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Deaf Forever is our monthly metal column that considers the best releases in black, death, power, Swedish black, speed, and every other metal genre you can name.
Suffocation: …Of the Dark Light (Nuclear Blast)
This has been an abnormally good year for death metal’s veterans. Obituary and Immolation have put out their best records in years, and New York death metal institution Suffocation also have a spectacular new record …Of The Dark Light. They’re down to two original members, vocalist Frank Mullen and guitarist Terrance Hobbs, with drummer Eric Morotti and guitarist Charlie Errigo joining them for this record. The new, younger members (they’re in their mid-20s; the rest of the band is in their 40s) give Light a tech-death sheen; Hobbs’ finessed playing, with the right amount of unpredictability, remains untouched. Suffocation’s sound essentially remains unchanged, combining intricate death metal with New York hardcore breakdowns. “Your Last Breaths” in particular exemplifies the contrast between Hobbes’ dark melodies and hard slams. “Return to the Abyss” is also noteworthy for the subtle guitar ambiance laid underneath, adding a small, yet needed dimension to Suffocation sound. Amidst all this positivity, there is one sad element here: Light is the tail end of a prolonged goodbye. Mullen said in an interview with Decibel [link] that this may be his last record with the band. He no longer tours with them full-time, with the Merciless Concept’s Kevin Muller currently filling in for him. Death metal vocals can be approximated — hell, a lot of death metal musicians are interchangeable if we’re being honest — but stage presence can’t, as Mullen had an Everyman joker personality that made Suffocation shows special. (Don’t act like you don’t crack a smile when he does karate chops for every blastbeat.) Whatever the future may hold for them, Light proves their post-reunion success wasn’t a fluke.
Vallenfyre: Fear Those Who Fear Him (Century Media)
Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou is one of the most in-demand metal producers, giving bands a red-hot, often Swedish HM-2 driven sound. Usually he works with newer metallers and hardcore groups with metal leanings. What about producing actual metal lifers? One band Ballou’s worked with is Vallenfyre, the side project of Paradise Lost’s Greg Mackintosh, and it’s an homage to Mackintosh’s main group’s death metal roots, before they turned into a goth-pop-rock band. (Gothic is a death-doom classic, if you’re not familiar.) They’re different from a lot of groups in that old-school songwriting really shines through, and Vallenfyre’s third record, Fear Those Who Fear Him, is another banger on that front. The Swedish buzz is thick, and the riffs are even thicker, not unlike Asphyx under Entombed’s spell. Fear also captures the death n’ roll catchiness of Wolverine Blues, giving these songs a sense of fun and excitement that isn’t comical, especially in a groovier track like “Degeneration.” Ballou manages to get a couple hardcore bangers out of them, as evidenced with the shortest songs “Nihilist” (which the actual band Nihilist easily could have written) and “Dead World Breathes.” Supposedly, Paradise Lost’s next album, The Longest Winter, will resemble more of their death metal past. Even if that doesn’t pan out, Vallenfyre more than has us covered.
(Speaking of Ballou: if you missed my interview with him and other Converge members looking back at Jane Doe and its live companion Jane Live, you can read it here.)
Antichrist: Sinful Birth (I Hate/Electric Assault)
Swedish thrash quintet Antichrist took their time between their debut, 2011’s Forbidden World, and its followup Sinful Birth, but when shit rips this hard, you just gotta wait. They take from the more fast-and-furious attack of German thrash bands like early Sodom and Destruction, while adding a little Australian chaos via Vomitor and some of their countrymen Nifelhiem’s blackened speed metal. Also present is a slight black metal air in just how these riffs flow, slipping and sliding with a fluidity not seen in much thrash, and in vocalist Anton “Steken" Sunesson’s hallowed delivery. “The Black Pharaoh” in particular combines that fluidity with some of their most whacked-out, whammy bar-abusing solos. Towards the end is a ten-minute instrumental “Chernobyl 1986,” which harkens back to two of the best things about 80s thrash: its obsession with nuclear fallout, and its steps to become a more sophisticated, progressive metal form in the middle of the decade. Having no vocals actually works in its favor, as it gives the spotlight to Filip Runesson and Gabriel Forslund’s playing. Birth packs a wallop of traditional thrash with a few tricks that make Antichrist one of the best new-old school bands going. (They’re playing Austin tonight, if you want to discuss in person the conspiracy about how none of the bands I talk about are real.)
Andy O’Connor heads SPIN’s monthly metal column, Blast Rites, and also has bylines in Pitchfork, Vice, Decibel, Texas Monthly and Bandcamp Daily, among others. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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