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Over the last couple of years Queens, New York death metal act Hypoxia has been carving out a respectable niche for itself. Even though they hail from the Big Apple Hypoxia has always been a Florida death metal band at heart. Cannibal Corpse and their “Vile” seem to be the key influence. “Abhorrent Disease” is never overly fast or excessively technical. It primarily rides on pit-friendly grooves, thrashy bursts, and fiery soloing. As much as we enjoyed their debut “Despondent Death” in 2015 it failed to leave much of an impression in the years that followed. It didn’t receive much coverage in the specialized press and it looked to be lost in the shuffle. Now, four years later, Hypoxia returns with “Abhorrent Disease” on Selfmadegod Records which should at least help them in terms of visibility. There was never any doubt that Hypoxia would return, but it was more of a question whether or not they would be able to fulfill the potential of their meat-and-patatoes death metal.

Hypoxia is one of those increasingly rare bands that plays death metal, pretty much without any of the conventional prefixes. They play death metal without resorting to the retro or old school qualifiers. It's a welcome return to those bygone days when bands could be easily classified and sub-subgenres weren't as clearly etched out and delineated as they are today. Hypoxia joins European underground acts as Anasarca, Ekpyrosis, and Ferum that proudly fly the banner for traditional death metal. "Despondent Death” was good enough for what it was but didn’t leave much of an impression otherwise. “Abhorrent Disease” seeks to remedy that and is chunky, thrashy, and groovy without having any big hooks to speak of. Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation clearly served as inspirations but it never gets quite as muscular in its riffing nor as primal in its savagery. Helping in no small part is dyed-in-the-wool veteran Mike Hrubovcak, one of the most expressive frontmen on the American death metal scene.

In the intervening four years since their debut a few things have changed in the Hypoxia camp. The driving force is still drummer Carolina Perez and guitarists Carlos Arboleda and Nadher Tabash with Monstrosity and Divine Rapture frontman Mike Hrubovcak remaining in their respective slots. After the 2015 release of “Despondent Death” bass guitarist Mikaela Åkesson moved back her native Sweden where she now resides with Kolsva-based black metal band Gast. On loan from Monstrosity (at least for the recording sessions) is Michael Poggione. Perhaps it was a bit ambitious to expect Perez’ sometime Castrator colleague Robin Mazen (who’s busy enough touring around the world with her main band Gruesome, no doubt) to make herself available for the sessions. While Hypoxia stays within well-trodden paths it’s evident that everybody greatly enjoys playing the music that they do. What Hypoxia lacks in innovation, it makes up in sheer enthusiasm and gusto for the material. They never pretend to reinvent the wheel but this easily trumps any recent Cannibal Corpse or Deicide record.

What kills “Abhorrent Disease” for the most part is how the album is structured, often to the detriment of the overall pace. ‘Dark Desires’ is a weak opener that is redeemed only by the fact that it’s followed by lead single ‘Condemned to the Abyss’. Then it’s another two songs or about 8 minutes before the next choice cuts arrive. ‘Enslaving Cage’, ‘The Awakening’, ‘Despise’, and ‘Perverse Instinct’ are chunky death metal tracks heavy on “The Bleeding” influence as all four are compact, catchy and have a good hook or solo. Had the album opened with a song as ‘Despise’ or ‘Perverse Instinct’ its impact would have been significantly greater than it is now. In its current form “Abhorrent Disease” isn’t exactly frontloaded with tracks that immediately captivate the listener. To get to the quadruple kill salvo that are tracks 5 to 8 you’ll have to wade through a mostly uneventful opening four tracks. There are far too few tracks as ‘Enslaving Cage’, ‘The Awakening’, and ‘Withered’. ‘Failures Of the Festering Flesh’ would probably have functioned better as a mid-album breather, which doesn’t remove from its atmospheric qualities. We have a sneaking suspicion that “Tomb Of the Mutilated”, “The Inexorable”, and “Retribution” were in regular rotation or part of the line-up’s regular musical diet although “Abhorrent Disease” at no point attains the incendiary level of raging intensity of either.

