By Greg Pratt
It's not like New York death metal vets SUFFOCATION ever drop an album that is full of surprises or left-field noggin-scratchers, but, still, spinning Pinnacle Of Bedlam, their new disc, one is filled with a sense of relief that the brutality remains. Like we say, not that it ever went anywhere, but it's like when you wake up in the morning and count your digits to make sure they're all still there... it's a relief. You want a Suffocation album to be mind-numbingly brutal, and mind-numbingly brutal Pinnacle Of Bedlam is.
"I'm extremely happy with it," says bassist Derek Boyer. "It's a point of pride: you work really hard and then you just hope that you don't get shortchanged in any aspect of it. We put together the really cool arrangements and then we go, 'Okay, now we need to get a really good performance and also a really good production.' There's overproducing out there. We're a live band, we're really just trying to not do the weird trickery in the studio. If you don't like it, play it again. Don't sit there and move it all around until you're blue in the face. But yeah, we're really happy, man."
Boyer says that this is his favourite Suffocation album since the band reunited in 2003 after breaking up in 1998 (the band continues to go strong, although legendary vocalist Frank Mullen will be stepping down from some of the band's touring in the future, with DECREPIT BIRTH'S Bill Robinson filling in; Mullen remains completely committed to the band despite this). Boyer says his favourite Suffocation albums are 1991's Effigy Of The Forgotten, 1995's Pierced From Within, and 1998's Despise The Sun EP, and he feels the new one takes from all of those.
"To hold up to that standard, we wanted to write the music with the twists and the unique characteristics like Pierced, and with [returning drummer Dave] Culross in the band we can do all the grinding and bombing like the Despise the Sun EP, so for me it's a combination of my favourite records all wrapped up in a new package."
Interesting that Boyer mentions the Despise The Sun EP, as that one always stood out to me as being particularly unique in the band's catalogue. It flew under the radar due to being on a small label (Vulture) but, apart from having the debut of Culross behind the kit, it features some of the band's best work. Definitely a fave for me.
"Me too," says Boyer. "Me too. It's super aggressive, I love it. You can write Breeding The Spawn where there's 40 riffs per song, but Despise The Sun, the songs have like six riffs in each song, and the use of arrangements, if you can arrange really tasteful rhythms, you don't need a million riffs. So we were trying to keep it like less is more, there's going to be twists and everything, but we wanted to keep the songs fun. We didn't want it to be a lesson. I do like a lot of technical death metal bands, but when there's 40 fucking riffs in a song, that doesn't necessarily make the song better, so focus on the arrangement."
And as for getting Culross back on the drums, Boyer is nothing but super enthusiastic, saying it's "awesome" and raving about Culross all around.
"He's really just a laid-back, chill guy, super fun and easy to work with, not afraid to just tear it up," he says. "When we're writing new stuff, it's like, 'Hey Dave, you want to bomb on this?' And he says, 'Fuck yeah.' A lot of the time he knew what he wanted to do but also he was flexible enough that when we said, 'Hey Dave, what would you think about doing something like this style over this section?' And he's be very receptive. He's a team player: he doesn't want it to be the Dave Culross show, he wants it to be a really good Suffocation song. He doesn't like to overplay."
One final order of business before we let Boyer back into his freezing cold New York day (when we talked to him, he was at guitarist Terrance Hobb's place, but there was no reception inside so he had to go outside and sit in his car): deathcore. A genre that's popped up in recent years taking hardcore, death metal, and an exhausting amount of breakdowns and mixing it all together, Suffocation are often credited for starting it, or at least inspiring its germination with their breakdown-laden death metal. Well, credited or blamed, depending on who you're asking.
"Ultimately, it's flattering to think that other musicians take what they like from other bands," says Boyer. "We all do it; if it weren't for Slayer and Black Sabbath, we probably wouldn't be playing aggressive, dark-sounding music. It's a great feeling to think there's probably a whole genre that took what they like from Suffocation. Definitely the deathcore stuff sometimes is monotonous, I think they misinterpreted what we were going for, but they spun what they thought, a different variation of it. It's cool, it's flattering, but at the same time, sometimes it's like, 'Yikes, these guys, they thought that's what the goal was? They lost sight of it.' But, hey, it's still cool."
More on Suffocation here.