SUFFERING HOUR – The Cyclic Reckoning (2021)REVIEW

…Phaethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now, this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals.” Plato, Timaeus (22c)

For too long the descendants of lapsed votaries avoid the call of the spelaeum, the feasts to commemorate our pact of freedom forged with Sol and the tauroctony that’d brought an end to the burning of our land. Mithras, who’d united us as one, now hangs noosed in the mind as useless an apparition of stone-and-sea forged greatness as our tainted undernourished souls. Mediocrity nips irrational minds from the maneless necks of complacent generations, spawned from seated and withering sire; Their existence now perpetually unravels decades of ascetic scarring in concert with soil and sun-god. — We hid from the season of smoke and fire, we hid from our most decisive plaguing, yet not even fealty to Gods or… whatever manic half-hearted revolt against nature is inevitable, will save any home from these elements intensifying into greater waves of fiery cataclysm. The muscle memory of the ancients, showered in blood for Cybele or knifing bull for Sol, is yet kept alive in thee verily possessed and willing conduit of fire we find in meditative immersion of Forest Lake, Minnesota-borne blackened death metal trio Suffering Hour‘s second ceremony, ‘The Cyclic Reckoning‘. Within earshot of its crumbling solar wailing a grand string of jagged and sorrowful impulse elegizes and dictates wrath at once, a nigh psychedelic display of the mind steeped in self-induced reckoning.

When speaking to the history of this steadfast trio of Midwest fellows I cannot help but admire their good taste even in an entirely formative stage. Formed as a technical thrash metal band (Compassion Dies) heavily influenced by The Chasm back in 2010 one cannot help but see the origin and transformation of Suffering Hour as similar to that of beloved Auroch, who’d been a technical death/thrash band ’til finding their path through blackened death metal that was modern for the sake of innovative style rather than popular sounds. Perhaps the most important divergence between the two phenomena is that it certainly felt like Suffering Hour had arrived out of nowhere with their broadly acclaimed and still celebrated debut full-length (‘In Passing Ascension‘, 2017). If there is a great reason to recall and revisit that record it is because it proves the dissonant and blurry extremity of Deathspell Omega‘s ‘Paracletus’ can be interpreted in somewhat original ways which color outside of the lines drawn. Of course there were other influences and factors in hand but the gist was that they’d appeared an entirely new force with a unique black/death metal sound that manages to stagger and stab at once; This characteristic shambling, sun-scorched psychedelic verve yet remains a key characteristic in approach of ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’.

The bridge between these two albums was an EP (‘Dwell‘, 2019) consisting of one eighteen minute piece that represents Suffering Hour at their most chaotic extreme to date. In my review the one thought I’d sustained in hindsight was that some influence from earlier Bølzer helped to pull some unexpected atmospheric twists in their work, despite much of the song pulling in the feeling of The Chasm‘s incredibly underrated ‘Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm’. I liked this freshly flowing style of riffing as it’d helped cure the stilted, foggy aspects that dulled certain parts of ‘In Passing Ascension’ yet my lizard brain couldn’t help but feel like Suffering Hour needed to “get to the point” faster. What they’ve done with ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ is keep the flowing movements going throughout its ~45 minute run but given the lead guitars one distinct voicing to drive the ship through the resplendent tumult they’ve refined a great deal since 2017. All of the blustering enormity of ‘Dwell’ sinks away now, it’d been a civilization unto itself built and destroyed in a matter of twenty minutes. This second full-length is the charged enmity of the artist, a wandering electrical storm driven by an enormous effects-dripping guitar tone. All ideas are contiguous, ornate yet focused on the broadest and most affecting movements and this slight boost to accessibility by way of readily “felt” rhythmic movements should suggest this’ll be the album certain to raise and secure a memorable legacy unto greater pantheon.