Where Hypoxia falters most damningly this time around is on the production end. It’s an improvement over the last time but we’re not quite sure what is rubs us the wrong way. Perhaps they were aiming for that Sunlight sound as pioneered by Tomas Skogsberg and Joe Cincotta wasn’t up for the task? The crunchy guitar tone and clanking drum production certainly betray the Stockholm influence. The bass guitar on the other hand is produced like any modern death metal record in that it’s airy, rubbery and clean sounding but without much of a body or any weight behind it. It’s not that Poggione isn’t heard, he most certainly (and thankfully) is, but unlike, say, Demilich, Resumed, or Gorefest, does his bass playing hardly contribute to the overall low-end heaviness. Perez’ kickdrums are also strangely bereft of weight, clicking gently away in reckless abandon. It makes you pine for the warm toned organic productions on Embodied Torment’s “Liturgy Of Ritual Execution” or Deeds Of Flesh’s seminal works “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi” or “Path Of the Weakening”. What is great this time around is the artwork. Whereas the artwork for “Despondent Death” look kind of video gamey and thus goofy; “Abhorrent Disease” looks like a horror scene inspired in equal amounts by Deceased’s “Surreal Overdose” and Malignancy’s “Inhuman Grotesqueries” with Carnivorous Voracity’s “The Impious Doctrine” for that extra horror oomph. Andriy Tkalenko from Daemorph Evil Art Dominion outdid himself. If only Hypoxia was produced by somebody like Ron Vento, Zach Ohren, Erik Rutan, Jason Suecof, or Pete Rutcho.

The biggest issue that Hypoxia faces, at least in our humble estimation, is that it’s neither here nor there. “Abhorrent Disease” is never as cutthroat and hellish as vintage Angelcorpse or Sadistic Intent, as traditionally influenced as Deceased or “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” Dissection, nor as charmingly primitive as long-suffering Brits Benediction or more typically thuggish NYDM institutions as early Pyrexia and Internal Bleeding. It’s as if Hypoxia is intentionally holding back for whatever reason. Castrator, Carolina’s sometime side-project with Mallika Sundaramurthy from Abnormality, is ten, no, a hundred times more bloodcurdling in its intensity than Hypoxia is here. Either something was lost in translation from the rehearsal space to the recording studio or Hypoxia has lost what little fire was in its belly when “Despondent Death” was received to the sound of crickets in 2015. Either way Hypoxia is in dire need of an adrenaline injection or they need to overhaul their songwriting as these cuts wobble around with no clear direction. Whatever the case, Hypoxia is better than this. “Abhorrent Disease” is a step in the right direction but this won’t be remembered as one of the must-hear NYDM records of 2019.

The reunion of classic New York death metal combo Suffocation has been one of mixed results. It is not without a sense of irony that the most traditional sounding album since 2002 is one with only two original members, one of whom due to economic considerations has minimized his involvement to that of a glorified recording musician more than anything else. A decade and a half into their reunion there’s only question that remains: is Suffocation still relevant to the very genre they helped pioneer and redefine in their original run? Fortunately, if “…Of the Dark Light” is anything to go by then, yes – somehow they are. As unbelievable as it may sound in light of the band’s more than dubious post-“Depise the Sun” output. Can “…Of the Dark Light” hold its own against the band’s classic Roadrunner output? No, but nobody is expecting these grizzled veterans to. Which is sort of the problem.

The strangely titled “…Of the Dark Light” arrives after a turbulent four-year period of inner turmoil and personnel changes that saw the departure of lead guitarist Guy Marchais (hired to substitute for the absent Doug Cerrito) and troubled skinsman Dave Culross. Supplanting their more established predecessors are sometime Pyrexia and Internal Bleeding guitarist Charlie Errigo and Ontario, Canada-based drummer Eric Morotti. Errigo is a suitable replacement for Marchais, but the absence of original creative force Cerrito (whose advanced arthritis no longer allows him to play guitar for extended periods of time) remains a sore point, and rightly so. Morotti is no Mike Smith but nobody is expecting him to be. Instead he leans closer to Doug Bohn’s hardcore-informed style on “Pierced From Within”.

