*This interview was featured in the now-defunct Hails & Horns Magazine to promote their then new record The Pinnacle Of Bedlam. Frank is a great guy, so this was very cool for me.*
If there were a Big 4 of American death metal, most likely it would consist of MORBID ANGEL, OBITUARY, DEATH and SUFFOCATION. SUFFOCATION are one of the originators of the early brutal death metal sound, and with the release of their seventh album Pinnacle Of Bedlam, they have yet again set the high-water mark for the genre. One of their trademarks over the years, other than brutality, has been their dedication to the genre that they helped create. I recently had the opportunity to chat with vocalist and founding member Frank Mullen. We discussed the band’s mindset while recording Bedlam, as well as their perseverance over the years and their induction into the Long Island Music Hall Of Fame. Pinnacle Of Bedlam comes out via Nuclear Blast in February 2013.
Your new album Pinnacle of Bedlam comes out next year. Once again, you guys have proved that you’re one of the best brutal death metal bands on the planet. Tell me a little about the band’s mindset going into the making of the album.
Pretty much, the mindset going in was the same thing that we’ve always done for years. We always try to put something brutal together, and the fans have been waiting for a new album. Terrence has been doing a lot of the writing, and we felt that everything was ready at this time, so we got in there and put it together as quickly as we could.
As far as the albums sound quality goes, it seems like Joe Cincotta has once again brought out the best in you guys. What is it you like about working with him?
Well, working with Joe is easy, because he’s family. Pretty much, when we sit down and work with Joe, it’s a relaxed atmosphere, very comfortable. He’s easy to work with, you sit down there, you don’t have to be stressed out about, ya know, “We gotta get this done in two weeks.” So, that’s why we always go back to Joe, because it’s close to everyone’s home and he’s real easy to work with.
I read a quote from Terrance that said you guys think this is the best SUFFOCATION album to be released. What is it about the album that you think stands toe-to-toe with a classic album like Effigy Of The Forgotten?
Ya know, Terrence put a lot of writing into it, so we think it’s definitely one of the best albums we’ve put out. I think every album that we’ve put out has been a damn good album, so I’m not gonna say which one is better than another, or anything like that. I mean, I’ve been happy with every single album that we’ve put out. I think every album we’ve put out is our best album.
You make a good point with that; you guys basically founded brutal death metal, so it’s hard to make a bad album. What is it that has kept you from following trends or selling out, or straying too far away from the brutal death metal genre?
Well, this band has been around for a long time, and we’ve always strived to write brutal music and I don’t really know anything else. SUFFOCATION is SUFFOCATION, so we’re not gonna try and change things up, or try to fit in with the mainstream, or something different or outside the box like that. We know how to write death metal, that’s what we do, and I think we’re pretty damn good at it, so that’s what we’ll always do.
It’s always a difficult task replacing a legendary drummer like Mike Smith, however, with Dave Culross, it appears that he fills those shoes pretty well. What was it like working in the studio with Dave again?
It’s good. I’ve been working with Mike for all those years, and Mike is a great friend of mine, and we’ve worked with Dave before on the Despise the Sun EP, and Dave is the same person he was 15 years ago, and he’s really easy to work with. I’ve known Dave for a long time, so it wasn’t uncomfortable or anything like that, he’s easy enough to work with, and he does a good job.
Bedlam is your seventh album. Looking back to when you first started this band, did you think you guys would even record seven albums, much less have multiple albums that are considered some of the finest death metal albums of all time?
No, definitely not. When we put together the first album, we were pretty young and it was the best thing that could happen to me as a kid, putting out an album. Of course, we always wanted to have a good career with it, but once we finished up the Despise the Sun EP, I thought that might be the end of SUFFOCATION. There were not any real definite plans to get back together, so it could have ended right there; but circumstances happened within my life, and there was an opportunity there to see if we could put it back together, and kind of push forward and see if we could do something with it. I was really fortunate that all the guys—Mike, Terrence, Guy, and eventually Derek–were on board. I was really fortunate that we were able to do that, and put something together and move forward with it. I always sort of felt like SUFFOCATION had more to give after Despise The Sun, but those things, they happen in your life and stuff, and you’re not sure if you’ll ever be able to get back to that. To be honest, I really didn’t think we’d be up to seven albums at this point.
You guys were recently inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Some of the other artists in the hall are LOUIS ARMSTRONG, BLUE OYSTER CULT, DREAM THEATER, THE RAMONES, LOU REED, RUN DMC and JOHN COLTRANE. For a death metal band, that’s about as close to the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame as you can get. What does it mean to you to be among names of that caliber?
It’s an amazing and truly great honor. We’ve all pretty much grown up on Long Island, with the exception of Derek; Dave didn’t grow up on the island, but he’s been there for a very long time. Growing up from there, we were young kids, we were all a part of the music scene back then, and we put this band together, not knowing exactly what would happen. I knew it was a talented group of musicians, but I never knew it would really go as far as it did. To be recognized years later for the great accomplishments that we’ve done throughout our entire career, it just goes to show that no matter what type of music you do, if you put in the hard work and dedication, and you put your best foot forward on it, anything’s possible. The fact that the Long Island Music Hall of Fame–with some of those great artists–continue to look at something that’s so outside of the box, and underground, and think “hey, we may not totally understand this music, we may not get it, but these guys have paved the way for a lot of bands, and they’ve been in the scene for over twenty years representing long island”, it’s a truly great honor that they acknowledged that, and inducted us into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. We’ll always be a part of something special.
If you could go back in time and change one thing about the path your career has taken, what would it be and why?
Well, I think the only thing I would have liked to maybe have tried differently is just–I think when the band first started, I probably would have liked to have held off on getting married at such a young age– because that put me in a predicament where I couldn’t tour as much as I would have liked to in the beginning years of SUFFOCATION. I think at that point in time, maybe if I would have gotten married a little bit later in life, I could have had more time to just really hit it hard and put a lot of touring into it that I couldn’t do because of stuff like that. Personally, that’s the only thing that I would have changed.
Now that you have a solid lineup and a bad ass album to tour behind, what are your plans for the future of Suffocation?
The album’s gonna come out in February, and we’re gonna do some touring for the album and stuff like that, obviously. I’ll tour as much as I possibly can. There’s a making of DVD that comes with the album, and we’re also still working on the DVD that we’ve been working on for a very long time. I apologize to all the fans, but now it’s in some capable hands, and we’re hoping to get that out this year as well.
One thing I respect about Suffocation is how humble you guys are, and how well you’ve persevered over the years. If you could give any advice to a young band or musician out there on how to make it in the music industry these days, what would you say?
If you have the dedication and drive, just keep punching away at it, because you never know what’s gonna happen. With us, we had been in other bands while growing up, like playing the battle of the bands in high school and things like that, and you never know what’s gonna happen. You never know in life when it’s your time, or your break, so keep working hard and push hard at it, and things can happen. I mean, look at us, we’re a death metal band from Long Island, we were in the underground scene, but we’re fortunate to put out a bunch of albums and be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall Of Fame. So anything’s possible, and if you really want it, keep fighting for it, keep pushing at it.