Placing Metal bands into neat, convenient little pigeon-holes used to be easy. However, with so many sub-divisions, sub-sub-categories and “core” bands out there these days, it’s become a virtually impossible, not to mention pointless and tedious, task.
Do I really want to know that band A is Hardcore Ambient Techno-Speed Viking Doomcore, or that band B are Progressive Christian Grindcore Electro-Folk? No, not really. All I want to know is which broader category they fall under. Because it’s easy and I’m lazy that way.
So, while Washington’s Black Breath are hardly the most eclectic band in the box, they do actually have a sound which makes that relatively simple task appear quite difficult. Although the immediate reaction would be to just lump them onto the Death Metal pile, one quick listen to Slaves Beyond Death (Southern Lord) shows they just have as much in common with Thrash, Doom, Crust, Hardcore, and even Black Metal.
Comparisons are usually an equally effective method of describing a band (“Band A sound like band B with bits of band C and D”), but again, this is made difficult by the volume of acts from whom Black Breath draw their influences. A quick namechecking of three or four bands quickly turns into a full blown list. There are nods and winks to other bands all over Slaves Beyond Death but never once at the expense of their core sound. Nothing sounds crowbarred in or there just for the sake of it. If you hear something familiar, it’s in there only because it fits.
Produced by Kurt Ballou (Converge) at his GodCity studio in Salem, Massachusetts, the album crawls, kicks, stamps, and screams abuse into your face like an enraged footballer. The production is as dirty and fuzzy as the guitar tone, yet also sounds crisp and clear, most notably on two of the albums (many) highlights ‘Seed of Cain’, and instrumental closer ‘Chains of the Afterlife’. ‘Reaping Flesh’ and ‘A Place of Insane Cruelty’ pulverize you in a variety of different ways, and considering the death rattle vocals of singer Neil McAdams, the lyrics are surprisingly easy to understand. Slaves Beyond Death is a slow to mid-paced affair for the most part, but never dull with the slower parts merely serving to accentuate the chaotic flurries of speed and aggression when they do arrive.