I had the opportunity to bullshit with Suffocation’s Terrence Hobbs for about 5 minutes at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest; among the things I learned were that Mike Smith’s departure was just a conflict of personalities (Hobbes expressed no apparent animosity), that they can pull 30,000 fans in Jakarta, Indonesia despite a substitute vocalist filling in for Frank Mullen, and that a new album would be released in this coming winter.
Fast forward to fall of 2012, we learn that the new albumwill be titled “Pinnacle of Bedlam”, and the band basically promises that it will not be “The Unspoken King”. Unfortunately, we also learn that real life circumstances managed to creep into the band; having just gotten a stable, well paying “real” job, FrankMullen, the voice of Suffocation, is no longer going to tour with the band fulltime in the future.
From the perspective of a metal fan, that sucks ass. It effectively means that seeing Suffocation live will be much like seeing Vital Remains; Glenn Benton performs the vocals their most recent albums, but for live performances the band tours with a fill-in. Despite those who would argue that vocalists don’t matter in death metal, charismatic front-men can elevate ordinary death metal bands to top tier acts. Be it Glenn Benton’s assholish persona, George “Corpsegrinder“ Fischer’s intimidating stature, Barney Greenway’s gorilla dancing, or Lord Worm feeding dirt-caked invertebrates to the audience, being an effective death metal frontman is more than being able to bree-bree and grunt. Frank Mullen is more than merely a capable growler with inhuman pronunciation; he also is the face of Suffocation with his confident, no nonsense demeanor and dry humor. So I think as a fan it’s a loss to fans to see Suffocation perform and not hear the vocalist on the recordings.
That said, as a man, I have nothing but respect for Frank Mullen, and I admire him even more for having his priorities straight. Death metal isn’t something bands do to make a living, and Frank’s in his 40’s with a teenage daughter. There’s no health insurance or 401k in playing in a metal band, and at some point as a responsible adult you have to examine your life and make grown up decisions. He obviously loves death metal as much as ever, as someone who wants to continue performing when possible; 6 months of worldwide touring where at best, a musician doesn’t lose any money just isn’t a way to live beyond your 20’s.
As a fan, I’d point to a band like Pig Destroyer, comprised of dudes with real jobs (Scott Hull even has a government gig, supposedly.) As a result, they don’t tour. They play occasional shows at festivals, perhaps two dates here and there on weekends, and that’s it. Yet they’re one of metal’s most renown bands. For a band of 40 somethings that have a tremendous amount to still offer the metal scene, perhaps this is the manner Suffocation should perform going forward. My Dying Bride is another example; they don’t tour in 2012 at all, except for a handful of European Festival dates and one-off appearances such as last year’s 40 Tons of Metal or whatever that cruise ship thing was. Yet they remain a relevant band in today’s scene as well, despite the fact their album output as fallen in quality beyond 2001’s “The Dreadful Hours”.
At the same time, each of the other members of Suffocation have a rightful claim to building the band’s legacy (even drummer Dave Culross, who appeared on the “Despise The Sun” EP) and I don’t think that Terrence Hobbs and co. should have to give up performing together because Frank is unable to sing. But perhaps they should write, record, and tour under a different name, and just perform one or two Suffocation songs in their set when Frank isn’t able to tour. Or perhaps Frank’s decision should be a time for the rest of the band to also realize that while they aren’t old men, they’re not teenagers anymore either and perhaps getting 9-5’s might make keeping the band going a less stressful enterprise. Certainly that would be preferable to touring the same towns 3 or 4 times a year to dwindling crowds who already saw them perform previously the month before in an attempt to carve out a living.
I’ve seen Suffocation 5 or 6 times by my estimation, and I do hope I have an opportunity to see them again with Frank on their touring cycle for “The Pinnacle of Bedlam”. I just don't want Suffocation to become "just another band" or a band that hung around too long.
P.S. Y'all homies need to go record your albums at Morrissound Studios again, ASAP; your last 3 records suffer from having Mike Smith's kick drum drown out the riffs.