Humanity’s Last Breath – Ashen Review

My time reviewing music by Sweden’s Humanity’s Last Breath has been a rewarding, yet frustrating experience. I liked a lot of what they did on both 2019’s Abyssal and 2021’s Välde, but the former lacked a killer focus, and the latter needed a bit of pruning. I’ve been intrigued by this band ever since the first time I heard their world-crushing track “Abyssal Mouth,” and I keep waiting for them to deliver a full album that captures that same level of energy and unbridled heaviness. As we prepared to enter into the second half of 2023, I heard a familiar, deep rumbling, a rumbling that could only foretell one thing: a new Humanity’s Last Breath album was on the way. Could the band’s fourth record, Ashen, be the knockout blow I’ve been begging them for?

Unfortunately not. HLB’s strength across their discography has been the way they weave bleak atmosphere into their nasty, crushing deathcore/death metal sound, but Ashen seems to lean far too strongly in the direction of pure atmosphere. The tempos reside almost exclusively in the mid-paced-or-slower realm, and what heaviness is present seems contrived compared to the highlights of their past records. Embedded single “Labyrinthian” relies on huge pinch-harmonic breakdowns that might have been effective if juxtaposed with faster material, but the whole song slogs by without leaving much of an impression.

And this is sadly the fate suffered by most of Ashen’s 45-ish minutes. HLB may have kept the runtime to a more manageable level as compared to Välde, but that time still feels long thanks to the homogeneity of the songs. The back-to-back combo of “Catastrophize” and “Death Spiral” at the album’s midpoint gave me a brief glimmer of hope thanks to its similarity to some the band’s past, stronger material, and an incredibly short faster passage in the track ironically named “Passage” sets my head to banging a little bit before the album slows back into its sluggish pace. But these tiny nuggets of interest do not a good album make.

I’m willing to admit that perhaps I’m just not the target audience for this sound, but my past enjoyment of the band still makes this a letdown. I’ve talked before about the balance between substance and style, between atmosphere and riffs, and Ashen is simply far too unbalanced for my taste. So much of today’s heavy music is all about “soundscapes” and “aural experiences,” and that’s all fine and dandy if the songs providing said experience-scapes have enough teeth to bite the listener every once in a while. Ashen’s breakdowns would be way more impactful if counterbalanced by interesting, contrasting ideas, but that is just not in the cards here. If forced to recommend some songs, I’d go with “Catastrophize” and “Death Spiral,” but I’d honestly rather just listen to their older stuff.

I can’t help but be disappointed that this new album from the wielders of such a colossally heavy sound—a sound that felt downright dangerous the first time I heard it—ends up feeling so utterly inoffensive. Ashen’s atmospheric deathcore is adequately malevolent background music while doing other things, but focused listens leave me with precious little to grab onto. This is not the direction that I was hoping Humanity’s Last Breath would go, but your mileage may vary.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: ? | Format Reviewed: An Inconvenient Stream
Label: Unique Leader Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: August 4th, 2023

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