Live: Suffocation Command A Death-Metal Army At Gramercy Theatre


And now, a word from Suffocation's Frank Mullen

Suffocation/The Faceless/Through the Eyes of the Dead/Decrepit Birth/
Fleshgod Apocalypse/Suppressed Theory
Gramercy Theatre
Saturday, October 16

Better Than: Taking an actual beating.

Jesus H. Christ. There was a time (I'm not gonna say I remember it, because I was five) when the words "death metal" meant pretty much one thing: ugly, dissonant, knuckle-dragging evil. But 20 years later, even a "pure death metal bill" draws bands from such distinct movements as deathcore, tech-death, brutal death, and progressive death, all of which made an appearance at Gramercy Theatre Saturday night for the Decibel Defiance Tour. Purists might deride the subgenre-spawning phenomenon as a perversion or dilution of their core values, but I believe it's a testament to the influence that death metal has had on extreme music around the world. New York-born headliners Suffocation were present at the genre's inception, and it's safe to say that every band on the bill owed them a great debt.

Long Island's Suppressed Theory opened the proceedings with a grab-bag of early-'00s metal standards, juggling hardcore and melodic death metal with respectable competence, though they seemed more fueled by that unmistakable L.I. machismo than by, say, Satan. The crowd wasn't exactly into it (maybe because they'd heard almost all of these riffs somewhere before), but as far as opening-band quality goes, we lucked out.

Italy's Fleshgod Apocalypse have, if nothing else, one of the coolest names I've ever heard. Emerging for their U.S. debut in dapper suits, they did not disappoint. Their intense (we're talking near-Origin speed here) fleet-fingered tech-death is imbued with a healthy dose of nimble lead work that wouldn't be out of place in a dark 18th-century symphony. Combined with their tattered evening wear, they appeared to be a zombie orchestra brought back to life to do windmills on stage. Too bad they were stiffed on stage time.

Another crowd-pleasing flurry of uber-technical death metal was handed down by Decrepit Birth, who made a similar splash when they appeared on the Summer Slaughter Tour back in August. Frontman/caveman Chris Robinson proved just how valuable a great lead singer can be, his friendly So-Cal disposition and possessed stage presence (his dread-shaking would make E-40 proud) keeping everyone rapt.

Through the Eyes of the Dead, though they may take some flak from purists for their role in the popularization of the hated deathcore, are very good at their jobs. Until their set the crowd had been stingy with their enthusiasm, but a dignified pit finally broke out in response to the band's hyper-aggressive balance of death metal and gut-punching hardcore breakdowns. Frontman Danny Rodriquez looked like he was gonna pull a David Banner and burst out of his shirt during some of his more guttural vocal passages. You might hate deathcore, but watching these guys, it's easy to see how the genre's onstage effectiveness aided its meteoric rise to "annoying trend" status.

If you find death metal's traditional reliance on guts, gore, and evil to be a turnoff, then the Faceless might be more to your liking. Like Swedish DM oldies Hypocrisy, the young L.A. tech-death squad graft their dizzying epics around tales of space and alien invasion. Straying frequently from the traditional form of sledgehammer death-metal riffing, the Faceless veer off in to passages of chirping licks and arpeggios that sound more like the vocalizations of an alien super-computer than the dissonant churning of Hell.

When it was finally time for Suffocation to take the stage, the elder metalheads who had waited all night shuffled down from the upper seats like Ents emerging from the forest for one last battle. Frontman Frank Mullen's mic check alone got more response from the crowd than the first few openers. The band showed their appreciation by opening with two early-'90s classics, "Thrones of Blood" and "Liege of Inveracity." 21 years after their formation, they can still match every young gun in terms of speed and technique, as well as surpass them in rhythmic complexity. Suffocation songs groove in impossible ways, shifting from chugging slam riffs to speedy blasts and back again in an instant. You don't bang your head so much as just let your body spasm uncontrollably.

Mullen kept a smile on his face throughout the set as he gurgled forth his lyrics and repeatedly thanked the crowd for their lifelong devotion to death metal in all its forms. Maybe he was glad to finally be receiving recognition for his decades of service to darkness, or maybe he was just happy to be able to espouse his views and advice on murder, torture, and weed. Either way, the message was clear: Death metal, no matter where it goes, fucking rules.

Critical Bias: Two hours of sleep.

Overheard: "You guys all watch The Soup, right?"

Notebook Dump:
Apparently Suffocation is great make-out music.

Most Metal Outfit: The girl wearing only fishnets.

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