...of the Dark Light reviews
Larry6990 on October 6th, 2017
Clarity Through Decent Songwriting
Being one of the biggest innovators of a genre like death metal means Suffocation are beyond most qualms. Therefore I won't be referring, or making comparisons, to their definitive works like Effigy Of The Forgotten because the band is a very different creature from the early days. If a veteran act is to remain relevant, what matters is right now. Four years after the moderately divisive Pinnacle Of Bedlam, the Long Islanders return with brand new LP ...Of The Dark Light. Vague title notwithstanding, this is yet another record set to divide fans as a gradual veer towards less popular death metal traits continues. Bottom line: this is a good album with flaws that I hope don't pervade the future songwriting process.
Now, I don't expect brutal or technical death metal acts to be instantly accessible, but Suffocation suffocate themselves a little by making ...Of The Dark Light unmemorable. Except for several pretty darn awesome segments - which unfortunately mean that moments, rather than whole songs, are what stick in the listener's mind - this record can become monotonous very quickly. If you're going to avoid the 'atmospheric build-up' approach and go straight for the jugular, then it would be sensible to include memorable refrains, recognizable vocal patterns and more powerchord-centric riffing. Opener "Clarity Through Deprivation" bombards the audience with blast beats in complex time signatures - never letting up until we hit the (admittedly brilliant) breakdown at the end.
This moment is not unique - in fact, it might be the most simplistic on the album - but the clarity (hehe) with which it is performed, especially vocally, sets the stage for similar sections throughout the record. Frank Mullen, despite still sounding brutally wholesome after thirty years, is responsible for some awkward vocal patterns which alienate the listener more and more. He triumphs on the 'You gag - cannot swallow' section of "The Warmth Within The Dark", and the refrain of "The Violation" is equally enduring. These are refreshing sections that make brutal tech-death weirdly singalong-able. Derek Boyer's work on the bass is also commendable. He is the only thing making the last two tracks anywhere near noteworthy, and his brief break in "Your Last Breaths" before a crushing riff pounds the listener is one of the best moments on the album.
Not many songs feel like they comfortably flow from one section to the next. Several numbers, especially "Return To The Abyss", follow that tertiary structure pioneered by Chuck Schuldiner - but otherwise, the rhapsodic feel of this LP can have an estranging effect. Contrary to most reviewers, I actually favour the periods where the texture is stripped back and the tempo is brought crashing down, such as the latter half of the title-track or the breakdown in "Clarity Through Deprivation". It seems almost insulting to say so, but with ...Of The Dark Light the death metal legends have made an album of near-background music. Incredibly competent background music! Well executed but not necessarily well prepared - this record at least has appropriate artwork and some stand out moments to make your ears perk up. Fans only.
MikeyC on July 15th, 2017
Better than anyone thought it would be
So I’m just going to come out and say it right now: …Of the Dark Light is their best album since Pierced From Within. It’s not like Suffocation have changed their sound, either – I was a baby when they were producing music more brutal than my diaper accidents – but the difference on …Of the Dark Light is that the band sounds way fresher and invested than they have in the past.
And, again, it’s hardly like …Of the Dark Light is a stray album from their path created in the past. I realise that their post-reunion albums have copped some criticism, and it’s not exactly without merit. I was part of the few that liked Blood Oath, but I found their follow-up Pinnacle of Bedlam to be lacking. It was good, but it was missing a certain spark. Enter their 8th full-length, and a brand new guitarist and drummer, and the difference is noticeable. Call it fresh blood bringing in some fresh thoughts, but it solidifies how strong this album is from start to finish, despite the fact that no-one had any right to think that.
