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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.

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Formed in 1989 in Copenhagen, Denmark by Brian Petrowsky (vocals, guitars) and Morten Hansen (drums) Iniquity was one of the earliest underground metal bands of note in the country. The country’s earliest metal formations of note were Artillery, King Diamond, Mercyful Fate and Invocator. Iniquity released three demos that helped cement its reputation. In three successive years the band released as many demos, starting with “Words Of Despair” (1991), “Entering Deception” (1992) and “Promo 93” (1993), the latter saw the induction of drummer Jacob Olsen. “Serenadium”, the Iniquity debut album from 1996, is special as it is the only in the original constellation.

Regarded as one of Denmark’s oldest death metal bands together with the more groove/thrash metal oriented Konkhra, Iniquity predated perennial underdog Panzerchrist by some four years. Through out these demo sessions Iniquity underwent a number of stylistic iterations, and even a brief period of inactivity, before settling for a primal, technically refined death metal direction. On “Serenadium” Iniquity plays death metal that is primal in its ferocity, but its level of aggression is evened out by its atmospheric inclinations and stellar gloom. “Serenadium” combines the technicality of Sylvain Houde era Kataklysm and Doug Cerrito era Suffocation with the darkness of vintage Incantation.

‘Tranquil Seizure’ opens the album with its deceptive slow build-up and atmospheric embellishments but soon reveals its incredible aggression and technicality. ‘Prophecy Of the Dying Watcher’ has atmosphere break replete with cello and church organs. The title track, and ‘Spectral Scent’ are two of the more technical tracks of the record, effectively foreshadowing the direction the band would take in the future. The former is elevated by the excellent drumming and well-placed guitar – and bass solos while the latter opens with a drum introduction and concludes with a church organ and piano section. ‘Son Of Cosmos’ and ‘Prophecy Of the Dying Watcher’ were written by Mads Haarløv, who was part of Iniquity during its demo era. ‘Spectral Scent’ is concluded by an atmospheric organ and piano section that serves as an atmospheric interlude to ‘Mockery Retained to Obturate’. ‘Retorn’ is a refurbished track from “Promo 93”.

“Serenadium” was recorded at Borsing Recording with Jan Borsing producing. Sporting a production very much the standard of the time, it is very earthy and crunchy sounding. Borsing provides Iniquity with deep bass tones and a thundering low end that would become pretty much extinct a decade later. For the most part “Serenadium” has production work similar to the Monstrosity debut “Imperial Doom” and the 1993 Kataklysm EP “The Mystical Gate Of Reincarnation”. The artwork by Terkel Christensen looks like a budget reinterpretation of Dan Seagrave’s macabre otherworldly vistas. In all “Serenadium” is very much a product of its time from a technical standpoint. The album helped usher in an era of renewed interest in Danish underground metal.

Not only is “Serenadium” one of the more compelling Danish death metal records of its time, but the history behind its conception is equally fascinating. Jacob Olsen recorded all the drums for the album, but quit shortly after its completion. Jesper Frost-Jensen (of local upstarts Nations Of Death) joined Iniquity just before the release. Thus his picture ended up on the album as he inherited Olsen’s position (and later the brand name) as the original line-up disintegrated after the release of the album. The lyrics were a collective effort between Brian Petrowsky, Jacob Olsen and Mads Haarløv. “Serenadium” became the genetic blueprint for all Iniquity records. While the band grew more technical, despite wildly fluctuating line-ups, each record would always take “Serenadium” as an architectural template.