"Pinnacle of Bedlam"

By Thor

When I was 15 years old a friend and I called into a radio station trying to win an audio cassette of Suffocation’s “Human Waste”. Winning that tape was a feat because I never win anything. But I did that day.  I also became a Suffocation fan, adding yet another band to my small-but-budding extreme music arsenal. The genre, along with my collection of music has grown exponentially over the decades, and through their numerous lineup changes and hiatuses over the past 22 years, Suffocation has remained a staple of my musical diet.That’s why I’m happy to proclaim that Suffocation’s latest release, “Pinnacle of Bedlam” is arguably the finest album in their catalog.

Ok, so now that some of you are rolling your eyes and getting ready to dismiss this review, let me get this out of the way: I’m not fond of hyperbole either. As a critic of several types of media, I believe strongly that no work is all good or all bad. All albums have things that are done well and things that are done poorly. And while the ratio of good-to-bad is what separates a positive review from a negative one, I view it as my duty to describe these works truthfully and let you all decide whether or not you want to spend your hard-earned money. Having said that, and as loathe as I am to admit it, I can’t think of a single criticism to write about “Pinnacle of Bedlam”.

The album is 10 tracks of very well balanced death metal. There are equal parts melody and brutality, speed and groove. Where past Suffocation albums have emphasized too much of one flavor and not enough of another, or there were lapses in production, “Pinnacle of Bedlam” is a quintessential Suffocation album, but one that’s conceived, executed, and produced as well as possible.
And it’s not as if the band has achieved this by adding new style elements or by emulating another band’s shtick. In fact the only thing different here from the past decade’s worth of Suffocation output is that Dave Culross is back on drums in place of original drummer Mike Smith. It just seems like the planets were aligned on this one, offering the metal gods a brilliant collection of vintage tech-death, wherein the ambitious compositions are a means to achieve really incredible songs, rather than the standard musician circle jerk. The result is a dark and aggressive symphony of unique songs.

There’s not a single boring passage on the album and that may be the rarest attribute of all. “Pinnacle of Bedlam” is compelling throughout, from the opening blasts of “Cycles of Suffering” and the hardcore-punk-infused grind of “Eminent Wrath” and “As Grace Descends”, to the acoustic melancholy intro of “Sullen Days” that quickly gives way to a devastating groove. As the album progresses the intensity ratchets upward with the brutal palm-muted slams and d-beat tradeoffs of “My Demise” and the marching pseudo-shuffle riffs laid over blistering double bass in “Rapture of Revocation”. Then we’re mercilessly left smoldering in a heap by the emphatic, hyper-guttural finale of “Beginning of Sorrow”. All of this is highlighted by outstanding, emotive guitar solos and top-level drumming throughout. And this is arguably vocalist Frank Mullens’ tightest album performance.

After years of evaluating this stuff, it’s both common and tiresome when bands start to repeat themselves, or emulate each other and things start to sound predicable and the same. So it’s easy to get cynical and a bit disillusioned. However, nothing’s more rewarding than having those frustrations shattered by an album that exceeds expectations in every conceivable way. When that happens it’s akin to charging my batteries or getting new ones all together. It reinvigorates my passion for this type of music by reminding me how amazing it can be. This album is one of those all-too-rare instances of a swift kick in the ass. Needless to say, I strongly recommend Suffocation’s “Pinnacle of Bedlam” to anyone who has an appetite for brutal and brilliant metal.