Black Breath Slaves Beyond Death 01Time sure flies at the AMG palace. Though I’ve only been writing here a little over a year, it certainly doesn’t seem like three-and-a-half years ago that I started perusing this blog for the first time, back when I was a snot-nosed college senior rolling around with my windows down and blasting Black Breath‘s newly released Sentenced to Life. At the time, I felt so hip for listening to this so-called “Entombedcore” right as it was catching on, when bands like All Pigs Must DieEarly Graves, and Black Breath themselves were at the forefront of a sound that combined the throat-shredding fury of mid-aughties hardcore with a guitar tone and riffing style heavily inspired by Swedish death.

To me, no album showcased this better than Sentenced. The songwriting was tight and fierce, and the riffing merged chunky hardcore grooves with Swedeath tremolos so seamlessly, it was like these Seattle natives had been doing it since birth. It wasn’t just a personal favorite, either – the album earned widespread critical acclaim (even from Happy Metal Guy), and with it Black Breath seemed poised to take over a metal scene still reeling from djent and floundering in retro-everything. Of course, 2013 and 2014 passed, the Entombedcore buzzword all but disappeared, and Breath remained quiet on the new-releases front. Finally, late 2015 has arrived and the group’s third LP Slaves Beyond Death is finally here – was it worth the wait?

First of all, yes, the rumors are true: Slaves has a much less pronounced hardcore influence than its predecessors. Opener “Pleasure, Pain, Disease” wastes no time advertising this, beginning with a salvo of jumpy old-school death metal riffs and continuing with a barrage of rapid D-beats and a neck-snapping tempo shift that never quite veers into hardcore territory. It’s an impressive start, cementing the fact that Breath more than have the chops to pull off this transition into full-on death metal. Later tracks follow suit, whilst taking a long draught from Dismember‘s Everflowing Stream. See the sweeping tremolos that catapult “Reaping Flesh” into its second half, or the delightfully thrashy riff that appears in the title track’s final third, before breaking into a maddeningly quick solo that recalls the infamous “Suffer a thousand deaths!” moment in Stream‘s “Dismembered.”

As if to further distance themselves from their hardcore roots, some songs pull from even further back in the metal canon. Highlight “Seed of Cain” reeks of classic Metallica, its acoustic intro overlaid by Ride the Lightning-style harmonized leads. Sadly, the group also repeat one of the few mistakes of that album, choosing to close Slaves with near-eight minute instrumental “Chains of the Afterlife” – which, while featuring more Lightning-inspired guitar flair and an absolutely stellar closing melody, may have functioned better as a penultimate track leading into a savage, in-your-face closer.

Black Breath Slaves Beyond Death 02

This brings me to Slave‘s biggest flaw, and the reason I can’t rate this album higher. At eight tracks long and over 49 minutes in length, the record is a full 15 minutes longer than Sentenced, with not a single song clocking in at under five minutes. This might have worked if the whole record upheld the strength of the first half. But sadly, after aforementioned “Cain,” “Arc of Violence” and “A Place of Insane Cruelty” slow the pace down considerably, lingering on lumbering mid-paced riffs and menacing grooves that would have worked great – had the songs not exceeded six minutes. “Burning Hate” ups the tempo and redeems things somewhat, but stills lacks compared to the first four tracks.

Fortunately, Kurt Ballou’s production, while not harboring much range, is as forceful as required for this kind of music, with a clear soundscape that perfectly captures the biting guitar tone and frontman Neil McAdams’ throaty growls. Enough to redeem the record? Not quite. I guess the most frustrating thing about Slaves is that Breath absolutely nailed their sound with Sentenced, and the apparent need to extirpate any hardcore influences led to a record with no direct, in-your-face tracks or moments that might have offered a welcome counterpoint to the chugging expanses in the second half. With some terrific riffs, leadwork, and songwriting, the potential is clearly there for a Black Breath full-on death metal album to work and work well. But while Slaves Beyond Death is certainly good and worthy of a listen, it’s also just a little too bloated to make me want to revisit in its entirety.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Southern Lord Records
Websites:  blackbreathsl.bandcamp.com | blackbreath.com | facebook.com/blackbreath
Releases Worldwide: September 25th, 2015

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  • Lacertilian

    Interesting, I’ve never heard Ktulu’s placement called a mistake before.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Damn it’s a hell of an assertion!
      I will be interested to see if AMG lets that pass without comment…though he may be too delirious after OD’ing on Gloryhammer…

    • I share Mark’s opinion.

    • Luke_22

      Ordinarily I’d agree with an 8-minute plus instrumental being an ill-advised way to end a metal album, but for me Ktulu works perfectly as a closer. On another note I’ve never been completely sold on this band for some reason, but maybe I need to give this a whirl (or at least the first half).

      • Monsterth Goatom

        If it’s done right, a closing instrumental can be a quite moving coda to an album, a sort of veil descending upon the work as a whole. I’m thinking of the final tracks off Epistemology’s Keep of Kalessin (which I absolutely love and disagree with Diabolus about on its length) and Galar’s De gjenlevende.

    • Mark Z

      I guess I always preferred the Orion/Disposable Heroes ending to Master of Puppets. Then again, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve listened to either album.

