For a long time, the only death metal I listened to was Six Feet Under. To an extent I'd also listened to other bands (Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel), but only through one album from each (and at that, they were the debuts, which were very rough around the edges and very different from how each band would eventually sound). However, after a while, I lost interest in death metal. This was especially so after discovering the power and majesty of straight-edge metal bands such as Iced Earth, the experimental nature of progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater, and the dark beauty of melodeath bands like Soilwork and the great Opeth. Regular death metal just wasn't cutting it. It was too loud, too noisy, and too dissonant to compare to the more sleek aforementioned bands, as well as others. Basically, death metal became boring to me...that is, until I discovered guys like Cryptopsy, DOMINATION-era Morbid Angel, and through this album, Suffocation.
All the classic elements of death metal are here: the grunting, Cookie-Monster-with-laryngitis vocals, the ultra-fast thrash guitar riffs, the pounding double-bass and blast-beats of snare and tom (and a steady rumble of bass somewhere in the mix). The lyrics are filled with hatred, fury, but not always obscenity (I'll get to that later). So why is this death metal any better than that of the other stuff I'd heard? Good songwriting, and unique talent!
The songs are fast and furious, yes, but they have a real INTELLIGENCE behind them; the instrumentation is very tight and well-written and -performed. The lyrics are not always talking about the gross (no pun intended) details of gruesome deaths and necrophilia; rather, they cover a wide variety of subjects. Take "Deciet," about the end of a nine-year (yes, they're that specific) friendship. Or "To Weep Once More," about the horrible, horrible groups of child-molesting priests out in the world. Or "Subconsciously Enslaved," which brings up images of hypnotism and the feeling of loss of control by some Big Brother-like figure. This is, in itself, a great trait which separates Suffocation from their usual guts-and-gore-splatter peers; this band realizes that there are actually other subjects which are voiced well in death metal vocals (which, by the way, are especially ferocious and impressive).
The lead guitar lines (sadly uncredited in the notes) are also not too hammy, which is something else that the typical death metal band suffers. Often solos are included not for the sake of a good song, but for an excuse to shred - and more than sometimes very poorly. It becomes an ugly cacophony of dissonant noodling which more distracts the listener from the song rather than further pull them through it. This isn't the case here - Suffocation's solos are few and far between, yet always played within the proper boundaries of both time and tempo, rather than "suffocate" the song (okay, terrible joke, I know).
And finally, the drums are far more than just very fast double-bass kicking and blast-beats. Mike Smith has a very intellectual bit of talent in his feet, more than often creating unusual time signatures and interesting rhythms. This isn't to say he's the wrong kind of drummer for a death metal band; rather, his talents only increase the overall powerhouse juggernauts which are each song.
So in a nutshell, bands like Suffocation are what truly MATTER in the death metal community: intelligence, fury, and speed. Without sacrificing the least bit of relentless and gruesome power, and without venturing into pure cheesiness, Suffocation (and now with this album, SOULS TO DENY) proves that death metal CAN be good, after all.