We like to keep it positive on this site. In general, good vibes are the only ones that truly matter and its so much better talking about something that you love and why you love it, than something that you hate and why you loath it. Too often those conversations get into weird superiority complexes and holier-than-thou attitudes or descend into internet trolling and horribleness.
But every once in awhile a failure is so impressive that it bears examination.
Suicide Silence’s recently released self titled record is one such example. Not only because it is such an interesting case, but it because it bares such a strong resemblance in its failures to another pop culture failure/phenomenon, Suicide Squad.
Suicide Silence, for those not in the know, has been one of the hottest extreme metal bands for the last ten years. Following a grind-influenced EP that followed up on the absolute brutal-ness that Job For a Cowboy spurned after the “Doom EP”, Suicide Silence dropped “The Cleansing.” Suddenly every deathcore act around had the bar set for them—“The Cleansing” was a revelation. Deathcore had already begun to falter early on with a lack of originality and an all-too-strict structure that discouraged experimentation. Suicide Silence, with more overt metal flourishes and charismatic vocalist Mitch Lucker’s demonic/psychotic vocals, was…while not a breath of fresh air exactly, it was the absolute epitome and pinnacle of deathcore. It was the absolute gut-wrenching brutal-ness of Job for a Cowboy, the sound of Cannibal Corpse, and the bro-ness of Slipknot all mixed into one. “No Time to Bleed” followed—showing slight progression and some better than decent singles that quickly became my and all my friends ringtones. With “The Black Crown,” Sucide Silence began to branch further—clearly leaning on those nu-metal, Slipknot influences over their more traditional metal counterparts…to mixed success.
Then tragedy struck. Mitch Lucker, the band’s endlessly charismatic frontman (I saw them play twice live and both shows were some of the best I have seen) was killed in a motorcycle accident. The band’s legacy was seemingly finalized—concretized by a tribute show where Suicide Silence played, filled in by a number of guest vocalists from across the metal and deathcore worlds to pay tribute to their fallen comrade. With more in them, the band made a bold move—soldier on. And to do so they made the best choice they could have in picking up former All Shall Perish’s vocalist, Eddie Hermida—perhaps the only person who could not only rival, but perhaps exceed Lucker’s legendary screaming vocal range. “You Can’t Stop Us” was a defiant and surprisingly solid “comeback” record.
I saw them play at Knotfest this year, for the first time with Hermida leading, and was blown away at how good they remained. Certainly Lucker’s presence was missed palpably, but the band performed exceptionally, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
Everything seemed to be going so well.
Then things began to go awry. As Suicide Silence started to talk about their next record, dropping that it was going to contain a lot of clean vocals, people began to cry “foul,” and the band started to hit back. In a cringe-worthy series of publicity moves, Hermida and the band embarked on a salt-the-earth campaign with their fans. And…to be honest…one can hardly blame them. Metal, in general but specifically its more popular iterations and even more specifically nu-metal influenced extreme metal, is not known for its intellectual rigor or open-ness to new ideas. Too many fans of deathcore simply chase whatever is most brutal and will have none of anything else. Many fans, Suicide Silence correctly surmised, simply rejected the idea of a deathcore band, and Suicide Silence in particular, using clean singing. Personally, I was stoked. Deathcore is too confining and I believed this band to have the talent to pull just about anything off.
When first single “Doris” dropped, however, I was forced to temper my expectations. “Doris,” was a nu-metaly-mess. Off-key singing, disjointed Frankenstein of a structure, and some strange tonal issues. It was like Suicide Silence were experiencing an identity crisis. It was like the song started as one thing, the band second guessed themselves, and then became another.
And, unfortunately, its indicative of the whole album at large.
“Suicide Silence” is a mess. But an interesting one.
Which, of course, is where I get onto the subject of Suicide Squad, maybe not the worst, but certainly the most frustrating movie I have ever seen. Suicide Squad is a master class in how not to write, structure, pace, organize or tone a movie and yet it was a bonafide phenomenon, going on to break multiple box office records. The movie has about five starts, four introductions per character, no idea of what character motivation is or how to show rather than tell. It is a horribly misogynist, mixed-message of a movie with completely negligible character arcs, inexplicable decision making, constant deus ex machinas…it’s a cringe-worthy bore that is only carried by the charisma of it’s leading actors…Will Smith, Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie. It made me so angry that as soon as I saw it I went home and rewrote the whole damn movie just based on the scenes they had already shot and a few minor changes and sent it to my friends. Its so bad that it still makes me angry at least once a week.
But I LOVE bad movies. So why did this one irk me so? It wasn’t the disappointment after it failed to live up to the expectations that an absolutely stellar marketing department and some gangbuster trailers set. It was because, so often, it would get so close to greatness that it would practically telegraph what it was going to do next. It new how to reward the viewer (and yes not all movies should “reward” the viewer, but movies, like all media, are a delicate manipulation of the viewer’s emotions and knowledge that is its own visual and auditory language and frequently “rewarding” the viewer is simply because we are so familiar with narrative that we can anticipate whats coming next…the fun part that movies play on is when they see that, wink, and then fuck with you the way they want after that) and then would do something completely different out of nowhere. It’s a series of utterly baffling decisions one after the other and each time they tell you whats going to happen…and promptly do something totally random from out of absolutely nowhere.
God its infuriating.
