There are very few bands in all of existence that possess anything close to the musical prowess of Suffocation. From the moment that I first heard Effigy Of The Forgotten, I knew I had come across some of the true masters of death metal. Never before had I heard such intense, perfectly timed, all-over-the-place drumming. The guitars were dirty, discordant, and reeked of brutal groove. As soon as I had been turned on to them, Suffocation changed my opinion of brutal death metal forever. While Blood Oath is not their strongest record, this New York 5-piece still manages to show that, even after 20 years, Suffocation is an aural assault that is not to be reckoned with.
Like any other Suffocation record, Blood Oath is practically the soundtrack to perdition. It’s definitely not the catchiest song in their resume, nor on this album, but the title and opening track successfully paints a picture of what brutal death metal should sound like. The machine gun double-bass of Mike Smith is as unrelenting as ever, and the Terrence Hobbs guitar attack is the same amazing blitzkrieg of tremolo picking and complicatedly fast palm mutes that I so fondly remember. The overall change-ups are as lightning quick and as masterfully executed as ever. The problem with the song “Blood Oath” is that it lacks the trademark Suffocation brutal groove, so I actually started out moderately skeptical if my favorite death metal band had started to lose it.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that there was nothing to fear, as “Dismal Dream”, the second track, shows off some of the chops that make Suffocation irresistible to sit still through. From here on out, the tastiness intensifies with every song. “Pray For Forgiveness” has beautifully discordant climbing riffs in the verses, and the tempo changes lead one to wonder whether or not Mike Smith actually has three hands or not. To a long-time Suffocation fan, “Images Of Purgatory” is really the first song on the album to punch you square in the face and demand every synaptic flare of your attention. It doesn’t happen immediately, but around 1:25 into the song you hear the first real death metal breakdown of the album, and no one does them as well as these guys do. The strictly-deathcore kids may not fully get it, but by the three minute mark, it’s time to fear for your life.
There’s plenty of other decent death metal mosh moments throughout the record, such as portions of “Cataclysmic Purification” and “Undeserving”, but the masterpiece of this record can be found on track nine, “Provoking The Disturbed”. Right from the onset, this song is beating your face into the pavement, and it manages to keep it up at regular intervals throughout the track. By the time you hear the bass solo, you know it’s time to either don body armor or vacate the premises. It’s also worth noting that Terrence Hobbs manages to make his solos sound amazing, even with an extreme lack of complimentary notes, and there is a prime example of this played over the ensuing breakdown. The closing track, “Martial Decimation”, completes the upward trend of the album, and effectively leaves you to pick up the pieces of yourself.
Frank Mullen’s vocals have not changed a bit, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He has the Rushmore of death metal growls, and he does it without any effects. It’s worth mentioning that you can pretty much understand what he’s saying without having to think too hard about it, which is somewhat of a rarity amongst growlers. The one thing I can say against him is that his lyrics are getting a little dated. Some of them even sounded a tad familiar, but I guess that’s a somewhat hard thing to overcome when all you’ve been writing about for the last 20 years is general morbidity without venturing too far into blatant gore.
Suffocation has not lost it at all, and Blood Oath is definitely a supremely nasty release. It’s not the zenith of their catalog, but a weaker Suffocation album is still better than most things that will be released this year. I can say without any second thought that if you don’t like Suffocation, you don’t like real death metal. It’s not exactly epic or anything, but everyone should at least give Blood Oath a chance.
01. Blood Oath
02. Dismal Dream
03. Pray For Forgiveness
04. Images Of Purgatory
05. Cataclysmic Purification
06. Mental Hemorrhage
07. Come Hell Or High Priest
09. Provoking The Disturbed
10. Martial Devastation