I mentioned the album is strong from beginning to end, with each song providing something awesome and something to hold on to, but the first three songs in particular really drive home how improved …Of the Dark Light is. “Clarity Through Deprivation” starts up without any warning, ending with some awesome slams. “The Warmth Within the Dark” is my favourite track from the album and contains some fantastic lyrics, and the riffs are catchy as hell. “Your Last Breaths” was the first single and was a good choice, showcasing the improved riffs and drumming, all smothered in Frank Mullen’s unique vocal inflection. These three songs in a row to open the album exemplify how much Suffocation have changed, but also how much they haven’t changed. It’s still the same band, but now they’re younger and more energised than in their recent past. I can’t help but believe the injection of younger talent on guitar and drums has revitalised the band, and from the opening few tracks, it becomes apparent that this one is going to have some staying power.
The rest of the album is no slouch, either. Some choice cuts include “The Violation” with its vocal delivery and increase in energy at the end, or perhaps “Some Things Should be Left Alone” with its great mid-section riffing. Again, all the songs are played with conviction and purpose, and to explain them all would be ill-fitting, as I could never properly capture their amazing sound. Every song up to and including the reworked Breeding the Spawn song “Epitaph of the Credulous” highlights how crisp …Of the Dark Light turned out to be.
I mentioned the younger new members before, but they can’t be overstated. Riffs here, while Terrence Hobbs would still be the main engine, is given a tune-up. All over the place, you’ll hear some great slams and riffs that are reminiscent of the band’s glory days, but also fit extremely well here. Even the attempts at some melody/atmosphere in “Return to the Abyss” and “Caught Between Two Worlds” work wonderfully in context. In terms of the slams, they’re played with the trademark Suffocation sound, but, yet again, sound much fresher. The biggest examples of this are in “Clarity Through Deprivation” and “…Of the Dark Light” which slow right down in their second halves and are sure to be bangers when played live. The drumming also contains some zip, too, with some intricate blasting and double-kick work. It’s clear that new skin-basher Eric Morotti brings life to these songs by playing with some assertion and energy – again, not unlike what they had in past drummers, but here the drumming simply sounds like there’s more energy involved.
To be honest, energy is basically the main reason why …Of the Dark Light works so well. The inclusion of younger talent, who no doubt would’ve grown up listening to Suffocation, and would like to put their best foot forward now that they’re in the band they idolised, has been a real shot in the arm for Suffocation. With a slew of new and awesome songs, where “The Warmth Within the Dark” might be their best song in many years, Suffocation have climbed back to the top, where they will hopefully stay in many years to come.
6CORPSE6GRINDER6 on June 23rd, 2017
The secret was intertwined and lost within itself
Suffocation’s new record keeps the same style their reunion albums had (2002-present) but at the same time shows some improvements in the production, while the composition remains astonishingly dark, complex, aggressive and well thought as always. Even if it's not perfect -vocals aren't as strong as they were- it's still a pretty enjoyable album. The addition of a new guitarist instead of Guy Marchais gives the album a fresh feeling, specially in the solo section. He is definitely a gifted player but doesn't display excessive wankery, his playing sounds more obscure than technical.
In terms of composition, we have the same old Suffocation: brutal, technical but not so much and definitely evil and demented. There's blasts beats everywhere, heavy breakdowns and perfectly well written solos. Gutturals delivered by Frank Mullen have changed over the years but still are a trademark sound from the band, just as the Suffo blast or Terrance’s solos and riffs. The new guitarist’s solos are a little bit more academic; I heard some sweep picking I bet it's really hard to play but he manages to do it in a gloomy, gnarly fashion that fits the rest of the music perfectly. Production wise, it still sounds pretty modern like the other reunion albums, but this time everything sounds “less digital” than on their previous record; particularly the drumming, that is superb. Drums have a nice acoustic sound, you can hear changes in the dynamics of the player, it sounds human and not over-compressed, which I consider a big plus. The same goes with guitars, that feature a nice, sharp and dirty tube distortion. Bass is present all over the mix, with a nice metallic tone on the high end, also with some slight distortion that perfectly anchors the guitars with the percussive section. Excellent mix.
Overall I wouldn't say this is the band's best record, but it isn't that much below their golden era records, which also speaks well about the band being consistent in each records quality. Pick it up if you're a fan of the genre, after all this band is its godfather. You won't regret.
