet, who has been on a roll since they reunited on 2004’s Souls To Deny. Age hasn’t dulled the band’s technical prowess, with each member working hard to bring something unique to the table. While some fans may long for the days of “Breeding The Spawn” and “Reincremation,” and the polished production masks any dirtiness, Blood Oath still rises above the small faults to provide another album worthy of the Suffocation moniker.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Web Site: http://www.myspace.com/suffocation
By Dan Marsicano