Suffering Hour is a black metal come death metal act emanating from the area of Forest Lake, Minnesota, located within the ol’ US of A. I use the word emanating strategically here because the music of this band is akin to lighting one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candles in a small room. The air becomes thick with atmosphere although only one of the two provides a pleasant result… the band’s music obviously, not the vagina candle.
Although my initial analogy might have put some people off, I needed a strong metaphor to truly help the reader to understand how palpably thick and disgusting (this time in a good way) this music is. It is dense yet not overly aggressive and oddly palatable, in fact even beautiful at times. The sonic realm of this music is moody discordance combined with a confusing yet alluring texture. This obfuscated quality of this music is achieved in two major ways. One is the overtly muddy, almost psychedelic quality of the mix, and second the use of unusual, modulating guitar effects and strange melodic phrases that are particularly abnormal in much of black metal.
To make sure it is clear (because my stupid metaphor might also be providing this review with an obfuscated meaning), this album rips harder than wax from your nether regions. A stirring and utterly engrossing work of metal music that will be on loop for the foreseeable future. All three of the members (DgS, IsN, and YhA) perform vocals while also playing bass, drums, and guitar, respectively. This trifecta vocal performance lends much variety to the vocal sound and is a refreshing addition to the music. The instrumental performances are all on-point and the album is tight as…
Going into the tracks, the opener “Strongholds of Awakening” is a milieu of feedback, ghastly guitar harmonies, and initially washed-out vocals. When the full band kicks at the 38-second mark, the atmosphere becomes tense, cryptic, and groovy. Images of rain-soaked graveyards in overgrown and foggy hills come to mind. The lead vocals that enter are quintessential death metal sounding, guttural and muppet-like. The melodic guitar work at two minutes catches one’s ear initially because of the out-of-tune modulation effect that gives the guitar sound a submerged quality. The quality is unlike one I have heard used in black metal often, but it is effective at providing the unhinged, maddened mood the music exudes. At three-minutes a classic death metal-sounding riff enters the fray, although with a slightly milder, even warmer tone than one usually hears in death metal music. The song has an unrelenting quality. Even though there are dynamic shifts and dips in texture, the atmosphere of the music is permeating and creates a haziness in your ears and head. It is a wonderful numbing and soothing experience.
“Transcending Antecedent Visions” opens with another strangely spacious guitar tone that also seems slightly detuned, or at least with a modulation on the reverb. Rhythmic backing is full of heavy double-kick drums and cymbals, but it does not sound abrasive in any way. At 41 seconds the melodic guitar work is once again the highlight of the section. Subtle bending creates an off-kilter effect that is immensely satisfying. This is followed by another bout of death metal aesthetics. The vocals combined with the drums give the music a sense of urgency and it becomes even more chaotic as it progresses. The melodic guitar lines are probably the most morish part of the music, at first feeling unfamiliar but soon becoming infectious and each relistening is like tantalising your eardrums as the melodies become familiar and awaited. Even in the thickness of texture, the band creates a spacious quality and can be heard strongly in this track. It is as if one was to find themselves floating through the vastness of space, terrified, lost, alone yet somehow also reaching a moment of acceptance and peace.
“The Abrasive Black Dust Part II” starts with a wistful, broken-up guitar sound. The part is dripping with longing and maybe tinged with regret. When the guitars kick in, we are once again greeted with detuned, modulated guitar tones. The piece has a ballad-like quality that is something I am not used to hearing on the more extreme side of metal music, yet I find it to be very satisfying to listen to. At 2:20, the music begins to grow heavier as an obscured sample plays in the background. Suddenly the music bursts with energy as we hear a combination of groovy death metal rhythm combined with melodic black metal lead. The vocals this time around are far more visceral and higher-pitched, more manic than before. This song’s slow tempo adds to the monstrously groovy feel of the section that proceeds. The piece seems to start from such a small textural point, building to the extremes, then winding back down again before returning to one of the earlier sections but now with a spooky guitar lead in tow.
Only now have I realised that track four is called “Obscuration”, and although I am glad, I am seemingly in line with my metaphors. The title does feel more on the nose than the other titles of less brevity. This piece starts far more aggressively but still makes use of the modulated guitar tones spoken of earlier. If the last song was the ballad of the album, this is whatever the opposite of that is. The track is the musical equivalent of a kick in the face, but one that you enjoy and want repeatedly. The music is still cavernous and trippy in tone, but the faster tempo, more aggressive riffing, and denser drums make this track stand out in contrast to the previous one.
The final track clocks in a whopping 16 minutes 32 seconds, a mammoth of an offering. As would be expected, it has a fantastically long build, roughly about two and a half minutes, until it feels to kick into the song proper. The guitar riff that we hear here might be one of the coolest of the album. This song, in fact, might be my pick of the album, mainly because it’s the longest and I have a penchant for long songs, but also because of the death-doom atmosphere. The song is not that slow in tempo so I would not exactly say the music sounds like doom, but the foreboding atmosphere of the music tickles that specific itch. I can’t say too much more about this piece that won’t be repetitions of what I have said previously in this review so I will conclude by saying although there are tropes that this album uses throughout, each song has its own unique feel to it that helps each one stand out across the entire release.
The lyrics of the album are notable because they are neither violent nor blasphemous. They are dark but for the most part, reflective and philosophical. They are of course morbid at times, but poetic and meaningful even in their bleakness. It is always refreshing for a metal band to break away from stereotypical lyrical conventions, especially those classic death and black metal tropes.
If you are still considering whether to listen to this album or not, why? It’s a no-brainer. This is a seminal work of genre defying metal with strong themes and exemplary mood. A must listen, a must buy.
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