Five_Nails on June 16th, 2017
Intricate, polished, and devastating, Suffocation has consistently stood at the helm of the most brutal ship in the death metal armada with mind-bending complicated riffing semaphore, tight ropes of musicianship and production, and an ever-focused eye on what maneuver will cause the most mayhem in the fewest measures. This death metal institution has kept many a fan enamored with its unabashedly aggressive music and innovatively skewed approach that mimicked its insane, slaughterous, and gratuitously gory lyrics. Alongside Immolation, Suffocation formed New York's barbaric response to Florida's death metal monopoly in a jarring outpouring of concrete rhythm, creating an offshoot that abandons the search for melody in favor of a gritty texture on which to flatten its audience.
Featuring a forefront of gruff gutturals roaring ahead of a web of long-winded guitar riffs, all framed in an innovative architecture of prominent percussion, this outfit's layout is the template of how to create the archetypal death metal band. Suffocation presents the percussive punch of hardcore punk within the whirl of an inverted classical cacophony, the hammering hurricanes of such a substantial sound remorselessly ravages its audience with perfect precision. Indulging in blast beats and breakdowns, it is no wonder “Effigy of the Forgotten” (1991) is considered a cornerstone in the foundation of what we now refer to as brutal death metal. Expanding the range of their guitars into a uniquely complex territory, the latticework of treble in “Pierced From Within” (1995) raised the bar for talented musicianship in this seemingly uncivilized sub-culture and separated the aims of a genuine death metal band from its breakdown-oriented counterpart in deathcore. Monumental drum fills between revolutions of riffs left no room for silence as Suffocation sought to submerge its soundscape in an incessant imposition, a filibuster that relentlessly told of the band's talent and dared to be challenged for supremacy in the style.
The band's break-up and reunion is now a long settled situation but the marked difference between “Despise the Sun” and the 2006 self-titled album put this band on a path toward a more incredible evolution than one might expect. The more practiced and proficient that guitarists Terence Hobbs and Guy Marchias got, the closer their riffs would come to plunging into a classical chasm, one where brazen wankery and flamboyant baroque accouterments eventually enticed many other bands' treble response to an exhausting percussive promiscuity mandatory in the music. However, unlike newcomers of Necrophagist or Decrepit Birth ilk, these guitarists remained laser focused on their aims to ungracefully entangle the directions of three sets of strings into a neural net of delirious insanity without the flowery moments of hope given to notes escaping this discombobulation. Suffocation's progeny couldn't resist the allure of such ringing trills but these New York death metal patriarchs, born in the savagery of an undefined extreme metal arena, held close to their roots while playing with hotter fires.
In its latest iteration Suffocation retains only two original members: legendary guttural vocalist, Frank Mullen, who laid down the studio tracks but cannot tour with the band any longer, and Terence Hobbs, the creator of some of the most recognizable riffs in death metal. Alongside these two death metal titans is Derek Boyer who has played bass for Suffocation since the 2004 restart after stints with bands like Dying Fetus, Disgorge, Deeds of Flesh, and Decrepit Birth. That repertoire has followed him into this band as production quality rose alongside the instrumentation, making room for a uniquely visceral bass combination alongside the leading guitars. Joining this experienced foundation are two young newcomers. Drummer Eric Morotti (25) and guitarist Charlie Errigo (24) have appeared out of obscurity to lend a great energy to this album, ensuring that the scope of destruction is just as fearsome as ever.
