Needing for Some Rebreeding

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To the outside observer, the 2012 departure of long-time Suffocation drummer Mike Smith came as a surprise. It was Smith’s drumming, of course, that was usually the catalyst for the band’s legendary brutal death metal attack, one that spawned such gems like 1991 Effigy of the Forgotten and 1993’s Breeding the Spawn. Without Smith, some figured, Suffocation couldn’t survive. Needless to say, they were wrong, as evidenced by their new, domineering Pinnacle of Bedlam.

Phoning in to wax about the new album was guitarist Terrance Hobbs, a man who has seen it all. From lineup changes, label switcheeros and scene coming and goings, Hobbs has managed to hold it down along with singer Frank Mullen. And as the glasses-loving guitarist would go on to tell us, he and Mullen and part-and-parcel, even if Mullen gets to take some tours off to tend to personal matters. This, along with Smith’s departure, new drummer Dave Culross, and much more were on the docket for discussion…


With Mike not being around, have you come to grips with it? It must be unique for you having to do an album without him.

Yeah, it has. When the beginning when the band got back together, everyone was on the same page and wanted to do things. But, as time went on, Mike had a very strong attitude…it was getting a little too think of a thing for the rest of us. It was in the best interest that we did part ways, although it was more really him parting ways with us. To make a long story short, things weren’t working out, actions were flying and it was going back to the same things that happened the first time with Mike. I think it was the best decision for all us in general, because he can do his own thing now. For us, we’re definitely a lot happier.

So it’s almost a case of deju vu, if we want to go back to the late 90’s when you had some momentum and were on Roadrunner, but things fell apart. Yet, it appears the band is more equipped to handle these kind of things than you were 15 years ago.

Let’s put it this way: We could tour so much more than we can now, because now, there’s a lot more responsibilities on the plate with everybody. Jobs, kids, and so forth, and my band is a victim of that. To be honest, it’s a lot better, it’s not so much touring, but keeping the integrity of being able to go out and do it after 40. It’s big deal for us; it’s a big deal for Frank and I.

Dave is no stranger to a lot of death metal folk based on his work with Malevolent Creation and Hateplow. When you enlisted him to replace Mike, how did the transition go?

Everything that happened with Mike…we were like “What are going to do?” Dave has been around for a long time and we still keep in touch with other members of the band. I still talk to Doug Cerrito from time-to-time, Chris Richards, and so forth…we’re all still friends. We still have a tight-knit community. Before that, I’ve been writing pieces for Pinnacle, so had Derek and Guy, so we pretty much had the pre-production of Pinnacle of Bedlam ready, for the most part. Dave pretty much had to work off of it. It was important because it wouldn’t be as fluid if we didn’t have the axl of pre-production from him to work with before we came in and recorded. There was a real tight time frame where we had to get Dave to learn the material and get into the studio, and we still had shows, and Dave hopped right in. It was a bit of a bumpy ride; there was a lot of homework to go over, we had a lot more rehearsals than our average two times a week. It wasn’t an easy task, but we pulled it off. Dave was a trooper throughout the whole thing. He was a blessing in disguise.

If you look at Dave’s style and Mike’s style…

[interrupting] It will probably end up where we’ll have a fill in here and there, but the band is still 100% a unit, and we discuss everything. Openly, we discuss whatever we can do. If Frank says, “We have the five shows on this tour and I can’t make it. Can we get a fill-in?” I’m going to go “We’ll get the person that’s going to fill your shoes.” It’s so much more civilized now. It’s not everybody being pitted at each other’s throats. It’s really cool now, for when we’re at home and it’s time to go to band practice, it’s not a chore; we all look forward to doing it. After 20 years, you’d think you get sick and tired of the same old thing, but with the addition of Dave and having Guy and Derek in the band the last decade, it’s really something I’ve grown to love a lot more.

I really like “As Grace Descends” and “Inversion.” There’s a nice little balance between the straight-brutal riffs and some of your more technical adventures.

