Band: Black Breath
Album: Slaves Beyond Death
Label: Southern Lord Recordings
Black Breath is one of those bands that found a niche, carved their way into that niche and produced amazing material within it. For Black Breath this niche was HM2 heavy Swedeath tied with a combination of hardcore punk, crust punk and thrash metal. While the idea of chucking any of those three with death metal isn’t new, chucking all of them in together gave Black Breath a somewhat unique sound and when combined with their amazing song writing, the band put out some phenomenal releases; Sentenced to Life, their 2010 sophomore release, is easily one of my favourite albums from recent years, with each track a pummelling and dark affair. So when new tracks dropped before this album showing off a move towards a more straight HM2 death metal sound, there was anticipation to see how Black Breath would hold up with this transition.
And, well, Slaves Beyond Death is okay. Along with the switch up to a more straight up death metal sound comes overall longer track lengths; 7 of the 8 tracks here are 5-6 minutes with the ending track just under 8 minutes. This presents a bit of a problem, since a major drawback to Slaves Beyond Death is that it lacks a consistent unique identity, especially given that Neil’s vocals have lost a lot of the hardcore bark to them that was so evident previously, and so the songs on Slaves… tend to lose the memorability that Heavy Breathing and Sentenced to Life have. Songs like Arc of Violence and Pleasure, Pain, Disease might be crushingly heavy but there’s a reliance on some more standard Swedeath riffing which causes these songs to lose out on that unique vicious intensity the thrashy crust and hardcore elements brought to the mix; it gives Slaves Beyond Death a more restrained fury, one that unfortunately gets ultimately lost amongst overladen Swedeath sound.
The song lengths and familiar Swedeth tropes do get grating as well, the two main riffs in A Place of Insane Cruelty’s first section, for example, are welcome teeth kickers but by the change up in the 4th minute, I felt relieved that the song was moving somewhere finally.
Despite these complaints, Slaves Beyond Death certainly still has its moments. Reaping Flesh features a main riff and vocal pattern that is heavily reminiscent of the pummelling and driven earlier material sans the other musical elements, and Burning Hate features a small but sinister, black metal-ish flourish to the riffs throughout the track, which sounds awesome. There’s also the inclusion of melodic leads introducing and ending Seed of Cain, as well as carrying the majority of the ending instrumental track, Chains of the Afterlife. Unfortunately Chains… also falls into the trappings of too long and too redundant; it doesn’t take long before the slow pacing and sombre sounding melodic lead work to become meandering and uninspired, and leaves the track feeling like just another “melodic contrast to heavy album” ending track.
Overall this album is definitely not a bad release, but the dropping of the crust, hardcore and thrash elements from Black Breath’s sound has caused a loss of the intensity and identity the band had, and leaves Slaves Beyond Death as another not bad but not amazing HM2 laden Swedeath styled release. Worth checking out to see for yourself though, and I’m more than keen to see Black Breath tighten this formula into something amazing – with a more focused intensity and shorter song lengths, this straight up death metal formula could work out great.
Check ’em out here: http://blackbreathsl.bandcamp.com/