Suffocation entered the studio last weekend to start recording their new album. Hopefully it will be better than Pinnacle of Bedlam and the drum tracks will not be EZdrummer samples. After their comeback, the Long Island brutal death metal legends have notoriously rehashed their past riffs with new melodic fills in simpler speed metal structures.
The line up to 2016’s returning Summer Slaughter Tour has just been announced.
Back in November, Suffocation played a few concerts in the United States. This April and May, they’ll be following up on that by supporting the nu-metal gone generic modern metal band Soulfly alongside some other bands that I’m entirely unfamiliar with, but suspect would get poor reviews from the DLA just going by precedent alone. This is definitely a more comprehensive tour than the last, although a decent chunk of the United States is being left out. The lineup also reminds me of the last tour I announced/advertised on DMU – you’ll have to decide whether or not the other bands are worth sitting through for a chance to see Suffocation.
Suffocation has taken a previously scheduled show at Housecore Horror Festival III and apparently expanded it into a short tour. Not a great deal of notice for possible fans, but this gives fans of Suffocation throughout the USA (but mostly the southern parts) a few chances to see the band perform. There probably hasn’t been enough time since the band semi-officially announced an upcoming studio album for them to actually perform any new tracks, but you never know. As usual, the balance of formative early work and less powerful later work may vary throughout the tour, so be ready for the possibility of either should you choose to see Suffocation in concert.
Interview video sourced from Metal Wani
The legacy of Suffocation continues, at least in some form, as the band is currently writing material for a new album, possibly to come out some time in 2016 if all goes well. Suffocation’s recent works have lacked the strong organization of their 1990s peak, and it seems unlikely that this one will be a significant improvement. However, a fiscally successful album release may lead to a new cycle of touring, and possibly a chance for our readers to see the band perform some of their old classics in a live setting. An actual review of the as-of-yet unnamed album will probably show up on this site closer to its release date.
The title track of Suffocation’s third LP is a very interesting subject of analysis (as much as other excellent songs such as “Depths of Depravity”, “Suspended In Tribulation” or “Brood Of Hatred” from the same album could be) because it is a great example of recurrent motives reused in multiple different forms, of riff (musical ideas) progression and of narrative structure that ends with a climax and a release that brings a satisfying conclusion. The first step before going further is understanding how each idea of this song is crafted around the very simple and overused concept of two intervals a half step away from each other. The song is rather chromatic and has to be looked at with this idea in head.
In this case, as I will (try to) demonstrate, the most important interval is the major third, and then the perfect fifths/fourths. From this basis we can establish five constant elements that will be identified throughout the whole analysis.
- Element “a” is the collection of pitches that represent the major third intervals. Suffocation plays a lot with those intervals to create new motives and harmonies. It could also be considered as part of a harmonic minor scale (the last 3 degrees and the tonic).
- Same thing applies to element “b” but with the intervals of perfect fifths (and thus fourths), although the relation between the chromatic 5ths/4ths will gain another larger dimension sometimes.
- Element “c” is a diminished chord, something we will encounter frequently (Suffocation also uses frequently tritones and augmented fifth chords, especially in the Breeding The Spawn LP).
- Element “d” is a precise motive (and not collection) that finds meaning during the development of the song.
- Element “e” is just an ascending 3-notes chromatic scale that is used many times to partially conclude motives and phrases. It is of secondary importance.
I am not claiming that Suffocation used those leitmotifs very carefully and consciously like a classical composer would have, but my point is rather to show how, despite the lack of tonal material in the song “Pierced From Within”, unity was achieved between all components and how it creates a great song, structurally.
*From now on all the examples are in the F-clef*
The song starts with a long phrase at a fast tempo (riff 1) that is twice repeated. As shown in the score below, it is a mix of power chords and fast, technical strumming. We can see many manifestations of “a” as well as the repetition of rhythmic cells to create coherence. With its additional time, the last bar helps to generate an effect of oddness and temporal confusion through a more simple and effective way than modern bands trying over-technical rhythms and time signatures. This technique is used a few times in the song as you will see. Some have written the 3/4 as 12/8 but I prefer the former to adequately show rhythmic accents.
Riff 1 is followed by a short bridge made of an arpeggiated diminished chord (element c) and an augmented fifth chord (constructed upon two major thirds, suggesting “element a”).
From this long and complex riff, the music moves on to a generic “br00tal” verse (riff 2) where the vocals enter. However, it still manages to rhythmically catch interest due to the triplets at the end of the phrases.
Suffocation used different basic textures (tremolo, then muted power chords) to make both verses different while keeping the same harmonic outline, but this is not much of a big deal since the difference is not very flagrant:
Between the two verses appears riff 3(a), an intricate “melody” which marks a break for the vocals. This interlude introduces Suffocation’s technique of creating long musical phrases by the juxtaposition of motives that share different conclusions, yet constructed with the same material, as explained below. In addition of this, the different parts of the whole riff shift between “tonalities” or “regions”; where in the first bar the notes revolve around a certain fifth chord, in the next bar this fifth chord will be a semitone lower, hence the “larger” utilisation made of “element b” versus “a”. This is a very common (and cheap) way to make your material sound less repetitive when you are a bad and unoriginal death metal band, but in this song it becomes justified by the fact that the underlying concept of this technique is also used within a single part of a riff (and not only between parts) as the basis to craft multiple different melodic elements (just like the beginning of each bar in riff 3).
