Released: 2015, Southern Lord Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Black Breath have been delivering old school, Swedish-style death metal by way of Seattle for the better part of a decade. With their Sunlight Studio-patented guitar grit and clanging d-beat tempos, the quintet instantly recall early Entombed, Grave and Dismember, taking the very nastiest bits of Seattle’s grunge/hardcore past and ramming it home with buzz-sawing metal fervor.
But after the snub-nosed intensity of 2012’s Sentenced To Life, Black Breath take a somewhat more deliberate approach with their third album. Though the scruffy, ragged riffs and mule-kick drums remain, the songs on Slaves Beyond Death tend to be longer, more drawn out and less urgent.
The velocity here often comes in frantic bursts – as on the title track or “Reaping Flesh” – that stampede out of the mid-tempo grind and roll that is at the heart of much of the material. “Seed Of Cain,” flips things around, charging out of an acoustic intro before easing back on the pace and stretching what could have been a three-minute microburst into a corrosive, seven-minute mini-epic – a la classic Metallica.
All this adds some depth and dynamics to the band’s raucous sound, with the music taking more twists and turns instead of hurtling lock-step and head-long from one song to another. The album even closes with an eight-minute instrumental, “Chains of the Afterlife.”
Yet while this approach can sometimes get a tad ponderous – the shortest song here is the 5:06 opener “Pleasure, Pain, Disease,” which is just six seconds shorter than the longest song on Sentenced To Life, by comparison – it certainly doesn’t sacrifice any of the band’s punishing heaviness. Thanks to Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou’s rough-hewn, but all-up-in-your-grill production, Black Breath are as raw, brash and loud as ever, and hit that much harder with the extra space they give themselves to work with. Listening with headphones is asking for your ears to ring for the rest of the day.
And while it would be nice if bands could let go of their slavish devotion to the old “Swedeath” guitar tone that sounded so vicious 25 freakin’ years ago but has become such a cliché in the time since, Black Breath at least give it some nuance here – even if titles like “Burning Hate” or “A Place of Insane Brutality” might indicate otherwise.