Black Breath - Slaves Beyond Death - (8/10)
Published on October 2, 2015
No rest for the wicked.
It seems Black Breath just can’t catch a break. The Washington group who were Sentenced To Life back in 2012 have wound up Slaves Beyond Death, and managed along the way to deliver an album that drops all hardcore pretext from their sound.
Black Breath have long been the true flag bearers of the “Entombed-core” movement but they’re upbeat hardcore delivery always kept them from tumbling over into pure death metal territory. No more! Slaves Beyond Death is a pure, unadulterated death metal album that shamelessly replicates the gritty vibe of early-90s, Swedish death metal acts like Entombed and Dismember in the best way possible. This record could easily be inserted in between records like Clandestine (1991) and Wolverine Blues (1994) or Massive Killing Capacity (1995) and Death Metal (1997) and maintain a seamless progression.
If there’s one thing that can be said to be distinctive about Slaves Beyond Death that can’t necessarily be put down to Black Breath’s death metal forebears—although it can’t truly be separated from them either—is that it’s slooooowwwww. Not slow in the way of the band’s more-Crowbar-influenced contemporaries, such as Xibalba, who use a milder pacing to bring a “doomy” aspect to their, but slow in the truly doomy sense of an onset apocalypse, slowly but ever so surely engulfing the world in its relentless onslaught. Sure, Slaves Beyond Death contains plenty of “snap” and aggression, but it is a decidedly mid-paced record that never deviates from its set aesthetic.
This lack of variation constitutes Slaves Beyond Death’s one drawback, since the intrinsic structure and performance of each of its songs can hardly be faulted. Each song on the album is fundamentally sound and both enjoyable and impressive moment by moment. However, put back to back, the lack of variation provides an if-not-fatal-then-accentuated drawback, which doesn’t damage the record’s credibility but renders it less memorable and engaging than it could have been. One of Black Breath’s greatest strengths was their injection of aggressive hardcore elements into the already hostile death metal template. Slaves Beyond Death lacks the explosive vitriol that was so essential to their previous releases, and which made them so effective. Slaves Beyond Death is the sound of an inevitable rather than immanent end, which, while entirely suitable to the overall mood of the record, remains less effective by comparison.
Nevertheless, Slaves Beyond Death is hard to fault on its own terms, and it’s a record that proves Black Breath not only by-products of but worthy successors to the “Swedish sound.” Despite doing away what remained of Black Breath’s individual identity, Slaves Beyond Death sounds like the album the band always wanted to make and it’s the old-school album you wanted in the new millennium.