Right after our second verse, the song returns to the riff 3, but only for one bar because Suffocation shifts to a complete variation of it. While all the verses and riff 3a were written in 4/4, Suffocation adds another 4/4 bar after this first one (of riff 3b) and with the help of a drum fill switches to 6/8, once again destabilizing the listener. The ideas of riff 3a are then developed under groups of 6 sixteenth notes and constitute an even more intricate melody. Descending and ascending power chords bring us to an atonal cascade of notes which contains, of course, our previously identified elements rearranged in many ways. Mike Smith contributes to this by adding a lot of unexpected snare accents. Once again, Suffocation added a beat to the last bar to create the same effect as riff 1, but this time it is silent. This stop-start technique will be used a few times and is now an overused element of many technical bands. As usual, the whole riff is repeated with changes at the end to form a different and better transition.
Fun fact: the total of eighth notes comprised within the repetition marks of the riff is 47, a prime number, which proves the total irregularity of the “melody”.
Riff 3b, containing less literal repetition, brings us to what I called a “development”, because it is a short section of unique bars. Bar 1 and 4 are similar in concept, and the latter builds tension according to the former that will be released with another break and two violent snare hits. Between this, bar 2 and 3 offer chaotic rhythm where low palm muted chords meet high pitched tremolo notes and artificial harmonics. Notice that bar 1 uses what could be identified as harmonic minor scales, and thus suggesting our “element c” of diminished chords.
After this, riff 4 comes in as the powerful and savage release of the tension with its unmerciful tremolo phrases. You can see once again the technique of using different conclusions to the motive that starts each bar. On second repeat, the riff stays almost the same but emphasis is put on the phrases’ end with the removal of all instruments but one guitar to play the first beats of each bar, and with the addition of power chords on “conclusions”. The interesting element is right at the end of the riff: element d is heard very fast both times with both techniques. Then, again, the song stops and is followed by a slow, apocalyptic moment.
Breakdown and return
This moment is what I called (more or less rightfully) the “breakdown”. Now here is the trick: the first phrase of this section is exactly the same “element d” that concluded riff 4 but played way slower with power chords. Suffocation plays once again with textures and creates different accents with the use of palm mutes. And for another time, the last bar of the riff has an additional beat for your daily dose of rhythmic anarchy (or nihilism, as would say a controversial metal reviewer). This last bar present a rising chromatic phrase that we can interpret as developing “element d” and that presents a new 4-notes collection than in the first two bars. If you take those 2 pitches collections, you can notice that they are a major third away from each other (element a). I am not saying this was intentional or not, but I try to point out (coincidental?) links between all parts of the song.
The slow breakdown leads us to a sudden fast solo. I won’t analyze it here, but you can find a lot of “scales” constructed with “element a”. Listen also how the guitar sometimes melts with the triplets of riff 2.
The song returns to riff 3a, and then instead of continuing with riff 3b moves on to a new variation of the idea, riff 3c. This time, the riff takes a more urgent turn and creates the final tension, while Mullen cries the last lyrics: “I am your savior/Shapeless to your perception/For I am you/Pierced from within”. You can see how some melodic elements are now harmonized with major thirds. As usual, the second phrase (bars 3-4) uses a different conclusion.
After a repetition with a new ending, this rising tension is interrupted by a suspended chord that brings us to riff 1, played once. The song concludes abruptly before the end of the riff while the last words, “Pierced from within”, are repeated on the last four power chords. I did not talk much about vocals’ rhythm but it is cleverly constructed to fit the different parts of the song, and I am personally fond of how the lyrics are arranged in riff 3b.
As I said earlier, this approach might be over-technical and exaggerated, but the important thing for the reader is to at least understand how the song is well-crafted on every aspect and not entirely a sequence of random ideas. An analysis of a less technical song that contains great development would provide a good counterbalance to this article. Something out of Cianide’s The Dying Truth comes to my mind.
It is sad to think that after this album, Suffocation would never come up with anything on par with their previous material, because they certainly had to potential to improve and create new highly artistic pieces of aggressive and intelligent death metal. I still think their recent (post-reunion) albums are getting better each time and Pinnacle Of Bedlam, despite a terrible production, showed promising signs of great songwriting even though they apparently opted for a more tonal and melodic modern metal-like approach.
Like many of our American readers, the Hessians around here will be sitting down to eat a huge meal tomorrow and then unceremoniously lose consciousness in a tryptophan coma before rallying for dessert and shooting guns at the moon. But before we can eat, we must cook, which leads to the topic of metal for cooking.
