Death metal role model Suffocation shreds Oddbody’s
By Gary Spencer
Some musical movements and eras have so much impact and lasting influence that they are timeless. This argument can be made for the first wave of heavy metal subgenre of death metal. While what many historians and fans consider to be the very first death metal album to be unleashed to an unsuspecting public—Seven Churches by San Francisco’s Possessed—was released in 1985, it wasn’t until a few years later that death metal became a style distinct from other forms of metal with the emergence of bands primarily from Florida that are now recognized as pioneers of the genre including Death, Obituary, Deicide and Morbid Angel made death metal a fabled and enduring style of music. However, many fans and historians also agree that Suffocation, a death metal quintet that formed in Long Island, New York, in 1988, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those quintessential ensembles as their style and influence continues to be echoed in death metal music to this very day.
“It’s humbling when people [from other bands] say ‘we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys to pioneer this style of metal,’” says Suffocation founding member and guitarist Terrance Hobbs. “When they come to me like, ‘You’re our favorite guitar player, can’t wait to see you live,’ it’s a great experience for me. If you’re a fan you don’t have tell me all that—just come to the show and shake my hand and take a picture. It’s all good.”
It’s a grateful attitude for someone’s band that many fans believe helped forge the blueprint for what death metal is known for—complicated song structures, deep growling vocals, eardrum shredding downtuned guitar riffs, breakdowns, stop-start rhythms and just an overall sense of darkness and foreboding. Suffocation released its first demo “Reincremation” in 1990, which led to being signed to Relapse Records for its first official EP Human Waste a year later. The band then signed with the hottest metal label of the time—Roadrunner Records—for their debut full length. Effigy of the Forgotten is now considered an undisputable classic of death metal history. Since then, the band has grown and evolved but still stays true to what brought them to the dance in the first place.
“Musically I think we’ve become a little less complicated,” Hobbs says. “When we were kids, we wanted to be the craziest thing in the world. We were more driven to be technical in the earlier albums. I think in the long run we’re slowly evolving but sticking to the roots of what we’ve done. It’s still really aggressive. We want people to remember the riffs. We’re trying harder to work on song structures. Now it’s more of a matter of taking what death metal was back then and refining into something new and a little more listenable—dark passages with lighter, melodic harmonies that make the music standout.”
Despite this maturation Hobbs refers to, Suffocation’s most recent disc, 2013’s Pinnacle of Bedlam on Nuclear Blast Records, is still a brutal and punishing affair that stacks up well against the band’s vast past catalogue.
“It sounds like we’re a mile-long locomotive crashing through your home … a 747 doing a spiral descent on your house, that’s how I’d explain it,” Hobbs says. “We’re not the nicest but there’s still a lot of musicality that goes on. We don’t expect everyone to like it.”
The band’s ongoing popularity with metal fans, and a rigorous touring schedule that takes them all over the world, bears evidence to the fact that Suffocation has a plethora of listeners who do like what they do. The group just returned from their fourth tour of Indonesia and are about to embark on a co-headlining tour with heavy metal stalwarts Soulfly, featuring former Sepultura guitarist Max Cavalera. When the opportunity arose for Suffocation to do a tour with Soulfly, the decision to do so was a no brainer.
“I was like, ‘Who wouldn’t wanna go on tour with Soulfly?’” Hobbs muses. “Soulfly is a totally different style of metal altogether—a little more radio-friendly but still with a heavy edge. Mixing the two styles will bring more fans into the room to see a good show together.”
Putting on a killer show, bringing fans together, and the passion for death metal is really what it’s all about for Suffocation and what has kept the band going for all these years.
“We’ve been at it for over 20 years and we want to keep the fans happy,” Hobbs says. “You don’t make this kind of music thinking you’re going to get rich. It’s a love of the music. Metal bands want to let it be known that metal is never gonna die. When the band comes through Dayton, we’re gonna kick your ass and have a good time.”
Suffocation performs Saturday, May 7, at Oddbody’s Music Room, 5418 Burkhardt Rd. in Dayton. Soulfly, Battlecross, Abnormality, Lody Kong, Shadowkasket, Letters to the Blind, Omeni, Forces of Nature and Right Way to Nowhere are also on the bill. Show is open to patrons 18 and up, and tickets are $25 in advance. Doors open at 5 p.m., music at 5:30 p.m. Fore more information please visit facebook.com/suffocation or oddbodys.com.
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.