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Eén van de meest ondergewaardeerde death metal bands is zonder enige twijfel het Amerikaanse Suffocation. Deze grondleggers van de brute technische death metal worden nog steeds met ieder album beter. Zoveel wordt wel duidelijk op het nieuwe album 'Blood Oath' dat deze maand verschijnt bij de nieuwe broodheer Nuclear Blast en dat het materiaal van zowat iedere moderne death metal band accuut degradeert tot je reinste spielerei. Hieronder een verslag van het open en eerlijke gesprek dat LoM had over nieuwe kansen en de behoefte aan erkenning met de constant van de hooikoorts snotterende gitarist Terrance Hobbs.

Door: Richard G. | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

So first off, how are you and the band doing at the moment? It has probably been some time already since the recordings of your new album 'Blood Oath', so how anxious are you guys to have it out there?
Ah, we just can't wait till this one comes out already, hehe. I'm pretty excited about this one, it has got a lot to it: good artwork, good music. It is a serious record, you know. And I don't mean serious as in typical death metal jargon like we are gonna kill you or whatever. I mean serious with respect to the riffs written, the structures used, how the songs are put together. We are really happy about it and we really think it is the best we have done so far.

And what do you think makes 'Blood Oath' the best Suffocation record to date then?
For me it comes down to production and for me it is also a little bit more of a mature record. It is not just crazy all over the place with erratic riffs or stuff like that. This time it is all just put together right. We just really wanted the record to sound like each piece is supposed to be there. We needed some extra time in the studio finalizing things, because everyone was just really into this record and into getting the best result possible.

And do you have any specific expectations for the album? How do you think it will do?
Well, with the help of Nuclear Blast behind us obviously it should probably do better than anything else that Suffocation has done. But I'm really hoping that the fans will get a grip on this one and that it just might propel us forward a little bit. We are the kind of people that always get somewhat underrated and stuff like that. Obviously death metal is not Top 40, you know, but I really would like to see that people just get a good grasp on it and embrace it.

So do you feel that was not the case with some of your previous albums then?
Yeah, absolutely, but I think some of that had to do with the fact that we were not touring that much. But I really feel that our last albums ('Suffocation' (2006) and 'Souls To Deny'(2004), RG) did not really get their fair shake. Hopefully sooner or later, or maybe even after 'Blood Oath', people will realize that this is what we do for a living.

And was this also the reason for you leaving Relapse after the previous album? Because you needed a bigger label to support you guys a little better?
Searching for another label was one thing, but we actually did not know whether we we're gonna make another record all together with Relapse or whether we were gonna try and look for another independent label. And we were even considering trying to do it ourselves, we really did not know what to do. But in the end it turned out that the best option for us was to work with Nuclear Blast. Because they are our friends: they have always been there, they have always supported us, so for us to go full circle and back to Nuclear Blast is a good thing.

You have been under contract with Nuclear Blast for a couple of months now, what have been the biggest differences with Relapse? And what kind of deal do you have with Nuclear Blast?
Hehehe, I don't know, it is a bit hard for me to explain something like that without making Relapse look bad and they are still a good label, but what can I say, Nuclear Blast just stepped it up, especially in the department of advertising and promotion. They are supporting us so hard that I'm really glad that finally we have a label behind us that just really believes in us. As for the deal we have with Nuclear Blast, it is a one album deal. But I really do not want to think about stuff having to do with the next album just yet, because the main thing for us the next two years is make sure that we are doing the right thing and support this album. But a good aspect of this deal is that we have a lot of freedom and that is something that we really need, because we have always been really held down by somebody else's standards and somebody else's expectations. And that just did not make it any more fun for us to be doing what we were doing. And with a deal like this we have a little bit more freedom in that we can go out and say 'this is what we want to do and this is where we want to play'.

One thing that really pervades the career of Suffocation is the constantness of your music. It has always been about creating high quality, technical but brutal death metal with not a lot of fancy, new trendy shit being incorporated. Even though the sound as such does not evolve that much, there is this constant rise in quality and every record does sound fresh, in a way. How do you think you achieve that?
That is just something that I really don't know. As a band, we always want to try and do something that at least grabs you a little bit. It is kind of like the first time that you listened to something so heavy that it made your hair stand on end and that you think 'wow, that stuff is so sick!' That is the kind of effect that I try and look for when I am writing riffs.

So staying with that constantness that I just mentioned. It seems as if over the years Suffocation has not undergone a lot of influence of other bands, or new trends that surface in the scene. Does Suffocation actually listen to or take influence from any new bands?
We listen to so much music it is out of control! And to be honest with you, there's a slew of new bands that we listen to and that we like. But you know, Suffocation is something that we have been doing for some twenty years now and sometimes you get the feeling that you have heard just about everything. But for me there are a few bands that are still really aggressive, like Inveracity, Severe Torture or even Decrepit Birth. But I guess we are not trying to take influence from those bands, we just trying to make sure that the new bands don't forget where they were getting their influences from.

