Black Breath Slaves Beyond Death
To put in bluntly, I’m a huge fan of Black Breath’s first two full-lengths. Heavy Breathing and the outstanding Sentenced to Live were full of rabid hardcore-infused Entombed worship. There was a vitriol and frantic energy that permeated the air with those two releases. The group’s latest offering, Slaves Beyond Death sees the band just about abandon that raging hardcore injection in favor of a more mid-tempo, traditional death metal approach.
If this nearly 50 minute long album (only eight songs, mind you) stuck with the formula generated in the first four or five songs, it would have been another notch in their bulleted blet, another step in dominating the death metal scene. But, as you’ll hear (and read in this review) the back half of the album is woefully lacking, at least in comparison to the knuckle-dragging bludgeoning the first four songs have to offer.
“Pleasure, Pain, Diseas” opens up with a teasing, head-banging build-up over the first minute or so and when you expect Black Breath of old to suddenly explode in a furious gallop of buzzing riffage, they, well, don’t. Honestly, it took me a few listens to wrap my head around the change, but the more I heard this song, the more its D-beat rhythm and guitars took hold. The song is infectious as it plunders and surges at all the right spots. The title track keeps that bludgeoning tempo and riffage chugging along nicely with one hell of a catchy chorus. The drum work for this second track feels as though dude’s beating them like they’re late on a payment. The end of the song is awesome, packed with one hell of a solo and that old rabid delivery I love so much.
Black Breath carries the death metal torch high in “Reaping Flesh” with sick riffing, venomous vocal work and a neck-snapping rhythm that is peppered with plenty of energetic outbursts. Unlike the album’s opening track, it only took one listen for me to fall in love with this song. But even in liking this song, I still long for that crusty punk influence of albums past. The start to “Seed of Cain” has a weird Pantera meets Metallica thing going on that I don’t particularly dig, but the intro eventually gives way at the two minute mark to driving riffs, harmonizing leads and pounding drum work.
“Arc of Violence” is where things start to come a little unraveled for Black Breath. The song starts off with a solid as hell riff, reminiscent of death metal days long gone, but the pace is just so much slower than expected. If this track didn’t exceed six minutes in runtime, I think it would have been more manageable and enjoyable. That said, there are some solid moments within that on their own just aren’t enough to make up the difference. “A Place of Insane Cruelty,” while holding some seriously fucking catchy riffage is also just too damn long — the stretch from the 38 second mark up to when the drums come pounding is needs to be played as loudly as possible. It’s also a song that has more in common with, say, Acid Witch, than anything Black Breath have done in the past. Thankfully, “Burning Hate” brings back the rage and up-tempo delivery, but not sure it’s enough at this point in the game.
Slaves Beyond Death isn’t a bad album really. There are some solid songs that show the band can certainly handle a more straightforward death metal sound, but after two albums and an EP infused with raging hardcore and punk (at appropriate lengths) this one is just a handful to deal with. And wrapping up the album with a seven minute long instrumental is just a waste of time. I hate to be one of those cranky old guys that says a band’s older material is their best, but… I think I just did.