Most music nerds can name at least one instance where an album stopped them dead in their tracks. You know the feeling: those moments when the mind slowly pushes out all other thoughts and daily duties that regularly clutter the brain in order to make ample room for complete and total fixation on one incredible piece of music. There’s no multi-tasking in this space, no working on our various outside projects with music happily and quietly occupying the background. Instead, the music muscles its way front and center. It is music at its most alive, vibrant, and commanding of our full attention. In those distinctly transcendent moments, the music is everything.
Despite our ravenous consumption of music as the true and unashamed music obsessives we are, such moments seem to be altogether rare occurrences. Not every album can melt your face from your skull, nor should it. Otherwise such intoxicating experiences with the art and media we consume would become something increasingly less than incredible. This is part of the reason why San Francisco death metal quartet Succumb’s self-titled debut album is so special. This is one of those rare, attention-grabbing records filled with stop-you-mid-walk music. It is a vicious, violent, brutally abrasive affair that brings fresh and unique elements to a metal subgenre hungry for new approaches to its core sound. So block out your calendar, find a dark room with a beer and your best pair of headphones, and prepare yourself for a trip into the abyss, because Succumb is intent on dragging you through some thoroughly savage territory.
Describing the sound Succumb conjures on this record should give some level of indication as to why it is such an engaging listen. Imagine Gorguts getting just a tad tired of all the incessant noodling, inviting Voivod and Demilich out for a few drinks, getting next level drunk, picking a fight with Australian murk lords Portal and Spanish demolition dealers Altarage, and eventually ending the evening in a headlock courtesy of Napalm Death. As you can guess, this is some heavy, gnarly, nasty stuff. It could also seem at first glance to be a hot mess thematically and compositionally. But all of these influences do not at any point contradict or cancel one another out. Instead, we find an incredibly cohesive amalgam of sounds that pull the best elements of these respective bands to create a ferocious record that pays homage to the greats while blazing some new sonic trails. It maintains excellence through interesting songwriting choices, tight and technical instrumental work, oppressively cavernous production, and the vocal witchery of one Cheri Musrasrik, who delivers one of the most unique and insanity-inducing vocal performances I’ve heard in a very long while.
Thematically, “The Initiate” serves as a nearly perfect opening shot across the bow. By far the shortest track on the record, it is also the only exclusively instrumental track on the album. For the song’s short duration, we are treated to some straightforward death metal mayhem in the vein of Ascended Dead or Cruciamentum. Meaning, ultimately, a gloriously cacophonous introduction to the album’s sound. This fundamentally nasty opening track quickly transitions into subsequent banger “Destroyer II”, which is where the true uniqueness of Succumb’s sound begins to surface.
The track kicks off with a haunted howl by vocalist and lyricist Cheri Musrasrik, formerly of punk band Pig DNA. Let it be stated here and now that the vocal work on this record is incredibly unusual for the genre, is immediately distinguishable as Succumb’s own distinct approach, and is wonderful in every way. Vacillating between a pained, wounded bark and ferocious growls, Musrasrik, with backing support from bassist Kirk Spaseff, makes every song on this record her own personal torture chamber. The lyrical content of this record reflects the manic urgency of the vocal delivery, as Musrasrik cites W.B. Yeats, Jean Genet, and Emile Zola as influences on her lyrics. Such poetic and transcendentalist influence rings clear throughout, as sex, war, and violence are all topics of note for Musrasrik, and fit the overall atmosphere of dread established by the music nicely.
Speaking of atmosphere, tip o’ the cap to producer Jack Shirley for an alternately clear and oppressive production approach on this record. The cavernous, howling-into-the-void style of production is omnipresent throughout, but never once overshadows the powerful and tight instrumental work, which rings clearly and powerfully in each song. Derek Webster’s guitars slither and hammer with deadly precision, and Harry Cantwell (of Bosse-de-Nage and Slough Feg fame) absolutely murders the kit, bringing texture and a propulsive intensity to these tracks. These two make a dexterous pair, rattling off The Dillinger Escape Plan-inspired atonality in “Bedchambers”, bruising alternations between black metal blast beats and tremolo picking/spacy chugging throughout “Survival” and “Seedling”, and some absolutely filthy riffing that ebbs and flows throughout “Coal Dark Earth”, which also features the work of bassist Spaseff prominently. Album closer “The Flood” brings some instrumental alteration to the mix, with an opening piano dirge that eventually bleeds into an almost doomy riff fest that builds in speed and intensity as the track progresses, ending the album on a particularly frantic and punishing note. It’s a seamlessly blended mix of styles that is both crushing and exhilarating.
Seldom do I fall into first listen hype. But my initial journey through Succumb’s excellent debut was a revelatory moment that made me feel that my next few forays through it simply had to diminish the album’s overall appeal. To the contrary, subsequent listens only strengthened the experience, leaving me with the willful concession that this is one of the most interesting and well-executed metal albums of 2017. It is a truly remarkable debut from a band that has found its voice quickly and powerfully, and can already be considered a death metal force to be reckoned with. Do not ignore Succumb. They are out for death metal ascendance, and far be it from me to deny it to them. An outstanding debut.
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Succumb’s self-titled debut album is out May 5th, 2017 through The Flenser. Pre-orders are available at this location.