For me, Seattle, WA's Black Breath is a bit of a special band because I'd seen them on one of their first (if not their first) tours across the U.S. with Trap Them, Protestant and Victims at the Borg Ward in Milwaukee, WI (you know, that venue that's banned “metalcore” bands). The Razor to Oblivion record was just off the press and after that night they landed high on the ol' “to watch” list. Two full lengths later, and Black Breath has not disappointed. Renown for their Swedish death metal influences ala Entombed or old Dismember, the band has finally turned over their latest offering: Slaves Beyond Death.
If you walk into this expecting another Sentenced to Life or Heavy Breathing, it's not. For the most part. There's speed -a-plenty, there's thrash-a-plenty, but there's a definite fixation on taking Black Breath's sound further, albeit in slow steps. Exit the predominately shrieking vocal style of Neil McAdams (it's still there sometimes) and enter a more guttural sound, something that feels more like it comes off a black metal album. Enter also a stronger fixation on progressive melodies. Slaves Beyond Death has longer, more melodic moments that scratch and tear before pumping things into pure headbanging adrenaline (see: “Seed of Cain”).
So what does this mean for the quality of Slaves Beyond Death? The album still fuckin' rips. The songs have gotten longer (mostly hovering around six-minutes) and album only offers up eight tracks just shy of fifty minutes. The opening crusher “Pleasure, Pain, Disease” is the perfect piece to set the tempo, showcasing that thrash-y love of Swedish death metal. Though it is also with the opening track that Black Breath hint at their patience in the building of things. The song actually takes a bit to fade in to before the band gets down to raging. However, other tracks like “Reaping Flesh” simply show no mercy and cut the fat altogether, bringing on the crusty agony and metal.
Where some might find a make or break in the band is in the recording quality. Kurt Ballou's GodCity Studios is a hit or miss for people, and is at the center of the whole “Entombedcore” sound (fucking stupid name). The Left Hand Path-esque sound works for bands like Black Breath and Trap Them especially well, as this is sounds as natural as it feels the bands can get. And Slaves Beyond Death does actually sound a bit different from Black Breath's previous two entries. The piece is rawer and sounds like it has the bass kicked back a bit. It's like it exposes some flesh and cuts a little slower.
Black Breath is the kind of band that evolves at its own pace and Slave Beyond Death brings out some of their thickest, strongest writing yet. The album feels demented and brews an almost perfect mixture of the melodic/progressive and thrash-y crusty death metal. The one wish I have is that it were longer. Black Breath goes out on a near eight minute instrumental, ending things with an epic, towering feel. Unfortunately, it also feels like the band is just getting started. Though maybe where it ended is perfect. “Chains of the Afterlife” is the kind of track that a band could build off of for a future release. And maybe those chains need some serious breaking in the future.
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