As Suffocation's eighth full-length, “. . . Of the Dark Light” is from an era somewhat removed from the seminal '90s albums. The album cover is merely a person being atomized in open space rather than a monstrous machine consuming a victim. The monsters have all but disappeared from the band's contorted universe. Changing form to become either metaphysical torments in a balanced domain where they could be deserved punishments or appearing as inhabitants of an unforgiving universe where such pain is predetermined. The desolation of the 2006 self-titled cover shows a world ravaged by scampering critters similar to the blood-soaked beast central to “Human Waste”. The skeletons adorn lifeless sands ushering in what looks to be the end of a human era of Suffocation, however without any prey to hack with their saw-bladed hands, the progeny of the 1991 creature has also run its course. “Blood Oath”, with demonic dementors excising their own hands in a mephistophelian offering, represents a movement to a metaphysical realm that places more emphasis on the implications of an earthly action's remittance through suffering, something that was well-concluded in the lyrics of many early songs but never truly explored until this later period.
Like the album covers, Suffocation has lyrically worked through this evolution to bring back the “Reincremation” recriminations of established dogmas and extol the cataclysmic death knell of societies and species. Through “Pierced from Within”, the lyrics sought to discover just which one was the final straw that broke a character's mind. Whether it involved an apostate turning his back on a religious concept imbued into his mentality from his first moments of sentience, or was the result of a botched experiment that left a person in a state of persistent catatonia, or if it was the last indignity one could endure before shedding his yoke of societal hangups and indulging his most basic desire, murder, there has been a common theme of the 'why' for 'what' horror one inflicts or receives and describes 'how' that time has come to pass. Songs like “Thrones of Blood” and “Bind, Torture, Kill” explore the mentalities of its protagonists as they strip themselves or others of one life and await the menacing horrors promised in the next. Through the early albums Suffocation's lyrics deprived many mentalities and traditions of their potency in order to uplift the influence of the individual, standing firm against his own perceived oppressors. Yet the individual's impropriety was tragically denied any chance at the godhood he sought when songs like “Depths of Depravity” and “Synthetically Revived” came to their twisted conclusions.
As some delusions of grandeur failed, still others would gain traction in title tracks like “Pierced from Within” and “Souls to Deny” where expository pieces described the distance between two worlds: an Earth infected with indoctrination and a Hell populated by protagonists. Since these situations have come to a head in the self-titled album, Suffocation has taken a new and more metaphysical direction. The personal stories are nowhere near as relatable, instead these two separate worlds have combined through “Blood Oath” and “Pinnacle of “Bedlam” to describe mayhem on the surface without exploring as much of the mentality causing it. Instead the implication is that the mentality is an inherent aspect of the society from which the mayhem flows. With this change it could be said that Suffocation has lost some of its lyrical edge, or simply forgotten the twist of the mind necessary to drive home the cerebral intimacies that can enhance the intensity of this very violent music.
This rigid and more matter-of-fact approach follows “Return to the Abyss” as a logical stomp into the nightmarish other-world that has overtaken this misshapen universe. While characters end up “Caught Between Two Worlds”, the fact of the matter is that Suffocation has been more than around the bend through nearly thirty years of existence and seems to be tiring of explaining how to go 'there and back again' across these ridiculous lyrical realms. “Your Last Breaths” shows little hope for ameliorating the lyrical woe while “The Violation” fuels its world with the energy released from an unalterable slaughterous realm. Condemned to a predetermined fate, no amount of frustration with the circumstance or attempt to follow the 'forked tongue' promising free thought and a chance at diverging from destiny will keep one from maintaining the path to ruin set before this new model narrator. This stability drives madness in a way that only four nondescript padded walls can, breeding resentment for one's lack of agency in a universe filled with protagonists doomed by its own design.
Musically striking out from its tremendous template, Suffocation's “. . . Of the Dark Light” continues the legacy that the band has laid out over nearly thirty years to further explore this expansive evolution. Massive sounding open and palm muted guitar notes lead erupting double bass bursts in the stunning opener, “Clarity Through Deprivation”. Breakdowns are a staple feature of Suffocation's sound and in these early few minutes the desolate atmosphere leaves large spaces for a head-crushing delivery. Unlike the numerous bands it has inspired, Suffocation uses breakdowns more sparingly and with great impact to absolutely demolish a structure and drive home the intensity and immensity of the aesthetic for which it aims. The polished production doesn't diminish the impact of bass as the thumping energy patters against a chest in anticipation of the pummeling it will receive at a live show. The guitars clasp together in horror-striking harmony without blending while maintaining the down-tuned vibrations that tear at the sanity of a listener with the psychotic sincerity that the twisted mind narrating each song projects, instilling sense and rationale for its malicious universe.