      • Lacertilian

        Orion/Damage Inc.?
        That is why I found the comment interesting, as it seems after the success of MoP, they decided to do the same thing with To Live Is To Die/Dyer’s Eve.
        I’m not sure there is a song on Ride that I would like to see placed behind Ktulu, I guess it would have been cool to have a fast & angry beast after it, an unrecorded extra track from the vault.

  • deathmasquered

    This review is really spot on, and says exactly what I was trying to say to a friend of mine last night when telling her how disappointing I found “Slaves Beyond Death” to be.

  • Jeremy Freeman

    Probably one of the worst new albums I’ve heard, have to give it about a 1.5. :( Had potential though.

  • “Sadly, the group also repeat one of the few mistakes of that album, choosing to close Slaves with near-eight minute instrum…”

    Wtf?

  • lennymccall

    I agree. While not fully disappointed with the Slaves it never comes close to the ferocity of Sentenced. I’m sure I’ll rock this many, many more times in the coming months but I could have done with way more hardcore influence over the need to swing into a full on DM band.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Lots of mentions, hints and jabs at the wizzard himself, HMG.

    He’s coming back… I want to believe!

    • He’ll always be with us. Parts of him anyway.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Here’s hoping the power to the freezer doesn’t give out.

      • Which part?

  • Handy Donut Hole

    I absolutely loved this album. Sure it lacks some bite when compared to “Sentenced” but overall I find the changes more than welcome. The change in tempo and decision to slow down their sound allows the album to breathe and truly encapsulates the brooding feel of the album. I’ll continue to close my eyes and stare into the pits of hell while this spins for many months to come.

  • You wot m8?

    I have to say, I quite like this. All this talk of a toned-down pace, and I’m loving the slow-burning power I’m hearing. I’ll have to check out the Black Breath back catalogue.

  • Andy777

    I quite like this album, it scratches all my metal itches in all the right places. As others have said, it lacks some of the intensity of Sentenced but I do love the sheer weight of it compared to its predecessor. I can’t necessarily argue with too much in this review, for me it’s a solid 3.5, maybe 4 if I’m in a fanboy mood. Every time I listen to it I can’t help but think, what if this album had the dynamics of Ecdysis? That would easily bump it up another notch in my book.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Yep I would agree with that.

  • sir_c

    I’ve gone through a few tracks, but only Seed of Cain is memorable to me.

    Besides the songwriting, I think the production buggered the album. It’s just one flat line all the way, it is a chore to sit through with decent headphones on. It’s a pity, cos usually I quite like this kind of music.

  • Karmazov

    I don’t know if I’ll be listening to this, but damn is that a cool looking album cover.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Younger Me would buy that album just because of the cover.

    • HeartOfOak

      Personally I’d say of you enjoy Horrendous you’d enjoy this.

  • Pimpolho

    I don’t think so. Your points are valid, but, for me, it is a slightly better album than Sentenced, and i absolutely love Sentenced.

  • You wot m8?

    I did a bit of investigating into their back catalogue. Mother of god, Sentenced to Life is sooo damn good. These guys are going into my top 10.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    After giving this a few listens now i think you make some fair points, overall song lengths could have been reigned in a bit. While I quite like “Arc of violence’ and ‘A place of…’ I think the album would maybe be better served with only one of those songs
    But asides from that I gotta say, overall I prefer this to StL. The songwriting feels more ‘evolved’. I love the old school Metallica worship which I hear all through the record. I freaking love the instrumental closer and think its a bold move that works. The guitars are just superb and the production is excellent I only wish (as Andy777 says below) that it had received an Horrendous Ecdysis treatment in its mastering. This is closer to a 4 for me.

  • hubcapiv

    I am listening to this for the first time. This review nailed it. I just checked the playlist thinking “we must be wrapping up now” only to find I am on track six of eight with almost 20 min to go.

    When oh when will metal bands learn the lesson of George Constanza – always leave ’em wanting more?
    ===
    “transition into full-on death metal.”
    ===
    It’s an odd choice, IMO. This record isn’t BAD…but there’s no shortage of full-on death metal bands, you know? Don’t really need another one.

    OTOH perhaps this is just Black Breath moving on to their “Clandestine” phase. “We did Nihilist…we did Left Hand Path…”

    (Not taking anything away from Clandestine, which is awesome.)

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Do you mean sooner or later Entombed worship will get to “Death Metal needs more Chuck Berry riffs” ?
      The main reason for Entombed worship is that Entombed started sucking when they went the Death ´n´ Roll way a long time ago… But I guess one can´t discount someone liking it and going that way too.

  • mtlman1990

    Looks like the same artist that did the Inquisition covers.

    • Dennis Thomsen

      Yes. It is the same artist. Paolo Girardi.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I had this Black Breath mistaken with Death Breath… Turns out both do slightly different flavors of Entombed worship.

  • buttsguy

    i loved this album and i disagree with your rating (i gave it a 4) but your review is so well-written and thought out that i can’t really get mad at you.

  • sbe

    I like this a lot, but man I miss the crusty hardcore that popped up and these songs are almost all like two minutes too long.