Guest Reviewer SepulKrustacean Ascends into the Passing with Suffering Hour’s Debut
So completely did Suffering Hour’s debut album, In Passing Ascension, blow me away that I had to tap one of the single most knowledgeable metalheads I’ve ever met to tackle this unholy beast. Hold on to your butts, because Suffering Hour and SepulKrustacean are about to take you on a wild ride through the harrowing halls of weird death.
A key flaw in metal narratives of progression and growth is the emphasis on novelty as some kind of inherent good and familiarity as its mortal enemy and the equivalent of some punishment the genre must constantly seek to evade. This is an unsustainable model of growth ultimately that actually hinders both the discussion of and engendering of new exploration in metal, as something is only new and groundbreaking until it is ultimately imitated by those it has directly influenced. The seeds planted by Gorguts, Immolation, Deathspell Omega, and Ulcerate had for some time resulted in a bountiful wave of bands that inverted common practice of the very tonality of every single riff in death and black metal. Some might go so far to say they had outright deconstructed both genres, a commendable accomplishment. However dissonance alone was not enough to create lasting works and much of the dissonant style simply grew into exercises in stretching aesthetic to its breaking point; after a while, many listeners simply wanted actual riffs again.
Enter Minnesota’s Suffering Hour and their long awaited debut. While they began as a progressive thrash metal band, one could easily place them in the “dissodeath” category. The idea they run with won’t be unfamiliar to extreme metal veterans, but what distinguishes it from its competition is the mindset and angle with which it approaches this concept. Much of this style comes from a more technically minded model borne of the practices of 90’s American death metal remolded into a more eerie, alien form, but Suffering Hour’s arsenal is borne of groups that come from a more hallowed, primordial approach. Mgla, The Chasm, Inquisition, and Dead Congregation are not often the first bands many think of when asked about this style, but In Passing Ascension bears their mark with pride and creates a sound that has the impious authenticity typically associated with an “old school” band merged with the wider range of tonality and atmosphere (“spaciousness”, “ambience”, “evocativeness”) that is the hallmark of much of today’s extreme metal. It is a new angle with which to approach the style that manages to rejuvenate an increasingly mundane subgenre through changing the objectives.
One of the first things that immediately sticks out about this album is its rooted aggression, sometimes hearkening back to thrash metal riffing archetypes and old school death/black barbed wire textures. Balancing this out are ringing lower string chords and wailing un-melody lines, embedded as vital parts of each riff. The musicianship, while accomplished, steers clear of the blasting staccato pugilism and jarring off-centre tonality dissodeath typically focuses on. Broader strokes of theme and notation comprise their arsenal, attacking with consistent vigour and transitioning across patterns at key junctions to let the full dynamic range of tone express itself gradually over the course of a track. This stately yet iron-willed finesse may not be apparent at first to those looking for visceral effect or jarring abrasion, but it makes itself apparent in the way the individual elements of each riff relate to the larger repository of theme that serves as the mind behind each track.
Compositionally, In Passing Ascension is rooted in a mixture of gradual variation and recombination, progressing a track through cycles of familiarity and stringently regulated alterations of core themes. The full range of the strings is put to good use as the band extract the full mileage of a few particular riffs and lead phrases. One segment will set up a particular cluster of tonal coordinates and another slingshots off of its momentum to create thematic buildup and explore its subsections by expanding through the fragmented upper registers and the grating, hypnotic rhythms that coil and unfurl beneath them. Initially many of these phrases can seem to blur into one another due the degree of territory each one covers, but through gradual repetition and development the individual narratives of each particular chord or tremolo line become more apparent. Through this process, each of these eight songs gradually coalesces through waves of dizzying string-dancing patterns that I’d personally describe as cosmic in scope and oddly serene in a way you do not often experience in most death metal outside of say, StarGazer or Blood Incantation, but Suffering Hour’s aspirations remain rooted on an expertly crafted compositional base that would hold up well even if they were a far more ordinary band.
An ominous and surreal listen, Suffering Hour’s debut achieves the difficult task of making a complete stylistic shift and rejuvenating a style that has become empty and stagnant of late. Rather than attempting to inject external adornments and garnishing to a familiar model, they’ve sidestepped the novelty trap that plagues much of metal by simply altering the fundamental perspective with which this style can be approached. It is of course premature to state that dissonant death has been reborn, but what’s more important is that we have a new vision and voice that stands towering and tyrannical over the scattered corpses that comprise an increasingly large portion of recent death metal. There’s not much advice I can offer the band mostly because their sound is fleshed out strongly enough that it’s hard to think of where they can go next beyond further sharpening what they already have. Regardless, this album is highly recommended for those who like their death metal to make their bones feel unsafe within their own flesh before eldritch terrors separate one from the other.
4.5/5 Flaming Toilets
Many thanks to SepulKrustacean for his tremendous review, and many more thanks to Suffering Hour for breathing new life into a subgenre I love. If you missed it, YhA recently did a guest post covering some of his favorite weird death metal. It’s a hell of a look back at some gnarly records and well worth your time. In Passing Ascension drops May 26th via Blood Harvest; get it on Bandcamp. While you’re at it, go tell the Suffering Hour boys, “Howdy” on Facebook.