Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten – Pierced From Within – Review


Effigy of the Forgotten/Pierced From Within (Roadrunner)
by Tim Den

If death metal was a big fat steak, bands like Nile and Hate Eternal would be but light bites on the side of the juicy meat… unlike Suffocation, whose buffet production and overwhelming technicality were always giant chomps out of the fucking thing. I know that’s a silly way to describe the power and presence of a death metal band, but I swear, you’ll find the metaphor fitting as soon as Effigy of the Forgotten (’91) explodes in your face. Even at their very beginning (discounting the debut EP Human Waste), Suffocation sounded beefier, hungrier, meaner, and more chaotic than their contemporaries. Here was a band that reached toward the heavens with countless finger-knotting grinds, shreds, chugs, and solos, yet were able to make the maddening frenzy lower and more gutteral than most.

To this day, Effigy of the Forgotten feels like a storm of dead bodies bombarding a city: The fractures caused by the immense weight falling upon the masses simply awe-inspiring. Riffs zooming across the horizon like lasers, augmented by impeccably-timed cymbal accents and palm mutes… almost as if the band wrote a new riff for every drum fill. That’s a lot of fucking riffs. Which is even more impressive when you hear how well everything moves together: Like a tightrope-walking acrobat balancing effortlessly up on high while doing the sickest flips you’ve ever seen. There’s grace, precision, visceral impact, brutality, and – again – a stomach-filling sensation that resonates meatiness. When the breakdown of “Liege of Inveracity” drags its 1000-pound carcass into the aural void – like it did onstage at the 2003 New England Metal and Hardcore Festival – there’s simply no denying that this is as good as death metal gets (and, in the case of the aforementioned fest, receives nothing less than the most violent of reactions).

After Effigy of the Forgotten sent shockwaves through the underground, the band recruited new bassist Chris Richards for the underrated follow-up Breeding the Spawn (sadly skipped over by the Roadrunner Reissue Board. Okay, so the production wasn’t the greatest, but the songs were just as amazing!). By Pierced From Within (’95), original drummer Mike Smith had left as well, ushering in newboy Doug Bohn. And although Bohn came from the hardcore scene and had to grow into the “Suffocation sound,” Pierced From Within is arguably the band’s most seasoned output. Granted, it took me almost two years to wrap my head around its “million riffs” approach to composing, but once you realize the shape-shifting nature of the riffs, you’re just floored by the massive scale and vision of the thing. Every measure seemingly changes into something different than the next, as if they are snakes shedding skin every five seconds. Accompany that with a different drum beat for every change. You can only imagine how much happens inside Pierced From Within. And the scariest thing isn’t that the band actually memorized and executed all the changes, it’s that they played ’em fluidly and crushingly, embraced every contour, and blasted your face into oblivion with every note.

Unfortunately, Pierced From Within arrived at the height of death metal’s decline, which meant it passed almost unnoticed. The band would replace Bohn with drum whore Dave Culross for Despise the Sun (’98; a slab of unrelenting death metal artistry), finally finding the perfect drummer for their sound… but it was too late. The realities of “getting steady jobs” and financial burdens had set in, and the loss of vocalist Frank Mullen signaled the end of the band (one of the Internal Bleeding vocalists filled in for a while, to no avail).

That is, until the reunion earlier this year. Gathering the original line-up minus guitarist Doug Cerrito (ex-Internal Bleeding dude Guy Marchais in his place, much to some purists’ chargin), Suffocation were welcomed back with defeaning enthusiasm this year at several festivals. Having personally witnessed the band in ’03 and read reviews of their other recent performances, it’s actually quite ironic how the band is one of the most hyped names in the underground right now. Maybe the time has finally come for these influential giants to get their due. With a new deal in tow and a new album scheduled for release next year (on Relapse), I – along with countless others – are thanking the almighty dark forces for bringing back one of the genre’s best. If the new song (“Deception”) that the band unveiled this year at certain shows is any indication, Suffocation are not about to ruin their perfect track record any time soon.
(902 Broadway New York, NY 10010)