“Four years, four f**king years,” vocalist Tom Barber exclaimed to me during my almost 2-hour interview with him. This passionate outburst was related to the length of time between their last album “Eternal Nightmare”, and the brand new, soul-piercing record “Suffer In Hell”. After spending a lot of time listening to this album, I’ve decided that the only negative thing is that we have to wait until March for the second half of this double album offering, “Suffer In Heaven”, and 4 months is not even that bad at all…
It goes without saying that a lot has changed over four years, and this is the exact same with Chelsea Grin. The way the group sounds on “Suffer In Hell” is pretty far away from what people have come to know when getting used to “Eternal Nightmare”. Some may lament this change, though I doubt it. The new record is an evil and spectacular step up in every way. It’s heavier, more creative, and most notably shows off the writing talent of guitarist Stephen Rutishauser. The album sounds like an ominous destructive force, looming over the world. There’s a theatricality at times to the tracks but makes the record feel like an anthology of evil fables, demonic folk tales even.
Rutishauser didn’t waste an iota of creative energy throughout this album. Disgustingly groovy melodies bounce around in “The Isnis”, a track that touches on the Ancient Egyptian Book of The Dead, exploring the way all things in the universe are infinitely connected. The straight up spine-snapping chugs in final track “Suffer In Hell, Suffer In Heaven” are almost too much to take; those pinch harmonics are perfect, though. The listener is essentially treated to 8 tracks of some of the most enjoyable deathcore in recent times. One thing doesn’t change with this band, however, and that is the constant heaviness throughout the album. It’s overpowering, and with the veteran skills of Jeff Dunne mixing the album, it’s easy to understand just how oppressive and dominating this body of work will be. Bassist David Flinn also gets to lay down a thick bass performance that beats into your chest relentlessly.
Despite listing those two examples above, the album is far from two-dimensional. The softer moments in “Floodlungs”, a personal album highlight, are a nice moment of calm but still oozing with darkness, much like being in the eye of a storm. The storm comes back with an immense strength, however, in the form of a breakdown that instantly reminded me why I love bands like Humanity’s Last Breath so much. Feeling weightless during an apocalypse-level breakdown? This is where you experience that.
The symbiosis between guitar and orchestral layers in the apocalyptic ode “Origin Of Sin” is just as fun as it is dark, and it immediately shows off the kind of theatricality the band is diving into on this record. A gothic atmosphere completely shrouds the listener’s world during “Deathbed Companion”, and who can’t help but crack a little smirk at the beginning of “Forever Bloom” when that little medieval jingle plays. Whether you relate it to the sound of a spooky house in an amusement park or the soundtrack to your favourite video/board game, there’s no debate that it’s a damn fun way to start a track.
It’s hard to believe at first, but the drums were programmed by Rutishauser also. It was initially hard to believe because he did an insanely good job at making the drums sound human, as well as original. The fills are creative, such as the trippy little one before the breakdown at the end of “Crystal Casket”, a track that (to my understanding) explores totalitarian control and focusing on one’s own state of true being as a form of rebellion.
If anyone could take the focus away from an instrumental performance as intense as this record, it could only be Tom Barber. For his second studio performance as Chelsea Grin’s vocalist, he refuses the binary approach to the usual deathcore vocalist performance; gutturals and piercing highs. Throughout “Suffer In Hell”, the listener is constantly blindsided by a blend of versatility and pure hostility. Barber is the voice of every demon you don’t want in the corner of your room, but nonetheless here he is, dominating the hellish soundscape before you.
The theatricality within this record doesn’t stop at the instrumental side of things. Barber brings a ghoulish and dramatic effect to the vocals, furthering the feeling that each track is immediately identifiable, unique from the last. It’s a rare thing to have that in a modern deathcore albums, and despite some people disagreeing with that, I think they’ll know what I mean.
Barber has an iconic sound, no doubt, but that doesn’t stop him from reaching out into the far reaches of vocal extremes. Opening track “Origin Of Sin” has him gurgling ancient wisdom that immediately brings about thoughts of vocalists like Austin Dickey of Infant Annihilator or Abiotic vocalist Travis Bartosek. “Forever Bloom” is a pure unleashing of everything Barber can be, at times tapping right into the voice of the late Trevor Strnad, who also appears on this track. It’s a match made in hell/heaven (see what I did there?). Strnad had a major influence on Barber’s vocal development, and so there’s a hint of sadness in the air as we listen to Strnad decimate his section on the track, gobsmacked at the beautiful filthiness that he was able to let out.
Articulation is something Barber has completely mastered. The pronunciation of words and phrases catches you off guard. The lashing of words in “Forever Bloom” is almost too much to keep up with, but it easily sells the idea of putting the track on repeat. I liken his performance to that of an actor who does such a great job of portraying characters that you forget who the actor actually is. The performance is more than just Barber, and that’s a pretty special thing. His hardcore yells also jump out occasionally in tracks like “The Isnis” and some evil banshee shrieks tear the sky open in “Crystal Casket”.
Clean vocals don’t get left out of this 8-track experience either, and they’re a worthy addition to the sound of “Suffer In Hell”. “Floodlungs”, a song that dives deep into the regret of one’s absence or estrangement, turns Barber into an ethereal layer that bleeds into the gloomy atmosphere. “Mourning Hymn”, a lamentation for the loss of potential life, contains some clean vocals that sit just atop some shrill screams, creating an almost operatic performance from the group.
Lyrically, the themes are various, but that makes for some pretty genuine material. It’s not the milking of one idea, swapping out words and structures to say the same thing. It’s a body of work that touches on numerous things whilst also changing up the syntax, the phonetics in Barber’s vocals, and all the ideas in between the lines. It’s slightly obscure at times in its messages, but that only serves to let the listener dive deep into the subject matter and make of it what they will.
You can probably tell from the positive words above, but it’s my opinion that “Suffer In Hell” is easily a contender for album of the year, and one of the best deathcore albums to be released in recent years. Each track is unique, telling a different story from different voices and perspectives, and the instrumental side is just as fun and engaging to get familiar with. It’s one thing for an album this good to be dropped, but for a follow-up record to be dropped in 4 months from now? It’s a damn good time to be a Chelsea Grin fan.
Released On: November 11, 2022
Released By: OneRPM
- Tom Barber / Vocals
- Stephen Rutishauser / Guitar/Programming
- David Flinn / Bass
“Suffer In Hell” Track-list:
- Origin Of Sin
- Forever Bloom (Feat. Trevor Strnad)
- Deathbed Companion
- Crystal Casket
- The Isnis
- Mourning Hymn
- Suffer In Hell, Suffer In Heaven
"Suffer In Hell" is Chelsea Grin at the very best. The record shows all of their pent up rage, creativity and development that's been building and bubbling for four years. "Eternal Nightmare" was a triumph, in the way that it showed Chelsea Grin's flame was still bright and powerful. "Suffer In Hell" takes that flame and scorches the world with it. Stephen Rutishauser deserves all the praise possible for the songwriting, and Tom Barber's vocals continue to blow the metal world's minds. "Suffer In Hell" is a top contender for deathcore album of the year.