Hi, everyone. Before I start this review, I should introduce myself – my name is Mark, and I'm the "Spotify playlist guy" for the METALHEADS Podcast, for whatever that's worth. I am very grateful to George, Buke and Jay for even mentioning the playlists on the podcast, let alone asking me if I wanted to write a review on the website. I started making these playlists just to keep track of what I heard on the show, and then it became a fixation to make sure I cataloged everything, so I didn't miss a single shred of the metal euphoria. The podcast allowed me to combine two of my favorite things - metal and anal-retentiveness – and the ability to share that with others is a lot of fun. There are now spreadsheets involved; is there anything more metal than spreadsheets?
Cheers to George, Buke, and Jay for opening our eyes and ears to a whole new world of metal. This is my first album review, which is not necessarily something you want to hear ("this is my first time performing brain surgery," "this is my first time flying an airplane") but the beauty of this podcast in particular and metal, in general, is that it draws together people with a shared enthusiasm and if nothing else, this review was written with enthusiasm.
In writing this review, I was forced to think about what I want from a metal album, or rather, what characteristics of a band or album make my ears truly take notice. I came up with some basics: riffs, loud, heavy, fast, and stirring, but then I realized that sometimes what I want most is a little punishment. Black Breath's Slaves Beyond Death unflinchingly provides that punishment in abundance. Slaves Beyond Death, the Seattle quintet's third album, is an absolute monster combining death metal, thrash, and hardcore into one searing package that I haven't been able to turn off since my first listen. Sidenote: after A Flourishing Scourge's excellent appearance on the podcast, a METALHEADS field trip to Seattle may be in order. I'll check flights.
Hardly a coincidence, the theme of the album is not just punishment, but a perpetual punishment lasting into the afterlife. While I'd prefer to avoid an infinite life of mining brimstone to fuel the tanks of Satan's army, if this is the soundtrack playing while I do it, I might be able to get into it.
The opening track, "Pleasure, Pain, Disease", sets the tone with a massive riff and pounding drums that accompany us through the rest of the album's 49 minutes. Only leaving off to make room for some sincerely excellent guitar solos; the most notable of which is the album's closing, eight-minute, totally on-theme, instrumental track, "Chains of the Afterlife", which brings a sublime, stunning end to a killer album. My personal favorite track is the crushing "Reaping Flesh", which epitomizes everything I enjoy about this album: chainsaw-grinding-on-a-live-wire guitars, intelligible but grisly, growled vocals, steady drum march, tempo changes, and crisp guitar solos – five minutes and twenty seconds of pure metal spectacle. The lyric "I live in the shadows/Beyond the city of light/Each time, you close your eyes/I am lurking" speaks for the album as a whole.
I had the privilege of discovering Black Breath's discography all at once after hearing Slaves Beyond Death, and it sounds as though they have been building up to this album since 2010's Heavy Breathing, which, while excellent, featured a more thrashy, straightforward hardcore sound. 2012's Sentenced to Life is a next logical step that adds more death elements, but Slaves Beyond Death is the true masterstroke.
In the research I did, and the other reviews I read to prepare for this review, I encountered nearly every word in the metal thesaurus – gruesome, brutal, sick, evil, burnt, grotesque, pummeled, gnarly, morbid, bleak, punishing, tribulation, and merciless – and every single one of them apply. Black Breath have created an awesome album worthy of everyone's attention.
Black Breath is on tour (with Decapitated & Theories) now through February with the final stop at Café 611 in Frederick, MD. Cancel that field trip to Seattle!