It's always difficult to review the latest album from a legendary band, especially when they don't fall into your realm of expertise. Death metal has never been my thing, and even in my brief escapades into the genre, Suffocation never crossed my path. Of course, I know of Suffocation, I just can't speak with any authority as to their status or stature. It's with that in mind that I find myself hesitant talking about this new album, because I'm not sure how much their reputation in death metal circles has influenced me. It won't, nor could it, persuade me to like something I don't, or to hold back from criticizing things I think need to be mentioned. But I do wonder if I'm more inclined to give the band the benefit of the doubt on a questionable choice, or if I expect more from a band with the kind of reputation they have. After listening, I'm not sure I can answer that.
“Cycles Of Suffering” isn't the most inviting way to open the record, blasting straight from silence into the immediate swarm of sounds trying their best to pound me into submission. A few seconds to steady myself would have been welcome, but I suspect that's the exact reason for the abrupt onset. Once the surprise wears off, what settles in is a well-honed bit of technical death metal, the kind of rapid guitar fireworks that impress even those of us who know a thing or two about the instrument, but put together in a way that shows care for the song. It's still wild and brutal, but it's not four solid minutes of technical excess. The intricate playing sets up the moments when things simplify just enough, and when a hint of groove shines through. It's an element that's often missing from this kind of music, and a very encouraging start.
What becomes clear as you get deeper into the album is that Suffocation is not one of those bands propped up by guitar nerds looking for a more palatable setting to show off their skills. Not to name names, but there are plenty of bands out there that are really instrumental bands in the guise of whichever subgenre they've chosen to use for publicity. Suffocation, on the other hand, is a death metal band through and through. They use all the trappings to enhance the songs, painting a coat of technicality over the framework of bare-bones death metal.
When the two chord chorus in “Eminent Wrath” comes along, it's exactly the kind of brain-dead simplicity that was needed, coming down like a ton of bricks, while still hitting that spot that needs a hook every once in a while. They're the types of moments you don't realize you need until they come along, and “Pinnacle Of Bedlam” has just enough of them to keep you from wondering if and when the next respite will come.
The longest such moment, and my personal favorite, is the entirety of “My Demise”, a slower song that is four minutes of grinding heaviness that plods along at a crushing pace. Matched against the rest of the album, it stands out as something different, and the little bit of variety gives the album new life. Otherwise, the blasts of speed and relentless drumming the fill the rest of the songs would become tiresome, and the impact would be deadened.
All in all, “Pinnacle Of Bedlam” is one of those albums that earns a split decision from me. It's not the type of music I prefer, and I'm sure I'm not going to find myself with an itch to listen to it very often, but that doesn't deny what it is. While not my thing, I can recognize the skill evident throughout the record, and admire Suffocation's ability to craft cacophonous noise into such realized songs. If I were more of a death metal aficionado, I would be all over “Pinnacle Of Bedlam”. If you're one, you should be.