“Heavy Breathing”, Seattle’s Black Breath‘s stunning 2010 début album was a successful mix of death and black metal with hardcore, full of punchy, vicious but memorable songs that gained them many fans and saw them favourably likened to Entombed . The follow up, ”Sentenced To Life”, saw the band lean towards the hardcore element of their sound, with shorter songs and less of the metal detailing. This pleased a certain hipster faction of their fans, but for me the album is let down by the resulting lack of drama in the music and a dearth of any really memorable tunes.”Slaves Beyond Death” seems to be the result of another rethink by the band and takes all the ingredients and more from their début and paints them on a much wider canvass.
Now, whilst we should never bemoan a bands desire to branch out and experiment, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to enjoy the results, and so it is, to a certain degree with “Slaves Beyond Death”. There are some brilliant moments and the trademark mix of buzz saw dirty guitars and mournful clean playing of Eric Wallace and Mark Palm is excellent throughout, but some of these much more complex songs can lose fans of their early sound in the more mid paced moments.
Opener ‘Pleasure, Pain, Disease’ immediately shows more of a technical approach in the guitar intro, with shades of Gojira‘s plummeting sound and, once the main riff kicks in, mixes it with an old school thrash/death Kreator nastiness. It’s a great start, aided as ever by a brilliant production by Kurt Ballou.
The title track also has a more complicated arrangement with slower passages, though the buzz saw guitar sound still dominates. Triptykon seem a likely an influence on the chorus, but the rest of the song doesn’t quite get me going.
Now ‘Reaping Flesh’ has an early Slayer vibe with black metal style angry wasp guitars and blurred fury drumming parts and a huge almost sludgy chorus. The second half of the song wrong foots you with tech-death stylings and some beautifully chilly, clean guitar playing before heading back into the fiery pit. This one keeps your interest throughout.
‘Seed of Cain’ has a poised Kirk Hammett-esque guitar intro with more old school thrash in the riffs mixed with Neil McAdams death metal vocals, which is good, but doesn’t quite live up to the intro.
‘Arc of Violence’ shows the band can operate at a mid paced chug, but the creeping death metal never really produces the required chill factor. However ‘A Place of Insane Cruelty’ (possibly about Jose Mourinho‘s house?) whilst also slowing the place, has a better, dynamic arrangement, with the tremolo picking and more of that mournful clear guitar tone adding drama and class to proceedings.
At times the martial drumming makes it come across like some horrible death metal parade anthem. That’s a good thing, if you’re asking.
The album really comes together for the final two tracks; ‘Burning Hate’ and ‘Chains of the Afterlife’. ‘Burning Hate’ is a classic banger with another Kirk Hammett-esque intro, which mixes crunching thrash riffs with heavier double kick drumming and a nasty black metal attitude. It’s like Venom and Exodus combined at their finest – that’s a compliment guys!
Black Breath go to the other end of spectrum of their sound for ‘Chains of the Afterlife’, a quite majestic instrumental. Nearly eight minutes long you could easily imagine it sitting on one of Metallica‘s classic early albums. Full of intricate playing, wailing solos, crashing riffs and solemn upfront bass parts, it best displays the bands new maturity.
So ”Slaves Beyond Death” isn’t quite the album it wants to be, but Black Breath continue to produce interesting, heavy as fuck music that demands your respect.