Throwback Thursday: Suffocation – “Pierced From Within”

SUFFOCATION-Pierced-from-Within-LP-BLACKPierced from Within is a continuation of Suffocation’s streak of death metal classics, but was also a huge leap forward for the band. From a creative and influential standpoint, the band had long since made its mark with 1991’s Effigy of the Forgotten, and if they broke up after this they would still have the legacy of a foundational death metal act (after all, Carnage only released one album and are rightly hailed as important as well). But this record, released in 1995, saw the band achieve an even higher level of greatness in terms of songwriting and production.

When we look back, we can see 1995 as a difficult time for death metal. Its commercial peak in 1993 had come and gone and major labels were no longer interested in experimenting with the genre. In the underground, listeners were now enamored with the notorious Scandinavian black metal scene. But we should not overstate the situation. 1995 still saw several classic death metal albums, including Slaughter of the Soul, The Jester Race, Symbolic and Ancient God of Evil. However, the golden age of Morrisound Studios and Sunlight Studios was long past.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that Pierced From Within was recorded at Morrisound and engineered by Scott Burns, but represents a clear departure from that studio’s signature sound. Lo-fi, crunchy, treble-centric, “The Morrisound” is the sound most often associated with American death metal classics like Deicide, Leprosy and Slowly We Rot. And Suffocation’s Effigy of the Forgotten is no exception. But by 1995, the band and the style needed to move on and progress. Pierced From Within retains the same guitar sound, but has a much fuller quality that feels more like a swarm of locusts, rather than a beam of static like before. The bass is much more audible in this case as well, and the vocals are much clearer. In this way, Pierced From Within is a perfect example that is well-produced without being over-produced. The importance of this distinction cannot be overstated. This is an album that demands you crank it loud, but has the best effect on a nice pair of headphones or a proper speaker system. It retains hallmarks of death metal’s 1987-1993 heyday, yet it’s newfound power points to the style’s post-1997 revival.

Musically, the album is the sound of buildings falling and continents sinking into the ground. For a good example, looking no further than the opening title track and the breakdown at the 2:18 mark: “Returned to a land you’ve never been.”…BOOM BOOM-BOOM-BOOM BOOM BOOM-BOOM. Every instrument crushes the sonic landscape at the lowest settings with palm muted salvos of fury. It is absolute death metal bliss, balanced just right to have the maximum effect. Pierced From Within also shows two other important qualities for excellent death metal: it’s progressive without being showy, and it uses gore in a minimalistic way that adds to the music’s sense of terror…without resorting to just being gross. Terrance Hobbs and Doug Cerrito are experts and visionaries at how to fuse brutal riffs and grooves with more intricate arrangements. These arrangements add to the themes of confusion, horror, revenge and the nature of violent humanity (from “The Invoking”:

The world in which we live has been plagued by the essence of the beast.
Murdering had become a daily ritual.
The able-bodied minds of the world try to solve the problems.
With their pathetic solutions.
As long as the underworld has the upperhand, nothing will be solved.

I believe that which has been done to you should be done to others.
Kill the man who invades your world.
Violent acts of nature.
Have uplifted the roots of the earth.

Disasters which have not been seen for decades.
Have surfaced to a place which one was free of woe.
It’s now filled with death and killing.
There is no cure.

Pay attention to that section that starts “Disasters which…” for the jazzy breakdown. Long before this tactic became standard practice among the legions of tech-death and djent acts of recent years, Suffocation was blending it brilliantly with their signature form of brutal death metal. It shows a band both thoughtful with their lyrical approach and fearless in musical skill.

So let the music be your savior, shapeless to your perception – Pierced From Within.

– J. Andrew Z

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