Unlike the average musical genre, heavy metal is very easy to do but very hard to do well. Maybe one in a thousand bands are worth hearing for more than a week, and one in ten of those worth buying. But some albums adapt more than others to playing in the background while a Hessian cooks.
The following are the suggestions endorsed not only for you, but that will be playing in our house as the feast is prepared.
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Metallica took the mixture of heavy metal and hard rock with punk spirit that was NWOBHM and re-hybridized it with a new generation of punk. These hardcore punk bands used maximum distortion and as a result could get a chopppy abrasive sound out of their guitars. Metallica applied to this the muted strum technique that other bands used periodically and created from it a genre that used guitars as explosive percussion instruments. Kill ‘Em All uses the classic melodic riffs of NWOBHM, the open chords of an adventurous metal band, and the new speed metal riff style to make an album of high energy and relentless impact. While it sounds ancient now, most ancient things are good, because if it has survived this long, it has more going for it than the flash-in-the-pan stuff that pops up a dime a dozen anytime someone thinks a shekel or dinar can be made from them. The first Metallica album still compels but in the simple-hearted way that teenage ambition wants to conquer and/or destroy the world, but would settle for just raising hell and then passing out early.
Mixes well with: Iron Maiden, Exodus, Cathedral and Godflesh.
Misfits – Static Age
Glenn Danzig reinvented music three times, at least. He started out composing melodic punk music that injected a sense of emotion into a genre that was otherwise close to droning refusal to conform, then turned down a metal path with Samhain and then modified that path to include a bluesy Doors-style hard rock in the mix with Danzig. Having had his fill of music for people who need a constant beat, he turned to soundtrack music but gave it a metal flair, coming out with Black Aria in 1992 and presaging the neofolk and dark ambient movements. Lately he has thrown southern rock into his metal mix but he continues to forge into paths that others did not see before him. On this early Misfits album, Danzig writes songs filled with longing, like a spirit soaring over a world composed of a daylight layer of pleasant lies and a nocturnal substrate of grim violence and bitter alienation. The result is one of the most Romantic statements to come out of punk, but it also produces the perfect environment for churning out turkey, stuffing and sweet potato mash.
Mixes well with: Cro-Mags, Repulsion, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Suicidal Tendencies.
Suffocation – Breeding the Spawn
How do you exceed the standard set by an album like Effigy of the Forgotten? Suffocation launched into their second record with large ideas that did not quite form into song, but it came together quickly enough and then ran out of time, plus had a production style that was less nuclear than the previous album. Nonetheless some of the best material from this innovative band, who took the percussive strumming of speed metal and worked it into death metal songs with complex jazz-inspired rhythms, appeared on the second album. This exploratory work sets the perfect mood for fudging your way through that recipe for cranberry sauce that you sort of remember from when Aunt Griselda made it fourteen years ago. It also satiates the palate that craves metal which is willing to throw aside everything that “works” and leap into the great unknown with the intent to reinvent metal as we know it.
Mixes well with: King Crimson, Bathory and Celtic Frost.
Deicide – Once Upon the Cross
After exhausting their artistic energy with the legendary Legion, Deicide had to re-invent themselves as individuals and as a band in order to crank out this release. Written (rumor has it) primarily by drummer Steve Asheim, this album takes a look over past Deicide and strips it down to what it does best: rhythm, structure and even the occasional hint of melody. These songs muscle along with intense power and high energy and make for the perfect kitchen companion to those recipes which require slashing meat, smashing tubers and bashing berries. Not only that, but if you are experiencing guilt for having invited the mother-in-law over even though she is a Jehovah’s Witness, never fear! You will pay back any debt incurred to the gods of blasphemy with the absolute livid hatred of Jesus, Christians, God and the Bible that pulses through this album like the raging heart-rate of a murder suspect pursued by police helicopters through Ferguson, MO. Not only that, but if you are worried about people “backseat driving” during your cooking and they happen to be Christian, this album will guarantee you the kitchen to yourself.
Mixes well with: David Myatt, Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson. Actually, anything… or nothing.
…and the best for last…
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
There are no bad albums that make good albums to cook with, but there are albums which are bad albums to cook with despite being good albums. In addition to being the best of the King Diamond/Mercyful Fate oeuvre, Don’t Break the Oath represents the furthest into technical speed metal with the least amount of overdone musicality or theatrics. King Diamond and his team achieve the perfect balance of his Alice Cooper dramatics, the guitar pyrotechnics of Hank Sherman and Michael Denner, and the mainstay of this band which has always been their ability to write a song with dramatic changes and hints of melodic but a consistent ability to hit hard and with a sense of grandeur and mystery that is essential to any darkside metal. In particular, the rhythms of this album work really well with sword training, bear wrestling and cooking for the traditional highly critical American extended family. Crush eggs, beat flour, and pulverize tissue to this classic of speed metal with an edge of the dark occult side which gives metal its mystique and aura of the mythological. Not only does the music provide power, but the album as a whole provides a landscape that roughly fits the panicked improvisation at the heart of any good holiday meal.
Mixes well with: Metallica, Slayer, and the tears of your enemies or entrees.