Sometimes in order to overcome a sophomore slump, artists need to announce their follow ups with a frenzy of fists. The less room you leave the listener to question or consider the dizzyed state they are in upon impact, the better. That is exactly what the Bay Area Death Metal up-and-comers Succumb aimed to do with their punishing second album XXI.
Released by expert underground metal curators, The Flenser, the new album builds upon the strengths that were in over-abundance on the band’s self-titled debut.
While the cavernous production the record and unrelenting onslaught brought upon by drummer by Harry Cantwell took influence from the forefathers of Norwegian Black Metal, it was the intricate and aggressive shredding by guitarist Derek Webster and bassist Kirk Spasseff that aimed towards crossover hardcore, thrash and death metal. All of this would be thrilling enough to deserve your hard-earned cash, but what made Succumb such a special presence was the astonishing vocals of the band’s lead singer Cheri Musrasrik.
Her guttural bellows can reach blood-boiling temperatures within a single song, an undeniable range that can make you wonder if she was joined by some sort of dark messenger conjured within the vocal booth.
The band worked again with producer Jack Shirley at Atomic Garden Studio in East Palo Alto. But this time around, they wanted to make sure that the recording was as direct and punishing as possible from the moment you put the needle down on side A.
“We intentionally wanted to make things a little more upfront and a little more aggressive,” Musrasrik said in a phone interview. “And with the pacing of the record, we wanted to intersperse the longer tracks with more grindy faster things [to break] everything up and make it a little more exciting.”
With no reverb to water down their attack and Musrasrik’s vocals fully out of the shadows, XXI is far more ferocious in execution than the band’s debut. All of the band’s influences — whether it’s ‘90s Napalm Death, the slow crawl of Funeral Doom, or the ultraviolence of War Metal — were given the same attention.
“I guess we kind of bring different tastes to the table,” Musrasrik said. “So when we’re putting these [influences] all together, they create this weirdness that you start hearing. It’s not really too much of a worry for us that we’re just going to fall into one mode of making music or one genre.”
The album’s title comes from the 21st trump card in the tarot deck — which is the final card in the Major Arcana sequence. The card symbolizes “The World” and its significance is informed throughout Musrasrik’s lyrics on XXI. This was an influence that became important to her after rediscovering the work of legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.
“Essentially, what I’m talking about with the album is the elements,” she said. “I’m talking about the planet Earth. I thought that tied it together nicely and during the pandemic, I felt like most people were regressing. For men, that just means playing video games or doing whatever. But for me, I was going back to my high school major influences, which are things like Jodorowski and his movie The Holy Mountain.”
Living on the West Coast, she is reminded every year about the severity of the climate crisis as wildfires are becoming all too common and new heat records are being recorded with a startling frequency.
“It’s kind of traumatic,” she said with a defeated sigh. “I’m a person that likes to have air when they sleep, so I always have my windows open. To not have air, I don’t know, it’s a little disturbing. It’s just a lot to deal with sometimes. But it’s a constant reminder that we’re fucking up as human beings.”
In many ways Succumb are the products of their environment. Hailing from what many consider to be the mecca of thrash metal and a blasting zone for some of America’s most defining punk and hardcore bands, Musrasrik and the rest of the band feel grateful to call San Francisco home. Its musical history is something they all feel close to and extremely protective of, which makes them a great fit on The Flenser’s stacked roster. But outside of that scene, Musrasrik has always felt like it is a city that is welcoming in every sense of the word.
“Beyond just music, I love San Francisco and the Bay Area is also a really sexually open place,” She said. “The gay history. The alternative lifestyles, like leather, is also part of what attracts me to this place because it’s something you can take for granted sometimes. I’ve lived here and around here for so many years that now I’m just like, ‘Oh, you can’t go to the middle of America and just waltz into general place and buy like hardcore gay smut or a nice pair of nipple clamps?’”
While the pandemic had put a hard stop on touring and local DIY shows, the dampening it put on the local San Francisco institutions threatened to cause a serious identity shift that Musrasik worried it would have a hard time coming back from.
“Honestly, the history of this place is what I love the most,” she added. “And it makes me so sad, especially with the pandemic, that certain institutions have had to close. Yeah, a little obsessed with this place’s history and to be a part of the punk scene here, even if it’s not, doesn’t really measure up to what it once was. I feel happy and proud to be a part of it.”
As for the prospects of leaving their hometown to tour around XXI, Musrasrik is hopeful that Succumb will be able to get back out on the road soon. Currently, they have a couple shows on the books, including their first show in two years on Oct. 26 at the Ivy Room with XOTH, Valemyst and Frolic.
“We would love to play on the east coast,” she said. “Everything’s a little up in the air with the way that shows are going.”