Review: Suffocation

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

If an alien landed in your backyard and happened to ask what death metal was, you could do far worse than to hand the being a copy of Blood Oath. While it's probably a stretch to rank the record among the two-decade-old genre's finest statements, few other releases have so skillfully blended the breakneck bludgeon of old-school death metal with the relentless technicality favored by contemporary luminaries.

Among underground aficionados, Suffocation's excellence is no secret. Rising to prominence during death metal's early-'90s golden age, the Long Island outfit issued several future classics, including 1991's Effigy of the Forgotten. But the band's strongest work has come since the core of its original lineup regrouped in 2004, after more than a decade of shuffling membership.

Like its self-titled 2006 predecessor, Blood Oath boasts pristine yet hugely weighty production, a vast improvement over Suffocation's first few efforts. The album's key asset, though, is its expertly calibrated balance of intricacy and brutality. In the first three minutes of "Cataclysmic Purification," the band hurtles through a bewildering array of rhythmic feels, all accented by Frank Mullen's signature raw-throated growls. But just when information overload threatens, the musicians settle into a grinding, half-time riff that's as catchy as it is sinister. Overall, Blood Oath teaches an ironic lesson: It's tasteful restraint that separates death metal's titans from its workmanlike masses.

Suffocation plays Summer Slaughter at Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza Sun 19.

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