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Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death (Premiere)

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Jamie Byrum, lead songwriter and drummer in Seattle’s Black Breath, was hit by a car in 2014, and it seems the experience had an effect on him. Black Breath 2.0 has been close to the real fragility of human life and finds it disgusting.

In 2010, they told us to “Escape From Death.” Then, in 2012, on the title track to their sophomore LP Sentenced to Life, they said “Life is a prison / death is the key.” Those attitudes don’t hold up anymore. The band’s third LP, Slaves Beyond Death, posits that while life is awful, the afterlife is worse and there’s no escaping it.

These songs obsess over how awful eternity will be, how human consciousness has no choice but to work beyond exhaustion without succor. That Paolo Girardi cover, reminiscent of Attack on Titan, suits the music perfectly. The greater forces of the universe have us all in their intractable fists.

The band’s newer, bleaker outlook reflects a more gnarled kind of songwriting. They’ve jettisoned all the energizing instant-mosh riffs and lycanthropunk drum patterns that characterized their first two records. I missed them at first. Those were the parts of Black Breath that made them the absolute best part of the often boring “Entombedcore” trend. Instead, the songs live in a merciless mid-tempo purgatory. Longer songs make room for guitar solos, more variable distortion, and a whole new, more grimdark vocal style from vocalist Neil McAdams. There’s still bangers: crushing riffs abound on “A Place of Insane Cruelty,” for example. The violence is offset at times by startling beauty too, such as the extended instrumental closing track, “Chains of the Afterlife.”

Go into Slaves Beyond Death with an open mind, and listen a few times. After I did that, I realized that Black Breath’s leap from HM-2 loving punks to their current, more complex selves mirrors Metallica jumping from Kill Em All to Ride the Lightning, Slayer jumping from Show No Mercy to Hell Awaits. Yes, I think Black Breath right now are as good as those bands were thirty years ago (and if the new Slayer is any indication we need bands like this now more than ever).

Slaves Beyond Death is more highly-evolved and has something to say about human existence–that it’s awful, and only getting worse.

-Joseph Schafer

Slaves Beyond Death is out this Friday, September 25 via Southern Lord. Follow Black Breath on Facebook.

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