Play them out until you don’t like them anymore [laughs]. We’re pretty picky as far as the style and writings in the type of riffs we like. If we don’t like it, then we toss it to the side. We really tried to pick not just one style…you can hear a little Napalm Death in there, a little Morbid Angel in there; there’s things you can actually say, “Okay, that influenced these guys when they were writing.” I hope those bands can pick up on these things when they listen to it and go, “Wow that sounds like something we did.” In the end, we wanted to make something memorable. We didn’t want note-y, squirrely riffs that would take a year for you to figure out what’s going on.

Let’s talk about the fact that you’re nine or ten albums into your career. You’ve yet to hit that creative wall where you’re essentially working backward, like a lot of retro death metal bands. Do you keep tabs on what they’re doing?

To a certain degree. I’m not so attuned to a lot of deathcore and metalcore and things of that nature these days. I do stick with oldies, but goodies at this point [laughs]. There are a lot of new bands coming out with flair and I think that say, Decrepit Birth. I really enjoy them. There are other bands like Aeon, who I think are great. When it comes to metalcore bands, Veil of Maya, they put some style and flavor into their music. Even though it’s not death metal, it’s more deathcore or metalcore, it still comes across as pretty heavy. It takes a fine ear to get used to listening something different than Morbid Angel or Pestilence, or stuff I grow up listening to.

We touched upon this briefly in our chat, but take me back to the time when the band folded in 1998 around Despise the Sun. Can you take me into the band’s mindset?

At that time, nobody ever figured the band would last that much longer anyway. We had did some tours and stuff, and it was different. At that time, the scene itself especially in New York, wasn’t doing well. It was harder to book shows, and to get out of things in normal life, like your job. The band fizzled out. It wasn’t like, “We’re never jamming again.” That was it; it was over and everybody went on their own way. In that circumstance, it was upsetting. For most of the members, I was missing something. I had been doing it for so long, and I had a regular job and I was still playing guitar, but it’s not like I was starting a new band or anything. We just had the mindset that we couldn’t go forward. Everybody’s enthusiasm went out the window. It was probably the best thing that we disbanded. It made everyone realize as time went on, that you miss it when you don’t have it.

The climate of the late-90’s wasn’t good for a death metal band anyway. Combine black metal with those lovely nu metal bands…

Yeah, and you see how fast they came and went. Death metal is a way of life. It’s not just a musical standpoint; you really have to devote yourself to it to make ends meet and get a can of soup out of it. You’re not going to keep people’s eyes on it if you stayed out the way we did. We were very fortunate that when we got back together that people picked up on it and said, “I’m still into fucking Suffocation, so I’m going to check them out or buy a record.” I’m very lucky.

You and Frank have been the long-time staples in the band. Can you speak to your relationship with him? You spoke of how he has the flexibility to miss shows if he had to, which is very unique.

Frank has been my long-time friend and I don’t think it will be any different than that. He gets his share of trials and tribulations just like everybody else, for him, and his family, and he does the best he can do. Me and Frank have gone way back, and I’m super-stoked to have him onboard and have him come and play for you guys. The thing that happens is that I’m a guitar player, so I get my share of aches and pains in my shoulder, but he gets that share in his voice or lungs, so you never know how long he can last doing something of this nature. It’s not natural. I wish for as much longevity in this band as possible and I think he feels he has something that will stay in his life for a long time. He’s not planning on going anywhere.

A lot of classic bands have done this, so I’m wondering if you’ve ever entertained the idea of playing Effigy in its entirety live.

You know, I have SO thought about it. There’s been times that everyone in this band have gone “Dude, we should play a record from beginning to end, and let that be our set for the tour.” We all turned around and go, “We can’t do that.” There’s so many records we’ve put out and songs we’ve done that we can’t leave them off. We could play the title track off every record and that could be the set. We, as a band, go “We can’t turn our back on that song. We can’t turn our back on this song.” So by that time, we have our set [laughs].


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