Suffocation are one of the most important bands in death metal. Their unique sound blended the awesome technical skills of guitarists Terrance Hobbs and Doug Cerrito and drummer Mike Smith with bottom-heavy, brutal riffing and pit-detonating breakdowns that bridged the gap between the metal and hardcore scenes. Plus, it's impossible to discount the influence of frontman Frank Mullen, whose brutal growls never sacrificed intelligibility for badassness. There have been literally hundreds of dudes vocalizing for death metal bands over the last two decades who should be sending whatever meager royalty checks they earn straight to Frank Mullen's house.
The first and third Suffocation albums, 1991's Effigy of the Forgotten and 1995's Pierced from Within, were overseen by legendary metal producer Scott Burns in Florida, and are landmarks of the genre. The disc in between, though, is a stranger case. Breeding the Spawn, originally released in May 1993, was recorded on the band's home turf of Long Island, and co-produced by the band and Paul Bagin, who'd engineered their Human Waste EP, a glorified demo released by Relapse Records less than six months before Effigy. As a result, the mix isn't as clear as the albums before or after - it's kind of a thick, bass-heavy blur, with extremely thin guitar leads, clearly the work of someone who doesn't know that much about what extreme metal was supposed to sound like (though, to be fair, hardly anyone did, as the genre was still emerging and defining itself in 1993).
Guitarist Terrance Hobbs recalls that period in the band's history as somewhat fraught, and says that was reflected in the music. "We used an engineer out here on Long Island who had his own studio," he says. "But during that time, the band was also in turmoil. Everybody was fighting. And it came through in the record that way. All the bullshit we were going through and arguments and everything else came through in that record. For me, it’s a dark spot. I don’t really care for it that much, I think the music was great 'cause we spent so much time writing the music, but I don’t think the album sounds good, and it deserves its day. It deserves to be heard for what the songs deserve to be heard for."
Indeed, the actual songs on Breeding the Spawn are some of Suffocation's most complex and brutal, ever. Hobbs freely admits that musically, BtS represents something of a peak for the band - their ...And Justice for All, if you will. "Pretty much that whole album is super-technical, when it comes down to note-y riffage and stuff like that," he says. "A song like 'The Beginning of Sorrow' is a little bit complicated, but not as complicated as 'Breeding the Spawn' or 'Prelude to Repulsion,' for example. Those songs are pretty complicated. There’s tons and tons of riffs, so it’s hard to pick out which ones would be the hardest to play. From one to ten, I would give most of them a six point five to an eight."
Hobbs feels that the quality of the songwriting on Breeding the Spawn deserves better than the album's production, so on each of the last four Suffocation studio discs, one or two of the old tracks have been re-recorded. But honestly, it's only a bad record when contrasted with the two that came before and after it; compared with almost anything else being released at the time, Breeding the Spawn is a death metal masterpiece, just like everything else Suffocation released during their half-decade with Roadrunner.