Suffocation

support Cattle Decapitation + Abiotic + Exuviated + Infernal Tenebra
author AP date 22/03/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

What better way to welcome the coming of Easter, than with a five-pronged death metal onslaught? That seems to be a sentiment shared by many a capital city metalhead, as contrary to all expectation, tonight’s veritable mini-festival takes place in the almost maxed out, 600-capacity upstairs room, and not downstairs like the last time that Long Island, NY’s technical death metal veterans Suffocation paid Copenhagen a visit. A lot of people are in need of an antidote for the religious festivities ahead, or perhaps it is the evening’s strong support bill (which includes one of the most critically acclaimed metal acts of 2015) that delivers the extra pulling power? Either way, the conditions are optimal, even if a sizable portion of the crowd is busy perusing the merchandise downstairs when the opening act takes the stage.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Infernal Tenebra

The Croatian quartet is not some unsullied amateur act either, having existed for a good 17 years and issued four studio albums in that time (most recently “As Nations Fall”, which came out in January this year). But the muddy inferno of bass drums that obscures all in its wake does not create the most professional of impressions regardless, erasing any notion of quality from the two tracks leading up to “The Seventh Seal” by which time the levels have thankfully been adjusted, and the band’s secret weapon, lead guitarist Ivo Petrović, is able to shine. By and large, Infernal Tenebra’s music is built around a saturated technical death metal formula, but Petrović’ wizardry with his funky custom guitar provides just enough intrigue to sustain the crowd’s interest. There is a couple of decent grooves and flurries of tight drumming littered amongst in songs like “The Serpents Crawl” and “Cross the Line”, but were it not for Petrović flabbergasting us by practically soloing his way through the set, the band would be at pains to distinguish themselves at all. Not least because their performance is one seen all too often in this genre, of musicians glued to the ground and offering very little beyond obligatory headbanging.

5

Exuviated

Bizarrely, the sound mix seems to have been reset when the younger Belgian act Exuviated steps into the limelight, and so the beginning of their performance, too, is squandered by a tide of turbocharged bass levels. It takes the engineer less time to fix the issue however, and soon enough the band’s brutal, groove based death metal is audible enough to pass judgment on. Exuviated are somewhat more fired up than Infernal Tenebra, and because the music is prone toward those primitive elements that drive people into headbanging by automata, they have an easier time engaging the audience as well. Their music though is the sort of standard fare dross that neither raises an eyebrow, nor disappoints sufficiently to justify a strong reaction, with only the single mid-section to the second last song (the title of which escapes me, but in which guitarists Cédric Grandhenry & Renault van Oeyen and bassist Léo Ivanciu strike their instruments on every eighth beat of Grégory Grandhenry’s double pedal pummel) leaving a lasting impression.

5

Abiotic

Abiotic, one of the newer entrants to the burgeoning Florida death metal scene, have a hard time justifying their moniker, a synonym for devoid of life. Sans bassist Alex Vasquez, the entire band descends into hunched, deep windmilling sync manoeuvre as soon as Brent Phillips lets rip with cascades of blast beats for “Molecular Rematerialization”, and when he slows down a little, vocalist Travis Bartosek us quick to hover over the audience with an authority that belies his experience. The band has been likened to and toured with The Black Dahlia Murder in the past, and the comparison is dead on, from Bartosek’s demeanour on stage to the style of the music, full of staccato blitzes and breakdowns. The quintet’s intensity on stage is quick to infect the audience as well, and when “Violent Scriptures” is aired, the evening’s first moshpit goes into operation. While not as technically advanced as Infernal Tenebra, nor as gut-wrenchingly brutal as Exuviated, Abiotic manage to strike a good balance between a number of stimulating songs (“Cast into the Depths” in particular lingers by virtue of its eerie guitar chops), individual prowess (Vasquez’ bass playing is phenomenal, both hands often traversing the fretboard at once), and a ferocious performance. At just five songs, the set is a little on the short side, and there is still some way to go until they can be considered a worthy heir to the ‘Dahlia Murder. But what we’ve seen tonight oozes of promise.