That “…Of the Dark Light” then comes across as a modern day “Pierced From Within” equivalent should surprise exactly no one. There’s very little ornamental about this new album and it’s reassuring to see the New York stalwarts reclaim at least a fraction, however insignificant, of the identity they worked so hard to distance themselves from in the early 2000s. Granted, it took them four albums and a second, less than amicable ousting of drum god Mike Smith to arrive at that point, but they are finally here. Had “…Of the Dark Light” followed on the back of “Souls to Deny” than Suffocation would have made a more than admirable comeback. Unfortunately that’s not quite how it went. To go from the lethargic and largely forgettable “Blood Oath” to something as punchy and compact as this speaks of a veritable meeting of minds. Suffocation, even though there are hardly any prime era members left, acquits itself admirably after passing itself off as a thinly-veiled beatdown hardcore band for well over a decade.

None of the songtitles do particularly inspire confidence as the majority sound nothing like vintage Suffocation (‘The Warmth Within the Dark’, ‘Your Last Breaths’, ‘Caught Between Two Worlds’, ‘Some Things Should Be Left Alone’) and from a visual standpoint “…Of the Dark Light” is anything but typical. The uncharacteristic songtitles makes one question the level of Mullen’s involvement. The days of Dan Seagrave or Hiro Takahashi artworks are apparently over. The album features guest vocals from Kevin Mueller, Mullen’s live substitute, in what is probably a remnant of the failed experiment that saw Disgorge drummer Ricky Myers briefly co-fronting the band. Boyer’s bass guitar never sounded better as it at long last sounds tonally similar as to when Chris Richards handled the low end. Charlie Errigo has quietly replaced Guy Marchais, and he very much continues what Marchais excelled at; providing a fairly indistinct and inobtrusive support layer for Hobbs’ guitar pyrotechnics. The title track, usually the tour de force of any album, sounds like every other well-budgeted New York death metal band. Whether or not that is actually a good thing is entirely up to one’s personal preference. At least Suffocation’s reunion output has been more consistent than Obituary’s. Not that that is saying much.

It goes without saying that Suffocation never again will reach the height of compositional elegance and technical prowess that they had on “Breeding the Spawn”. “…Of the Dark Light” at long last abandons the beatdown hardcore aesthetics that plagued much of the band’s post-2002 output and Suffocation - however little is actually left of it at this point - is so much better for it. Mullen, no longer the guntoting New York stereotype from the not-quite-so-distant past, wields a deeper register once more. Has he sounded better and more lively? Certainly. Has the production work done him more justice in earlier days? Not a shred of doubt about it. Frank Mullen, who has been subject to imitation and emulation for about two decades and counting at this point, remains a frontman that few can match in enunciation and delivery. Terrance Hobbs, Suffocation’s primary songsmith in the post-Cerrito era, rekindles some of his old magic on “…Of the Dark Light”. While it can hardly be called a revival this late into the reunion Suffocation reclaims at least a figment of the glory they once commanded.

“…Of the Dark Light” is the closest the New York formation has come to matching its classic tenure on Roadrunner Records. However this new recording isn’t without its shortcomings. The production from Joe Cincotta and his Full Force Studio is probably the driest, the most compressed and sterile sounding that this band has utilized thus far. Likewise is the Colin Marks artwork the most charateristically uncharacteristic. It largely is a stylistic continuation of the Raymond Swanland canvas of the prior effort. As the visuals pull the band into the 21st century its key members gravitate back to what established them two decades prior in the first place. Evolution through attrition, so to speak. Mullen and Hobbs may be the only real Suffocation members left, at least there’s something, however little, defensible about “…Of the Dark Light”. The same couldn’t be said about the drab preceeding this 11th hour return-to-form, if it can be called that.