“Suicide Silence” plays much the same way—it’s a series of completely strange choices all slammed together under a barely-held-together framework that seems cobbled out of whatever the band had to hand by way of ideas. Songs come and go out of nowhere with little thought to structure—“Doris” is a perfect example, beginning with a southern riff, typical deathcore pounding, insane amount of reverb, horribly flat vocals, and ideas from about three separate songs stuck together. There are all sorts of random pauses throughout the record for Hermida’s deranged scream-talking to come to the fore. Moreover, the instrumentation feels lazy and uncomfortable. Like it wasn’t natural for them to be playing this slowed down.
What he’s saying, however, sounds patently ridiculous…even as far as metal lyrics go. “We’re dying through life, we’re living through death,” “the torrential clouds,” and honestly, too many other examples to note are all frighteningly shoddy lyrics that sound all the worse for being better understood by clean singing. But even what singing there is, is frequently drenched in an absurd amount of reverb and echoes last seconds after the words themselves have been said. It’s a cool idea when used in a song to really impress that going-off-the-rails feeling as the sheer amount of noise mounts to a peak, but over an entire record it just feels…off. It was most likely done to help make up for the underwhelming nature of the clean vocals themselves, but you could forgive them that easily if they were simply better utilized.
Where Hermida’s vocals really aid the record is in their complete psychotic-sounding derangement. He really plays with edging that precipice between crazy and absolutely batshit insane…but it’s the one tool he has in this whole travesty of a record. And he never stops using it. Consequently it loses its unique appeal fairly quickly, despite how tortured and raw he seems to want to sound. Mixed with the clean vocals and simplistic lyrics, however, it becomes a little tired and melodramatic. Which encapsulates what is so frustrating with the record as a whole–these musicians are great, their ideas have legitimate awesomeness within them, but they keep going the wrong direction.
Tonally, the record is all over the place. Humans being complex creatures, I am not against a multi-tonal record, but “Suicide Silence” really puts a confusing amount of tonal choices into only 9 songs. It begins with a “fuck yeah!” and southern rock riffage, but so much of the record seems to be really gunning for this tortured aesthetic, before ending on a carefree and completely out of nowhere whistling jaunty tune in “Don’t Be Careful You Might Hurt Yourself” and the ding of a microwave. As Hermida rockets back and forth between talking, crooning, and vocal-chord shredding mayhem, backed by an alternating chugging and soundscape-y instrumentation, one would really think they are trying to play up this dichotomy to aim for a certain kind of catharsis brought to light by this tonal rawness, but with bits and pieces of all sorts of ideas and songs chucked together haphazardly, the record ends up being just as frustrating a listen as Suicide Squad was a watch.
“Suicide Silence” is a massive miscalculation of epic proportions. Its an embarrassment that the band, perhaps forced by an unwelcoming fanbase who hates change of any kind, has doubled down on with both an antagonistic PR campaign, but simply through the album itself. I wanted to ignore that horrible album cover/excellent band photo that destroys a visual aesthetic pattern that the band has been roughly following with their records since “The Cleansing” because it makes me too upset, but I can’t. Because it says it right there—“Suicid Silence.” This is a self-titled record. Self-titled records are assertions of identity. It’s the band saying, quite literally, “this is us.” It should function as the truest (if not the best, of course) representation of the band themselves. It’s a choice with a purpose. Suicide Silence are clearly tired of living under the shadow of tragedy and within the confines of a genre resistant to change, but that they chose this papier-mache mess of a record as their mission statement paints them into a tough corner. But look at that record cover—its literally a band photo, arms crossed in defiance and everything. “This IS Suicide Silence” is what they are telling us. And yet it doesn’t match up at all with our understanding, nor is it even said in a way to create understanding. I get that the band are really trying to shake off the stragglers who havn’t been able to move on since Lucker’s passing, but the record seems to be encountering such ire because its a perceived betrayal of their legacy that was done with purpose. It’s a defensive, defiant, provocative move on all fronts. Which is a knee-jerk feeling that seems to dictate a lot of the choices on the record. I get that they are deliberately trying to buck expectations and assumptions, but there must have been more thoughtful, authentic, organic ways that challenging of assumptions and iconography could have been done or toyed with.
If they were seeking to solely shed themselves of the shackles confining them and the fans weighing like anchors on them, there is no doubt they will have done that, but with the added difficulty of no doubt falling down the ranks of bills. If they truly believe in the merits of this record (and, no doubt there are a few—just like Suicide Squad there are faint glimmers of true greatness in the sprawling morass of awfulness), and wish to continue down this path, they are going to face a rude awakening (if they care at all, of course) it is received mostly negatively by critics and fans alike. But at the same time, they will have difficulty backtracking on how antagonistic and vocally uncaring their PR campaign has been—it would take a really thoughtful interview after months of meditating on the critical failure of this record to be accepted as genuine. Finally, the band also (hopefully) can’t end here…with a slow fizzle into obscurity before a final pop of abject mediocrity. That would be a sad capper on the band’s legacy, and totally undeserved given the talent of all those involved.
While their livelihood is somewhat dependent on fans and critics reception of their output, I of course do not believe that they are beholden to make people happy and not challenge their audience or themselves. That, I believe is the role of the artist—to challenge themselves and others. Far be it from me, or any of us for that matter, to dictate the output of the author, the artist, or the musician. Works of great art, or even great media, are rarely assembled by committee. Need evidence? Just look at Suicide Squad.