Suffocation - BLOOD OATH

New York death metallers Suffocation have been grinding the axe for awhile now. Their latest offering, Blood Oath, won’t surprise any of the band’s devout followers, but when it comes to brutal, speaker-blowing metal, is that such a bad thing? Normally, bands are encouraged to evolve, but as we all know, it’s hard to fix something that isn’t broken.

Since reforming in 2002, Suffocation has done the unthinkable – they have written music that is just as noteworthy as the watershed releases that put them on the map. This is a rarity amongst the elder statesmen of heavy metal. Most “reunion” albums don’t live up to the hype. However, 2004’s Souls to Deny proved that Suffocation were a relevant force to be reckoned with. The follow-up – an eponymous long player – was even stronger. With Blood Oath, the band drives the point home that they are anything but a nostalgia act.

Everything you could possibly need from a Suffocation album is present. We get bottom-heavy breakdowns (the real kind; none of that deathcore nonsense), intricate guitar runs, impossibly tight drumming, and throat-slitting vocals courtesy of Frank Mullen. Just when you think these guys have run out of cool riffs and seismic grooves, a song like “Come Hell or High Priest” comes out of nowhere and demands your attention.

The standouts are “Dismal Dream,” “Images of Purgatory,” “Cataclysmic Purification,” and the aforementioned “Priest.” Overall, the songs are punchier than on the self-titled disc. Shorter, more explosive, catchier even…my only gripe is that each battle hymn centers around the same lurching tempo. I realize that Suffocation is known for sludgy numbers, but Blood Oath could use a little more variety.

Joe Cincotta’s production puts the guitars at the front of the mix. You can hear every instrument, but things never get too polished. Mike Smith goes nuts behind the kit. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite drummers on the planet. For some reason, the double bass has a trigger-y feel to it, which I can’t say that I care for. Maybe it was intentional. I don’t know, but it sounds out of place on an old-school death metal album. That’s just my opinion.

I must take a moment to extol the packaging. The artwork (as rendered by Jon Zig) is extraordinary. I ordered the super-duper version, which sports a red jewel case. It totally rules and stuff. I miss the days of hand-crafted album covers. Shoddy Photoshop jobs are all the rage, so it’s refreshing whenever a great album is adorned with a true piece of art. And…that’s all I have to say on the subject. Blood Oath is a contender for Metal Album of the Year, although the competition is stiff. I can’t wait to hear some of these new ditties in a live setting.

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