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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Suffocation

By: Justin Donnelly

Although returning to the scene after a six-year absence with the solid ‘Souls To Deny’ in 2004, it was their 2006 self-titled effort that really heralded the real return of the long running and hugely influential death metal legends Suffocation.

With the release of their fifth full-length effort, Suffocation (vocalist Frank Mullen, guitarist Terrance Hobbs, ex-Pyrexia/Internal Bleeding guitarist Guy Marchais, ex-Decrepit Birth/Criminal Element bassist Derek Boyer and drummer Mike Smith) once again set a new benchmark in terms of brutality and technical precision within the death metal scene, and in turn produced another classic that easily ranks alongside their highly revered efforts ‘Effigy Of The Forgotten’ (1991) and ‘Pierced From Within’ (1995).

Since the release of ‘Suffocation’ in September 2006, the band have already completed a gruelling six-week North American/Canadian tour alongside Fear Factory, Hypocrisy and Decapitated, with plans to spend begin 2007 with an international touring assault, with the conquer of Australia booked for the middle of February.

Relaxing at home in Long Island (New York), I caught up with drummer Mike Smith to chat about their upcoming Australian tour, their recently completed North American/Canadian tour and the overwhelmingly positive response to ‘Suffocation’.

“It’s all been really good response wise so far. We have been getting some really good reviews for ‘Suffocation’, and the fans seem to be enjoying the album too. I would even go as far as to say that I haven’t heard any really negative reviews feedback yet, so we’re really happy with the album.”

Although Smith is surprised by the reaction to ‘Suffocation’, he freely admits that he was aware of how strong the album sounded soon after recording was complete.

“As far as recording time goes, we definitely spent more time on this album in the studio than we had ever done with any of our other albums in the past. We were in the studio for around a month and a half just ensuring that things were right. We would spend a week in the studio, then take a week off to spend the time listening to what we had, and really work out the bugs in everything. We also had most of the material ready before we entered the studio too. I personally had a really strong feeling about the album just after we finished recording it. For me, ‘Suffocation’ is as much up there as ‘Pierced From Within’. I felt really strongly about it. And thankfully, the fans seemed to agree as well. We’re all very happy with the album.”

As mentioned earlier, Suffocation actually marked their return to the scene with 2004’s ‘Souls To Deny’. But while it was a solid effort, it was marred by a lacklustre production.

“I think everyone in the band felt that ‘Souls To Deny’ was perhaps a little rushed from what it would normally take time wise for us to make an album. We normally take something close to two years to put an album together for release. It takes that long to really fine tune an album. When we got back together, I think the fans were looking for something as soon as possible. So I think we kind of rushed into it. I still feel really good about ‘Souls To Deny’, but I think it sounds a little too rushed. On the new album, we just took our time to ensure that everything was right, and it came out sounding ten times better, both song writing and sound wise. Especially the production! (Laughs) We pretty much went back to the same studio where we recorded ‘Souls To Deny’ (Full Force Studio), but Joe (Cincotta, ‘Suffocation’ mixer and engineer) has since upgraded the studio with a lot of new equipment, so it helped make us sound better. Apart from that, we just took our time with this album.”

While still on the subject of production, Smith points out the exact reasons why the band decided to re-record ‘Prelude To Repulsion’ from 1993’s ‘Breeding The Spawn’ for their latest effort.

“What we’ve been trying to do is gradually add a song or two from ‘Breeding The Spawn’. The reason behind that is because ‘Breeding The Spawn’ has such a bad production sound back when we first recorded it. We just kind of messed around on the new album by adding ‘Prelude To Repulsion’ from ‘Breeding The Spawn’ to give the song an updated sound. Redoing that song allows people the chance to really hear what it was supposed to sound like. We’re going to try and do that on every album. We’ll eventually try to incorporate the entire ‘Breeding The Spawn’ album over time. When we’ve re-recorded all of the songs, you’ll be album to hear and understand the way that it was supposed to be done in the first place.”

Although ‘Suffocation’ is commonly regarded as the follow up to ‘Souls To Deny’, what isn’t widely known by most is that Suffocation actually independently released a live album in early 2006 under the name of ‘The Close Of A Chapter’.

“Since we got back together (In 2003), we’ve done a lot of extensive touring within those first three years. So we had a lot of really good material out there, and a lot of stuff for a live album, so we decided to put together a live album by ourselves. I mean fans had been asking for a live album for a long time, and we thought it was the right time to do it. There’s not a lot to do when you’re putting together a live album. We went to Full Force Studio and touched up a few things that didn’t quite come out, and it was finished. Having said that, we really didn’t have to do that much to it. After it was all finished we approached Relapse Records and asked if they were interested in releasing the album, but eventually decided to put it out ourselves. The deal we signed with Relapse Records means that for every batch that we have of ‘The Close Of A Chapter’ printed up, they’ll receive a certain amount of that stock to sell for themselves for their online catalogue. We kind of wanted to do the album ourselves. We felt that we pretty much could, and we just decided to go with it.”

As talk turns towards touring, I couldn’t help but wonder how Suffocation went down alongside Fear Factory, Hypocrisy and Decapitated on their last North American/Canadian tour.

“That tour went really well, and was incredibly successful. Most of the shows were either sold out, or close to selling out. What we’ve been trying to do in recent years is try and diversify in regards to whom we tour with, and that’s been bringing in a larger fan base for us. There were definitely some different people out there that were Fear Factory fans, and they had probably never seen Suffocation before. Now that they had the chance to see us, I think we definitely won over some new fans there. So the shows were really sick, and as always, we went really crazy for them. We made the best of it, and totally destroyed it every night. It was great, and we had a really good time.”

As Suffocation set aside the first quarter of 2007 for international touring, it comes as no surprise to find Suffocation finally making their way down to Australia for the first time in February.

“We’re really looking forward to the Australian tour. It will be our first time down there, and we’ve heard a lot of really good things about the place. I just can’t wait to get there and finally be able to play for you guys. I really want to check out the scenery down there too. You can tell anyone who’s coming to the shows to expect them to be completely brutal, and very tight! (Laughs) The shows will definitely sound like the album, and I think you guys will enjoy it. We pretty much play a little bit of everything, so we don’t plan to just focus on the one album or anything like that. We pretty much try and cover every album by playing a few songs from them all. Having said that, you can expect to hear ‘Liege Of Inveracity’, which definitely seems to be one of the favourites among fans, and ‘Pierced From Within’. Those songs are ones that we definitely try and play all the time. Usually it’s the title tracks that we try and play all the time. You guys will definitely get a large chuck of Suffocation music from our catalogue.”

As for plans beyond their Australian dates, Suffocation’s only plans are to be busy, and around for a while yet.

“After the tour of Australia, I believe we have one show in New Zealand, and one show in Indonesia on this run before we come home for some time off. At the end of March, or the beginning of April, we have a two-week run over in Europe, and then we’ll come back home again to figure out what we’re going to do for the summer months. We’ll probably play some festivals or things like that. But either way, we’ll try and keep as busy as we can. We’ll definitely try and keep going and take things as far as we possibly can. I think that a new album will definitely be in the works towards the end of 2007. So we’ll be here for a while yet! (Laughs)”

See our National gig guide for the Australian tour dates.

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