So, the revelation here is actually a well-chosen trade off between technicality (read: rhythmic complexity + pace changes) and coherent and flowing musical statements. This manifest as lead guitar driven pieces that now stretch more consistently into 6-8 minute bouts of righteously engrossing psychedelic blackened death metal songs. Well, most of them do as this record is of considerable length yet divides itself among five songs with the indomitable “The Foundations of Servitude” landing a couple of minute shy of the entire ‘Dwell’ EP at ~16.5 minutes. Long-form structures and fluid-yet-readable psychedelic lead-driven pieces might not sound like such a drastic change for Suffering Hour‘s already stoic and seething apparatus but there are sections of this album that are going to be a bit too -beautiful- for folks wanting speed and chunking guitar tones to be the next envelopes pushed. Album opener and second single “Strongholds of Awakening” provides an exact and nigh complete induction into the electrified clean waters of ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ with its smoldering guitar tone and endlessly warm, spacious sound a la Bølzer‘s ‘Lese Majesty’ record from a couple years prior. As the piece develops the mind becomes fully saturated with this incredible modulation of guitar effects, sparing no excess yet keeping the tonal value of the instrument as a directive voice within the swirling, caustic waves it creates. This practically rolls right into my personal favorite piece on the record “Transcending Antecedent Visions” where shrieking leads and atomic guitar runs codify these lovely stretches of arpeggiated movements, something I believe will impress fans of melodic/dissonant black metal who weren’t fully satisfied with how far ‘Algleymi‘ pushed the softer spectrum of its compositions or, just anyone as invested in Sinmara‘s discography as I am. Every minute of this album provides a reason to be impressed, to listen intently, and (eventually) to sit back in awe at the flood it becomes when you’ve resolved to be its vessel.

The reprisal or, sequel to “The Abrasive Black Dust” on ‘In Passing Ascension’, eh, “The Abrasive Black Dust Part II”, provides some direct callback to the previous album and this’d been a strange moment where I’d been forced to calculate the damage here, or, in clearer terms… Accept that this album is not only very different than its predecessor but it is ultimately stronger for its finessed, atmospheric approach which allows for a sequel (song) that emphasizes the differently emotional beast that ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ is. Consider the shift as similar to Ulcerate‘s movement from ‘Vermis’ to ‘Stare Into Death and Be Still’ but achieved without a buffering album between. It is also one of the more memorable songs on the album, perhaps for its use of repeating motif within its outsized eight minute presence. The first single from the album “Obscuration” is essentially absorbed into the “The Foundations of Servitude” when faced with the full listen, it might’ve been a more of a peak on the running order to help justify the full 45 minute length but the ever-shifting use of guitar effects allows the bass guitars to poke out into the mix a bit more here, making the song more notable in my mind once I’d taken a closer ear to it. As we enter beyond the first half hour of music here the language is established, the narrative has fully unfolded and all that remains is the final gigantic peak that ‘sells’ the experience into several listens. I’m not sure that “The Foundations of Servitude” serves such a predictable mammoth endpoint so much as they sprawl even further, getting somewhat lost in the spiraling nature of their sound to the point that the final third of the record is more of a horrifying descent. I appreciate that they’d kind of resolved the core modus of their first album with ‘Dwell’ yet I get the feeling this song indicates they’re tying off this experience with a similarly dramatic and double-sized piece. This leads my mind to figure that the main composers were ready to reach for something new around ~35 minutes in and the extra then minutes offers a chance to relish in this brilliant spot for a bit longer. Either they’re ready to do something even more ‘daring’ with this sound, or move onto another sound and I think I’d appreciated that pulling out of that soured, darkest point wasn’t hastened. It makes for a somewhat long, meditative and just slightly overlong record that forces its trance upon the listener as if making an important point ’til red in the face.

Though I’ve positioned its major trait as somewhat ethereal, a non-specifically psychedelic extreme metal sensation, ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ is yet a terrifying beast that arrives with a new voice — This one inducing madness without such brutal violence. For a largely self-captured and rendered recording it is remarkably polished, clearest in vision, and perhaps so slickly achieved that Suffering Hour almost appear ready for the next stage of their evolution before they’ve even finished this bout of genetic expression. A stoic and extended set of darkest emotional weight is well-represented with Artem Grigoryev‘s cover artwork, I’d loved his work for Pyre on ‘Chained to Ossuaries’ last year and Verberis before that but this one fits especially well while still feeling related to Alexander Brown‘s work on ‘In Passing Ascension’. The album and its physical reality offers a grand representation of these artists that’d recognize the need to change, to enforce their own evolution without the hands of others prying them in all directions, and to create something true to their own emotional state. Choosing to do this rather than force out a direct follow up has made Suffering Hour‘s discography a far richer mine to discover and for my own taste ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ is their best overall full listen and a hasty pre-order after just a handful of listens. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation (95/100)

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Cyclic Reckoning
LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records
RELEASE DATE:February 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Black/Death Metal,
Avant-Garde Black Metal,
Dissonant Death Metal

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