Thursday, January 14, 2016

Album Review: Suppressive Fire - "Bedlam"

Self-releasing an album is an arduous thing, fraught with concerns and complications and trials.  To release music with the backing and resources of a record label puts all the decision making in the lap of the user, like a UNIX operating system on full tilt.  There is no partner in the journey, and success or failure can be decided by as thin an immaterial a line as how good a huckster you may be.  So, the release of Suppressive Fire’s “Bedlam” implies a certain level of conviction in the resolve of the band.

The North Carolina three-piece mashup of death and thrash has put together their first full-length record, and it packs a lot into every square measure of traditional thrash pounding.  Each cut resonates with the kind of downbeat thump and galloping madness that so swept over the world of metal in the late eighties.  The subtle influence of death metal’s underpinnings means that “Bedlam” isn’t a carbon stock of the broken-glass crunch of thrash’s birth pangs from the early ‘80s, but rather a full-bodied recitation of the genre’s best days in the second half of that same decade.  To wit, “Bedlam” is less Exodus’ “Bonded By Blood” and more Testament’s “The New Order.”

Suppressive Fire does a lot of things right, beginning with the album’s general gritty feel.  Some of that is no doubt of product of the production capability that the band had at their disposal, which is perfectly adequate but not more than that, but some of it is certainly a product of the band’s desire to recreate the halcyon thrash experience.  There is grime in the corners of “The Hellwraith” and in the sludgy band saw whirling of the title track.  The creosote-soaked measures of thrash may turn off aural purists who like to hear every note, but the accumulated fuzz helps lend Suppressive Fire a good bit of authenticity.

Additionally, the band excels in short bursts of creative soloing and properly rhythmic riff-based mayhem.  The staccato throwback opening of “Thy Flesh Consumed” speaks to the artistry and aplomb of Joseph Bursey as he plies his understanding of the genre’s tenets and transitions smoothly into a wonderfully mosh-y riff.  While “Bedlam” doesn’t exactly leave a lot of open space to the imagination, it does have a pretty solid grip on the idea of pacing, engaging the listener while not burning them out.  “Pyrophoric Blood” and “Ironsights” both feature fantastic bridges and breakdowns, capable of withstanding even the highest level of thrash scrutiny.

Where “Bedlam” starts to stumble is in the connecting glue.  While the band shows great prowess in the composition of short bursts, “Bedlam” is almost better listened to as a series of brief thrash movements, rather than a collection of cohesive pieces.  The band tends to default to the same basic collection of sounds during the verses, and the vocal performance of Aaron Schmidt is fine, but not compelling enough to overcome the long stretches of boilerplate thrash that makes the listener shrug his or her shoulders and wait with varying patience for the next solo.  Several of the selections (“Bayonet Penetration,” for one,) are too long, running out of musical idea before the verses come to their conclusion.

So what we’re left with is an album that shows a ton of promise on the part of Suppressive Fire, but doesn’t deliver a complete listening experience.  The samples of this record’s best work are excellent and gratifying for any thrash fan, but the album as a whole has too many protracted periods of regression to the mean.  That said, Suppressive Fire has real talent, and with more experience and some refinement could easily challenge the best names in the modern genre.

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