7

Cattle Decapitation

Ever since Cattle Decapitation became serious about their art with 2012’s “Monolith of Inhumanity”, the progressive brutal death metallers have seen their popularity skyrocket. Last year’s ”The Anthropocene Extinction” precipitated their success even further, and as such, it is no surprise, the amount of attendees here that regard them as the main act of the night. Cheers of ”Travis! Travis! Travis!” reverberate through the venue as the lights dim, and once things get going with “Manufactured Extinct”, it is easy to see why the vocalist, surnamed Ryan, is held in such high esteem. The man is an absolute headcase, his face expressions, wild gesticulations, and sublime voice control drawing close parallels with Deafheaven’s George Clarke, who himself has garnered a reputation as one of the best live vocalists in the metal genre right now. Ryan does not fall far behind either, and his psychotic behaviour has a significant part of the front causing moshpit mayhem in no time; while the remaining patrons including yours truly obediently take in the technical and strangely anthemic aspects of songs like “The Prophets of Loss” and “Circo Inhumanitas”.

It is remarkable just how smooth the transition from tongue-in-cheek gore-wankers to socially and politically relevant purveyors of technical death metal has been for Cattle Decapitation; even their long-standing fans seem to rejoice in the fact that only the two aforementioned records feature in the setlist. And while from what I understand, the San Diego, CA based outfit was always one of the crazier live bands in the genre, they look right in their element tonight, presiding over a feverishly charged audience with a savage, yet professional execution of their music. There is a ring of truth to Ryan’s remark that tonight’s proceedings represent his favourite show of the tour thus far — you feel it in the crowd, and you can see it in the enthusiasm with which the band (completed by guitarist Josh Elmore, bassist Derek Engemann and drummer David McGraw) performs. Were it not for the somewhat imperfect sound mix (again!?), it is likely that Cattle Decapitation’s showing tonight would go down as one of the best metal shows of the year. But even if some of the finer detail of the music is lost, the thunderous applause that follows the band’s exit from stage after a rendition of “King of Tyrants” is a pretty obvious sign that no one is left wanting.

8

Suffocation

Where Cattle Decapitation’s allure stems from how unhinged their expression is, with Suffocation the appeal stems rather from how composed the technical death metal pioneers and unwitting forefathers of deathcore are. Nothing is left to chance, whether it is the perfect mix, the moody lighting, the synchronised headbanging, or simply the sharpness with which the five musicians ply their trade. The band’s vocalist Frank Mullen continues to refuse touring, but his substitute Andres Montoya does an excellent job narrating the well-balanced setlist, and growling his way through it even if his vocalisation has a tendency to get a little monotonous at times. He compensates with a primal disposition, clomping around the stage like a caveman and repeatedly ensuring that the pit remains active as his compatriots offer up faithful renditions of classics like “As Grace Descends” and “Effigy of the Forgotten”. It is impressive to see how seamless the collective delivery is — after all, Suffocation is no still-standing, visually deprived live act. But rather than stage the sort of bedlam that Cattle Decapitation did, Suffocation build their aesthetic with an assuredness befitting their veteran status.

Everything looks so fucking old school. Bassist Derek Boyer often assumes a low, crab-like posture, resting his low-slung instrument on the ground as if to accentuate the weight of Suffocation’s music; and the almost arrogant prowess with which Terrence Hobbs and Guy Marchais handle their guitars affords the band an aura of jurisdiction — like they know they’re good, and they know they have the audience in the palms of their hands. That fact is hard to dispute, looking at the hurricane of people and beer swivelling around the pit, the frequent crowd surfers making their way through the venue. Indeed, aided by the quality of material such as “Catatonia”, “Abomination Reborn” and “Infecting the Crypts”, Suffocation almost breezes through tonight’s performance, solid as lead but never proposing to be unpredictable. Everything just works, and while the band thus confines itself to being a tight and reliable live band, they do so with an assertiveness that keeps your attention fixed whether the music appeals to you or not.

8

Setlist:

  • 01. Thrones of Blood
  • 02. Breeding the Spawn
  • 03. As Grace Descends
  • 04. Mass Obliteration
  • 05. Catatonia
  • 06. Souls to Deny
  • 07. Entrails of You
  • 08. Pierced from Within
  • 09. Effigy of the Forgotten
  • 10. Funeral Inception
  • 11. Abomination Reborn
  • 12. Liege of Inveracity
  • 13. Infecting the Crypts

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