Hardcore was so 2012. All hail the mighty riff \m/
It’s been three years since Seattle wrecking crew Black Breath dropped their sophomore record, ‘Sentenced To Life’, and took stages and message boards by storm. With their populist take on metal, infused with blackened, d-beat and crust tinged hardcore-punk elements, Black Breath managed to capitalise on the groundwork laid by bands like Entombed, Disfear and others, to much critical acclaim and used this success to tour extensively both at home in the U.S. and internationally. So it goes without saying (even though we're still gunna), that many fans were eagerly waiting with (here it comes) baited breath (nailed it) for the group’s third effort. And it’s this apprehension that makes ‘Slaves Beyond Design’ such an engaging listen, as Black Breath have gone full 90’s-death-metal revivalist this time around, and chucked all that hardcore out the proverbial tour van window. If you were hoping to beat your chest and pit to this record, then you’ll surely be disappointed. However, if the longhair in you is ready to pop your windmill cherry, please, read on.
In almost every aspect, ‘Slaves Beyond Death’ finds Black Breath expanding on their existing hardcore template, and moving firmly into territory that sounds more akin to Autopsy than All Pigs Must Die. With members having spent time in groups like hardcore outfit Go It Alone and melodic punks Shook Ones, the evolution of Black Breath into a true, bonafide death metal band is an appealing one, and sees them drawing heavily from Swedish and European death metal influences, alongside more traditional American death metal purists, particularly the Floridian purveyors of the sound from the mid-to-late 80’s. This stylistic change hits you straight in the face, with a close to two minute long instrumental introduction on opening track 'Pleasure, Pain, Disease', before vocalist Neil McAdams rips his throat apart with a brutal, piercing scream and launches into lyrical themes of ‘tasting someone’s fear’ and ‘wearing their skin’. The song builds to an epic crescendo, before a double kick-snare combo signifies the drop back into a heavy and catchy closing lead riff. Vocally, ‘Slaves Beyond Death’ finds McAdams at his most versatile, with a lot more variety and exploration this time around, which seems to perfectly match the eerie ebb & flow from track to track. He sounds downright evil on ‘Reaping Flesh’, and the title track when he’s ordering you to “suffer in silence” while he “drags your soul to this world of darkness.”
Musically, it’s clear that returning to recording maestro Kurt Ballou & God City Studios has once again yielded positive results for the metal five-piece, as each instrument sounds grimy yet simultaneously distinct; cultivating a grim, grotesque and vile atmosphere without sacrificing any of the heaviness and clarity of quality production. With eight tracks, and not one under five minutes in length across the entire record, ‘Slaves Beyond Death’ certainly represents a change of pace from the short bursts of fury and aggression featured on previous releases. Make no mistake: this is a traditional, death metal record, albeit one that utilises the faintest hint of a hardcore backbone to punctuate the many breaks, turns and layers within each track. ‘Seed of Cain’ sports rapid thrash guitar work courtesy of some solid Testament worship, and the vocal break before the rumbling double kick of ‘Arc of Violence’ is sure to induce a perpetual head-bang. Numerous solos and melodic leads that sound as if they were lifted straight from ‘Master of Puppets’ are shredded throughout the mix, like those featured on the epic closer ‘Chains Of The Afterlife’.
Successful progression as a band will ultimately hinge on the execution. Admittedly, this reviewer was never a big fan of ‘Sentenced To Life’, and our biggest critique of the band has always been their lack of staying power. But exploration from under and out of their hardcore roots has seemingly opened many doors for Black Breath, allowing diversity and dynamics to take centre stage, as they deliver a well-paced, interesting and engaging death metal record with ‘Slaves Beyond Death’. What they may have sacrificed in intensity, they have clearly traded in for soaring melodies, vicious riffs and an overwhelmingly bleak and unforgiving sound. If the aforementioned roots were more your speed, we still implore you to give this record a shot. And if you’re a seasoned metal-head, with your black, Slayer gig shirt fading out, then we think we may have found some new options for you.
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1. Pleasure, Pain, Disease
2. Slaves Beyond Death
3. Reaping Flesh
4. Seed Of Cain
5. Arc Of Violence
6. A Place Of Insane Brutality
7. Burning Hate
8. Chains Of The Afterlife