Friday, May 21, 2010

Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten

Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten
1991, RC/Roadrunner Records

Written to joyously celebrate the re-release of this death metal classic.

When this album first came out, back in the middle of the death metal boom, I simply couldn't imagine there ever being a more brutal (that tired and worn description is warranted here, if anywhere) release. I was given fair warning - I read about this band's demo and I had their 'Human Waste' record in my collection already, but this album was something else entirely. Coming out as it did in 1991, right at the same time (roughly - in my memory) as Immolation's massive 'Dawn of Possession' debut and Deicide's incalculably fine 'Legion' masterpiece, it marked a high point for American death metal. There will probably never again be such a time for brutal American music...I simply can't imagine any bands (or scene, whatever) topping that trio of RC releases. Can you? This album was absorbed seamlessly into the American underground, and sparked a massive wave of clone bands that has not subsided even now. As such, I think I can rightfully say this is the album that killed death metal - if not this, then surely their next release, 'Breeding the Spawn', which seemingly shed all of their melodic influences and traded in their fluent Morbid Angel-ish tremelo riffing for a percussive beatdown the likes of I have never heard equaled. There are bands out there still trying to come to terms with that album.

Listening to this album is like being attacked by rabid, slavering demons armed with jackhammers. The most noticeable aspect of it's power is its percussive brilliance, helped along by Scott Burns' bass-heavy production, which I used to think was excellent but which I now know completely handicapped this band by blurring over their melodic talent. Only a few songs escape the shadows-and-fog bass addiction of Burns - noticeably the older material on this that also appeared on 'Human Waste'. In fact, this album is so bass-heavy that if I was ever a contestant in some kind of stereo destroying contest, like the factory unit tosses the car audiophiles often have at their conventions, this would be placed in my arsenal alongside Merzbow and Masonna. Try it out yourself: take that old worn-out department store stereo that you doubtlessly have from your childhood out of the attic or basement, adjust the EQ to max out the low frequencies, turn the volume all the way up, and slip this disc in. Have you ever seen subwoofers explode before? I believe it was actually this album that shredded my first stereo...all I know is that I woke up one day to find that the speakers had somehow ripped themselves loose from their moorings in the cabinets, as if trying to flee an impending holocaust...

I also wonder why the armed forces haven't seized on music like this as well in their propoganda/psychological warfare campaigns - if Noriega couldn't sleep with Van Halen (his insomnia was doubtlessly caused by sudden cravings for Clear Pepsi which he couldn't explain) blasting into his compound, wouldn't an album like this just make him drop dead? Commit suicide in abject terror? I believe that this music actually has the ability to kill, if amplified correctly...those kick drums, machine gun snare blasts, bass poundings, and crunching muted riffs could collapse chests, snap necks, and sever spinal chords if given enough juice behind them...

The production aside, this is simply just a massive collection of monumental music. When I listen to these songs it is difficult to believe they were conceived and recorded by human beings - they are so lethal and machine-like they sound as if they were the spectral offering of doomsday robots invented to lay waste to entire planets - like the aural equivalent of the reaping machine on the album cover. How far has rock and roll come in 40 years? If an alien came down to this planet I would wish him to see some prime early rock, say Buddy Holly or Elvis or Haley or Jerry Lee, and then witness this band live...I would just turn to him/her/it and smile with pride. If Elvis the Pelvis was spreading the sexual 'percussiveness' inherent in rock and roll with his abrupt rhythms and quick beats, making mothers faint across the country, how would those dour sour-faced puritans react to something like this? They would probably lose their minds...or submit to the seduction of blast beats in erotic delirium, fainting under the battering of five young men from New York (the harshest city on Earth) who are intent here on flailing and beating themselves into a bloody ritualistic trance...this album is mandatory, a work of art. 'Purification through violence', it's as simple as that.