The rip-roaring tremolo riff in “Some Things Should be Left Alone” displays the evolution well as the band showcases its incredible talents in spurts between meditative and sensible stomps into the death metal pit. “The Warmth Within the Dark” is the catchiest song on this album with a most melodic moment when a riff rises in an almost metalcore fashion, dancing its way across a long looping bridge that crumbles beneath the weight of the ensemble's backlash against such an out-of-place moment of hope. Suffocation betrays to its listener how conscious and dulcet its music is within immense, brash, and frantic structures. The calm of “Caught Between Two Worlds” is as delicate as it is intense when delirious guitars start screaming against the percussive weight tumbling down upon them. The bass comes through beautifully in the re-recording of “Epitaph of the Credulous”, rounding the album out with an homage to the lesser-known album “Breeding the Spawn”.
As Suffocation has been reminding its audience of the 1993 album on every new album since 2006, with “Prelude to Repulsion” appearing on the self-titled album, “Marital Decimation” on “Blood Oath”, and “Beginning of Sorrow” on “Pinnacle of Bedlam”, these re-recordings show how much the band's sound has changed from its bouncier beat-'em-up template in 1993 to the uncompromising assaults that this 2017 iteration offers. The little bits of personality found throughout the masonry of such imposing musical constructs keep this album fresh. An upward driving scale in “Some Things Should Be Left Alone”, a sitar-sounding riff adorning “Return to the Abyss”, and an extra tier to a by-the-numbers breakdown in “Your Last Breaths” enhance the multi-dimensional approach that Suffocation used to make a name for itself. “. . . Of the Dark Light” is no “Pierced from Within”. Rather than shove its every fluctuation down the listener's throat, there is a nuance to this album that can easily go unnoticed in the first listens, something that shows its fury as one that burns for longer, not to be taken lightly, for each assault is coldly calculated, premeditated. While the lyrics are doomed to their confinement, the sophisticated exploration of the guitars, like a British expedition into the untamed heart of darkness, show a smarter and faster band, versatile enough to endure a drastic lineup change and still succeed. Listening to Suffocation is like attending Hell's opera. The masquerade is a refinement of tone within a frantic and chaotic tableau. Each intensely crafted scene has an air of improvisation while simultaneously featuring tightly-crafted choreography, displaying exceptional musicianship and a professionally cultured finishing, betrayed only by the casual cursory first glance that seems base and barbaric.
Suffocation has been around the bend throughout the outfit's twenty-nine year history and has consistently come out on top delivering an impactful sound, even as its members' passions may have fluctuated. As one of the originals of its day this band still creates the signature churn of complex sounds that metalheads have grown to love, a rare cacophony that has inspired death metal offshoots that explore and expound upon certain moments of Suffocation songs in order to write their own full albums. Being a fan of Suffocation is a privilege, exploring its music is a joy, and having the chance to do the band some justice through a fan's words is something that I see as a necessary homage to this all-powerful pioneering group. “. . . Of the Dark Light” is no “Pierced from Within”, it is a maturation bred of those fundamental days and an expansion of the band's instrumental path, ever seeking excellence and without such smug satisfaction in itself that the chase is ever done. Suffocation has soldiered on since the 1990s to corrupt any sense of propriety in favor of indulging our most basic human desire, murder. Death can deal with its namesake, Akercocke can have all the sex it wants, but Suffocation has always explored the why and how while innovating a direction so obtuse and multi-faceted that new techniques had to be invented in order to achieve these ambitions.
BastardHead on June 10th, 2017
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.
Originally written for Lair of the Bastard