So what is funny is that the bands you just named all more or less play death metal with either a typical old school sound, or very technical. So what do you actually feel about this whole stream of bands playing metalcore, deathcore or whatevercore?
There are some 'deathcore' bands that are really good. I mean, they are all trying to do more or less the same thing as us and other heavy bands: they are just trying to be heavy. But in turn, I just don't think that the beatdown/breakdown thing over and over again really does not hold my attention that much. It is still cool that they try to be heavy and try to be aggressive and I think that is the most important thing to be doing, regardless of what the trend might be. But as for myself, I am just a real death metal freak. I will listen to Destruction any day of the week, hehehe, that is the stuff that really influenced my musical taste back in the day.

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So let's get back to the new album: why did you choose 'Blood Oath' as the title?
Well when we were writing the new album it was one of the first songs and we kind of figured that it was symbolic in a way. Symbolic for how long we stayed together and symbolic for how much we really put into it. It is a serious record and it is an oath for what we are trying to do for ourselves and to show what we have been doing for ourselves for the past twenty years. So the title 'Blood Oath' was kind of appropriate.

One thing I noticed production-wise on the album was that the bass seems to be a lot more audible in the sound. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah, it really was, because everyone in the band really holds up to doing what their job is. Derek really is a nasty bass player and he is really into the rhythmic part of Suffocation. So there is actually no reason why we shouldn't turn him up louder. Of course the album's now very bass heavy, but at the same time we are trying to make sure that you get the heavy!

One thing I wanted to ask you specifically is how do you go about piecing together a solo into song structures that are so rhythmically driven?
For the most part I try to think out every step that I do. There are some solos that are a little haphazard, where I can do whatever comes to mind and that's where I'm going with it. But for the rest I try to write out every part of the song. That goes for solos, rhythms and harmonies. Then again, Suffocation is playing super ballistic music, so there is not a lot of room to write something really melodic. I have no choice to write the things down, because I want to make sure that I can play it live and to make sure that it sounds like it should be there.

If you don't mind, I wanted to confront you with a quote I found in one of the interviews on your website. As an explanation for the hiatus that Suffocation had between 1998 and 2003, it read 'one reason is that at the time death metal's relevance was not recognized by the industry'. So how has that changed for you guys?
Well basically what the problem was, was that people in general were just not involved with the scene. Death metal is a form of music that is never quite on the frontlines and for us it was getting increasingly harder to get shows, it was increasingly harder to get a record deal, it was increasingly harder to just get away from our jobs so that we could even go out and play. And on top of that the industry was just taking everything from musicians and form that point on things became really difficult and we just could not do it anymore. It was a bit of a bad scene and partly I am just glad that the band disbanded at that time. Now that things are a little bit better and now that people are more motivated, they do realize what they have, which is a band that can withstand the test of time. We are a lot better off for it and in retrospect I really think that we should always continue to play our music: this is what we are.

Another thing I read was the distinction between underground and mainstream metal and death metal's place in that. One member of Suffocation was quoted as saying: 'maybe if Slayer had taken on brutal death metal bands as support more often, it would have been much bigger nowadays'. So is it one of Suffocation's goals to get brutal death metal in the main stream, or more accepted?
Yeah, I would love to see our form of music to get recognized a little more. I don't necessarily want to make it main stream, just making people realize that it is a very interesting form of music. Because when you hear something which is that heavy as death metal, people immediately think it is about things like 'kill your father, kill your father' or whatever, parents don't let their kids buy the records at the store because they think it is just Satan's music through and through. And even though that is really what we are, that's also just the name of the game in our music. It should be recognized more, because there are a lot of bands out there that have been paying their dues for a very, very long time. A band like Napalm Death, for example, after 25 years of touring and making countless records, the last place you will get to see them is Madison Square Garden. It would be really nice to see some of those bands actually get the recognition for the hard work they did.

So do you also feel that Suffocation has not had enough recognition for the role that it played in creating the scene that is brutal death metal?
To a certain extent I would have to say so. We are very happy with the success that we have had. Nobody thought that we would get as far as we have gotten with this band. But I do wish that people would understand how hard it has been to put this music onto their faces and to make ourselves original for you guys to listen to. Just to keep everything somewhat new. But this goes for a lot of bands. So if you are into a certain band, please support them and buy their CD, it is the least you can do and that is the only way you are going to be able to see those bands live.

So one form of recognition that Suffocation has recently had is of course the incorporation of your debut record 'Effigy Of The Forgotten' in the Decibel Magazine hall of fame, right? What does that mean for you guys?
Hahaha, ain't that some shit! For me it is just ultimate flattery that there are people, or magazines for that matter, that consider us for such a thing as a hall of fame. Who would have thought! But I am actually just pretty proud of that, it kind of relates to what I was just saying and is a nice way of getting some recognition.

One thing I wanted to talk about is an aspect about your band that really sets you apart from the rest is the tightness of Suffocation live. I saw your show at the Neurotic Deathfest last year and it was just incredible. A lot of bands sound ok on CD, but live you can't tell which song they are playing.
Yeah, that is something that we really do not want to be doing. Hopefully once you've heard and understood our records, live we really want to, what we call it, put on the wax. We're not going to overproduce a record, it is very important for us to be able to go out live and that you hear and see what you heard on that record live in your face.

Ok, so I would like to end with the most important question for the people on this side of the Atlantic: when will we be able to see you guys perform 'Blood Oath' live?
I am not sure, but I really would like to go to Europe at the end of the year.

Let's hope you will manage! I want to thank you very much for your time and good luck with your hay fever!
Thanks for that and thanks for the interview man, see you soon!

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