Death metal bands that formed in the late 80’s and early 90’s in New York and New Jersey have a certain special…something to them. Incantation, Immolation, and the subject of today’s review, Suffocation are bona fide legends of death metal and are still releasing music that defines what death metal is all about. This scene has produced some of the most pummeling and influential death metal that we have and Suffocation themselves are pioneers in blending intricate technicality with their trademark brutality. Hymns from the Apocrypha is the first record with Ricky Myers (Disgorge) after he replaced the legend that is Frank Mullen who retired in 2019. Myers has been with the band for years at this point, but this is the first time that we’ve gotten to hear him on tape and presumably with a set of songs written for him as the vocalist. What hasn’t changed is the monstrous lineup behind the Suffo’s instruments, most notably guitar wizard Terrance Hobbs who helped with production and engineering of this record. With a stacked set of players and a legacy of greatness, let’s see what their ninth studio album has in store.
Listening to a Suffocation album always leads to a pummeling and Hymns from the Apocrypha very quickly reminds us of that. The first and title track is an absolute beating with varying tempo changes, scathing vocals, and Eric Morotti’s frenetic drumming, things get off to a raucous start. While the production on Suffocation records has always been a little more on the mechanical side of things, the atmosphere that shows itself from the first track is something that many bands of this ilk put less emphasis on, but these guys know when and where to place it. Sometimes it’s the space between the riffs that lets the song breath and sometimes there are intentional moments of respite - such as the ending of “Veil of Oscurity” - but amidst all of the barbarism, there’s a moment to inhale.
“Immortal Execration” sees Hobbs’ soloing shine and along with all of the near slam-level of death metal being doled out, this track excels at being irrevocably catchy and heavy as all hell. Suffocation are never going to embrace melody, that’s not who they are, but writing riffs and grooves that stick in your brain long after the song wraps up is a place where they excel. The same can be said of “Seraphim Enslavement” which embraces all of the elements of the album - and Suffocation as an entity - but merges their atmospheric elements with the infernal riffage that emanates from the rhythm section. While the bag of tricks is fairly finite with a band in this space, they are employed in a variety of ways that make this album feel more expansive and more than the sum of its parts. If there are downsides to this, its that many of these songs can only take the toolset so far and some of the tracks will run together, hell a lot of the songs are nearly the exact same length as well. A little more variance in some areas would help make this record a bit more dynamic and could be done without sacrificing the approach or intensity.
One of the most impressive parts of Suffocation’s journey is just how they have managed to stay relevant and meaningful after decades of output, more than likely due to the acumen of founding member Terrance Hobbs. While they’ve always been their own brand of maverick, the willingness to add wrinkles and evolve without sacrificing their identity is what makes Hymns from the Apocrypha work so well. This is obviously not the same sound that was present or even the goal from the Human Waste EP, but none of the changes they’ve made in the intervening years have led them to sound less like themselves.
Bottom Line: Suffocation can’t help but be themselves, even with a new vocalist. Hymns from the Apocrypha is a tight 33 minutes and in that time they fully ply their trade of intricate, brutal death metal. While perhaps a few more dynamic shifts or song length variance could have made this record a bit more enticing to listen to, there is no shortage of great moments, riffs, and atmosphere. The legends returned in fine form.