Twenty years is a long time to do anything, but that's how long Terrance Hobbs has been playing guitar for New York-based death-metal legends Suffocation — well, aside from a five-year group hiatus between 1999 and 2004. Suffocation is about to release its sixth full-length studio album, Blood Oath, which inaugurates a brand-new deal with Nuclear Blast Records, and it's also headlining a major national tour alongside German tech-death freaks Necrophagist.
Suffocation's unique sound combines intricate lead guitar work from Hobbs and complex, polyrhythmic drumming by Mike Smith with churning, powerful breakdowns reminiscent of hardcore bands like the Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front; all the while, frontman Frank Mullen barks and roars. A lot of metal vocalists get compared to Cookie Monster, but Mullen's version is hilariously flawless. "We all grew up in the same scene," Hobbs remembers. "If I went to see a Cro-Mags show, there would be Destruction playin' along with 'em, and there was a big congregation of metalheads and skinheads and hardcore kids, and that really rubbed off on everybody's writing styles and the way we portray ourselves live."
Something else that separates Suffocation from the pack is the band's racial makeup: Hobbs and Smith are both African-American. "Being in New York and having all the different races and ethnicities coming together and listening to music had a lot to do with me choosing what my style was going to be," Hobbs says. Growing up, he listened to Minor Threat and Uniform Choice along with Yngwie Malmsteen, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and that combination of influences makes Suffocation's music unique, not only among the pair's old-school death-metal peers, but within an increasingly cookie-cutter "extreme" music scene. Hobbs says much modern death metal strikes him as "a little bit sterile," but he sticks up for Tasmania's Psycroptic and Brazil's Krisiun, who he says "just rip your ass right the fuck out."
As far as his own career is concerned, Hobbs is realistic. "I would love to be a huge, giant band that everybody recognizes," he says, but admits that Blood Oath is unlikely to make them into mainstream superstars. The disc is "true to the roots of what Suffocation always was, which is a very heavy, aggressive breakdown type of band from New York. That's exactly what you're getting on the new album. Still, you can take it and compare it to every single record we have, and you'll hear how much it blows them away."