Suffocation – Pinnacle Of Bedlam

By Andrew Bansal

New York death metal legends Suffocation have been around since 1988, and in their early years they released some highly influential albums such as ‘Effigy Of The Forgotten’ (1991), ‘Breeding The Spawn’ (1993) and ‘Pierced From Within’ (1995). They disbanded for a period after that, and reformed in 2003. The subsequent releases had all the elements the band was earlier known for, but in addition there was an increased focus on the technical aspect of the musicianship. The latest album ‘Blood Oath’ was released in 2009, and now the band is ready with their seventh studio album ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’, released February 15th in Europe and set to release on February 19th in North America via Nuclear Blast Records. This album features the return of drummer Dave Culross who was briefly in the band in the late 90’s, but more than anything, I was looking forward to see which musical direction the band had taken on this set of tunes.

The opening tune ‘Cycles Of Suffering’ is not so much brutal as it is downcast with the thick, down-tuned guitar riffs, and the lead guitar parts are very typical of what you would expect from a technical death metal band. The rhythm section is pretty solid and Frank Mullen’s vocals are as strong as ever, but they aren’t as overpowering as perhaps in the live setting, purely because of the mix which is dominated by the guitar sound. This is a good indicator of what to expect from the rest of the album, because more or less the same formula is used throughout.

With its varying patterns, ‘Purgatorial Punishment’ is a bit more progressive, which makes it more interesting, at least for me. All five members have expressed themselves excellently on this tune, and it has a higher repeat value than most other tracks on this album. The next two tracks ‘Eminent Wrath’ and ‘As Grace Descends’ are both high on blistering guitar solos and relentless double-bass drums, which would suit fans of fast, heavy technical death metal absolutely fine.

‘Sullen Days’ provides a welcome break in tempo with its clean, melancholic guitar intro leading into a slow but crushing tune dominated by Frank Mullen’s vocals and the rhythm section, and then ends with more clean guitar. So this is another favorite track of mine as far as this album is concerned. The title track also boasts of some enjoyable clean guitar solos and arrangements placed intricately around the heavier elements that give the tune the technical brutality you’d expect from a band like Suffocation.

But from that point onwards, the album doesn’t exactly offer anything new or different, and stays on the same path. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re an ardent listener of technical extreme metal or already a huge fan of Suffocation, but if you’re neither, there isn’t enough here to keep your attention throughout, despite the shortish 38-minute duration. Don’t get me wrong though, because when judged on a track-by-track basis, all ten compositions are extremely solid pieces of heavy music, without a doubt. Perhaps besides ‘Purgatorial Punishment’, ‘Sullen Days’ and the title track ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’, to me the album doesn’t have anything truly memorable or outstanding, but overall the album is very, very consistent and is worth the purchase for all fans of extreme metal.

With this album, I just get a feeling Suffocation have stayed on the safe side in terms of the songwriting, the production, mixing, and pretty much every other aspect involved. For the most part, the music is more technical than ‘extreme’. I wish they were a bit more assertive and adventurous with this product given their stature in the genre, but I can completely understand why they weren’t. With that said, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Pinnacle Of Bedlam is yet another worthwhile release from the mighty Suffocation, who have delivered the goods as always. A solid effort!

Rating: 7.5/10

Related: Suffocation Bassist Derek Boyer Discusses New Album, Stage Moves & More

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Release Dates:
February 15th 2013 (Europe)
February 19th 2013 (US)

Track Listing:
01. Cycles Of Suffering
02. Purgatorial Punishment
03. Eminent Wrath
04. As Grace Descends
05. Sullen Days
06. Pinnacle Of Bedlam
07. My Demise
08. Inversion
09. Rapture Of Revocation
10. Beginning Of Sorrow