Can a band get better with age? Can they continually get better with each release? That’s an argument that both sides of the coin have a myriad of examples to pull from. The answer probably lies somewhere in between – bands can continue to improve their albums over a short period of time before hitting a proverbial plateau, or bands often times are all over the map with their execution for varying reasons. While music may be the most subjective thing in the world and trying to get people to agree to pin the “better” or “best” tag on an album is like trying to herd packs of rabid raccoon in the middle of the night, one listen to the newest offering from Seattle’s Black Breath should have most people in agreement that it’s their most accomplished and downright bad ass offering to date.
Seattle is about as far away geographically speaking as you can get from Sweden, but little by little Black Breath have been doing their best to close the gap, so to speak. On newest offering, Slaves Beyond Death, they take it a step further to the point where you wonder if they imported a blizzard’s worth of snow straight from Stockholm to spread around the studio. This album is a dirty, gritty reminder of what Swedish death metal sounded like before the entire scene got way too caught up in the whole “melodic” tag. Tracks like “A Place of Insane Cruelty” and the title track chug along like a death metal locomotive picking up steam as it starts to crest the ridge before losing the brakes on the way back down. Throw in some snifters of black and thrash elements and the whole album seethes ‘old school’ while never becoming stale or ever wreaking of parody. For example, album closer “Chains of the Afterlife” starts with the type of twin guitar lament you’d find opening a classic thrash piece before ripping into a blackened thrash masterpiece, complete with sweeping guitar solos and somber interludes. “Seed of Cain” meanwhile has a similar ambient opening before delving deep into a circle pit where death and thrash metal are knocking each other silly and enjoying every bloody minute of it.
Over their somewhat brief career Black Breath are a band that has appealed and played to a large swath of the Metal Pantheon. They’ve shared stages with everyone from Converge to Napalm Death to Neurosis to Goatwhore and just about everyone in between. The appeal to such a wide audience has come with creating albums that deftly wove together various sub-genres into a unique and powerful sound. On this album it almost feels as if they just said ‘fuck it’ and went straight for the jugular. That is to say, they grabbed the best elements off the previous efforts – the obvious homage to the Swedish sound, the tips of the cap to doom, black and thrash metal – and decided to expound on them in ways that have taken their sound to even darker depths. To say this is a band firing on all cylinders would be a massive understatement and to say that Slaves Beyond Death is their best album to date, while certainly arguable, would not be far-fetched at all.
Slaves Beyond Death is out via Southern Lord on September 25. You can listen to the title track at the Black Breath Bandcamp page.