Music

Black Breath: Slaves Beyond Death

The Washington band take one giant leap forward on their latest LP and prove that they're one of the best bands of their kind.


Black Breath

Slaves Beyond Death

Label: Southern Lord
US Release Date: 2015-09-25
UK Release Date: 2015-09-25
Amazon
iTunes

These Washington state cats must've spent some long after school sessions listening to good ol' underground records from days of yore: the kind of dark, depraved and sonically solid darkness that bands in the late-1980s and early-1990s whipped up, back when underground metal was in its prime and it seemed like people were only too hungry for the next subterranean dwellers to unleash something unique. You know, you remember when bands all sounded a little different.

The dudes from Black Breath knew that and apparently remember—or at least their DNA does. And they took that idea and made something new, something heavier than your mind can comprehend on a good day but which your heart consistently desires as you seek truth and continue your quest for the ultimate in blackened rock. This is stuff that you know in your lizard brain, the kind of stuff that you heard before you were born, that existed before any of us were born but which now slithers from your speakers and makes you stand tall with fists raised in excitement.

What makes Black Breath great is that they're not a band bent on sounding like it’s from a particular era: neither overwhelmingly contemporary nor married to being retro, the group simply is. There’s not emphasis on filling up every inch of air with heavy riffs and complex guitar lines (though there’s a lot to listen for here, including some lead lines that are positively beyond comprehension). There also isn’t an unnecessary amount of singing on each of the tracks—very often instrumental passages extend for some time before we are victimized by heart-stopping hell shrieks (and the lyrics? You can understand ‘em!).

The dirge-like “A Place of Insane Cruelty” isn’t necessarily the place to begin listening to this record—mostly because it comes at you about half ay through—but it’s a perfect example of the way the band orchestrates guitar, bass, drum and vocal parts for maximum effect. The hellish, dungeon-like scene painted in the lyrics is only enhanced by the glacial guitar lines and weighty rhythms that are relentless from one end of the song to the other.

But then there’s material such as “Arc of Violence” (one of those tunes that features insanely good lead playing) or the often progressive epic “Chains of the Afterlife”, which closes out the album and features some of the best guitar harmonies since the first wave of Bay Area Thrash way way back in the time of Exodus, Testament, Metallica and the others that came forth in their wake. It’s the kind of classic, life-altering writing and playing you don’t hear enough of anymore—material that’s bent on being good before it’s heavy, that’s heavier because it’s so good and is all the more transformative for it.

And that’s the back end of the record: the title tune rocks with a kind of groove that’s unique to Blue Öyster Cult in its heaviest moments and possible to hear in the best work of Slayer. It’s so good that the mind begins to wander and you begin to wonder if you’re hallucinating or actually seeing dark spirits summoned forth and made flesh before your eyes as this outfit unlocks at least three major gates of hell with its stomping insistence. That is, of course, if you’ve survived the opening “Pleasure, Pain, Disease”, a song that seems tailor-made for the stage where the band can no doubt unleash its own scorched earth policy like the major world power it seems destined to become.

In the end, this is a record that will set the template for a new generation of bands of this ilk—and others. If something this smart, heartfelt and real can be accomplished it deserves to be celebrated loudly and widely. For those looking for that band or family of bands bound to define this moment in time, look no further.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image