Black Breath, Slaves Beyond Death (Southern Lord, 2015)

My favorite metal album of 2012 was Black Breath's Sentenced to Life. Despite being the Seattle band's sophomore outing, Sentenced to Life was my first exposure to the quintet. Being the Boss HM-2 freak that I am, Black Breath's clear obsession with vintage Dismember and Entombed sat very well with me. Since then, I've tried to turn all of my fellow Swedish death metal-loving friends onto the gospel of Black Breath.

Recorded during the winter of 2014 with Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou at his at GodCity studio in Salem, Massachusetts, Slaves Beyond Death is Black Breath's soon-to-be released third album. My friends at Earsplit PR hooked me up with an advance copy of the record, and I can't tell you how excited I was to crank it!

Slaves Beyond Death opens with an absolute motherfucker of a track fittingly called "Pleasure, Pain, Disease." The song features several tempo shifts and a chorus that, while hooky, never lets up on the sheer aggression. By the time the album's third cut, "Reaping Flesh," arrives, it's clear Black Breath have shed the hardcore-inspired side of their earlier material for a full-on death metal assault. Guitarists Eric Wallace and Mark Palm are all killer no filler on Slaves Beyond Death. Whether it's a melodic lead section, or a blowtorch-hot main riff, the guys bring the pain. One of my favorite moments on the album comes during the quiet intro to "Seed of Cain," where after a clean guitar starts things off, an "Orion"-like twin guitar section appears and floats through it. It's a perfect intro to the album's epic centerpiece.

Black Breath frontman Neil McAdams is one of my favorite vocalists doing this kind of stuff right now, and his performances on Slaves Beyond Death lived up to my expectations. McAdams has just enough clarity in his delivery where you can make out what he's growling, but none of the vocal blitzkrieg is sacrificed along the way. I've yet to see Black Breath in a live setting, but from the YouTube clips I've watched, McAdams doesn't let down on stage.

I've listened to Slaves Beyond Death twice since receiving my review copy, and this review is obviously based on my early impression of the album, but what stands out most about it is how much Black Breath have embraced the slow burn approach in their arrangements. I already mentioned "Seed of Cain," but that's not the only song on the album that takes its time to build tension. "A Place of Insane Cruelty" and "Burning Hate" also don't rush into battle before creating some eerie atmosphere first. Those kinds of nuances and dynamics are the kinds of things that keep me coming back to an album long after its initial release campaign.

The stylistic elements I mentioned in the paragraph above might be the reason why Slaves Beyond Death divides some of Black Breath's devotees. If you're picking up the album expecting something more in line with Sentenced to Life, this isn't completely that, but I have no doubt that a new crop of death metal-leaning listeners will love the record if they are exposed to it.

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