Recommended for fans of: Black Tongue, Fit For An Autopsy, Nightmarer
While the term “Deathcore” is still a dirty word to some of our readers – they might not always be able to define it, but they know they hate it when they hear it – I think we’ve managed to make a pretty good case over the years as to why the real cream of the crop is just as worthy of your attention and acclaim as in any other genre.
And when it comes to the creme-de-la-creme of the Deathcore scene, the bands who have not only played a part in defining what the genre has become over the last ten years or so, but also helped push the boundaries of what it can be, no conversation is complete without Humanity’s Last Breath.
Sure, the group’s sound on their eponymous 2013 album seems almost quaint now when compared to the absolute monster they’ve developed into – with their recently-released new album taking their more progressive, dynamic, and atmospheric approach to new heights (and even more crushing depths) – but to understand how the band (originally more of a solo project of mastermind Buster Odeholm, but recently expanded into an eight-legged musical murder machine including vocalist Filip Danielsson, drummer Klas Blomgren, and guitarist Tuomas Kurikka) got to where they are now we need to go back to where they came from.
2013 – HUMANITY’S LAST BREATH
While the band’s first full-length is, quite clearly, the product of a band still trying to find themselves in terms of sound and line-up – both of which wouldn’t really be locked down until the writing and recording of the Detestor EP in 2016 – the group’s talents (and, more importantly, their potential) as rough and unrefined as they may have been, were already becoming apparent.
The opening pairing (leaving out the superfluous “Intro” track) of “Bellua Pt. 1” and “Bellua Pt. 2” are prime examples of this, as while both tracks definitely owe a fair bit to the likes of early Whitechapel and their ilk (especially when it comes to the chunky, churning rhythms pounded out by the guitars) the occasional injection of jagged dissonance, brooding synth-work, and tense atmospherics suggests that the band’s nascent “Progressive” ambitions are already well under development.
The jittery guitars which open “Human Swarm” will certainly be familiar to anyone who’s been following the development of the Deathcore scene over the years, that’s for sure, but the eventual build up to the song’s significantly heavier (and hookier) second half is definitely worth the wait, as is the added intensity and technicality of “Animal” (although, it has to be said that as fun as “Shoals” is, it often feels a little too indebted to our old friends The Black Dahlia Murder for comfort).
It’s the combination of crushingly dense guitars and eerily dark negative space during “Tellus Flame”, however, which really gives you an early insight into the group’s still-developing love for doomy dynamics and dramatic atmospheric shifts, as it’s those fleeting moments of (relative) quiet and calm between each massive, chugging riff and and punchy percussive pattern which, paradoxically, only seem to make the song sound even heavier.
Further hints at the group’s future growth are also scattered here and there (the doom-laden sonic cinematography of “Drone”, the twitchy electronic embellishments and coiled, elasticated riffs of “Void”, the discordant density and devastating intensity of “Make Me Blind”) for those with ears to hear them, making Humanity’s Last Breath – despite its eponymous nature – an intriguing example of a self-titled album which doesn’t fully define or exemplify its creators, but which still lays down the foundation for who (and what) they would become.
2016 – DETESTOR
It was the release of 2016’s Detestor EP which really started to show us what Humanity’s Last Breath were capable of, however, with the killer combination of ill-omened ambience and Impending Doom-esque heaviness that makes up opener “Ocean Drinker” practically sounding like a whole new band altogether.
Odeholm’s still developing, yet already recognisable, signature style – combining colossal, down-tuned riffs with techy, discordant twists – is on full display throughout “Furvus”, and when combined with Danielsson’s lung-busting, bowel-bursting growls, already shows off the project’s huge potential, while the jarring juxtaposition of aggression and atmosphere which makes up “Harm” serves as a proto-form preview of what the group would go on to create with their second album, Abyssal.
Before then, however, there’s still the matter of the “Meshuggah-meets-The–Acacia–Strain-meets-Tech-Death” attack of “Beware” and the squealing horror-synths, swarming blastbeats, and utterly brutalising breakdowns of the terrifying title-track to deal with first!
2019 – ABYSSAL
For quite a few of the band’s fans Abyssal is still considered their best release, which is understandable, as if you were to ask me what album represented the very best of Deathcore from the 2010s – in all its humongous heaviness, hideous intensity, and explosive dynamic tension – then this record would most certainly be in the running.
It’s not just the fact that it practically weaponises heaviness in a way that other bands would probably give their right (and left) arms for – opener “Bursting Bowel of Tellus” wastes no time in introducing the album’s hulkingly heavy guitar tone and equally gargantuan growls – but that it’s all enhanced with touches of sinister cinematic ambience, morbidly-infectious melody, and cruelly-barbed, subtly proggy hooks (the creepily catchy clean vocal refrain in the aforementioned first track being a prime example) which speak volumes about the band’s ever-evolving songwriting skills.
Their technical talents are nothing to be sniffed at either – just give a listen to the the razor-sharp riffs and progressive-yet-punishing drum-work underpinning the twisting, turning, blast-propelled strains of “Bone Dust” if you need any proof – nor are their more atmospheric ambitions (on full display during the groove-heavy, ambience-laced “Fragda”) something which you should be turning your noses up at.
Certain tracks do ascend to a higher level than others of course – the absolutely OTT “Doomcore” attack of “Abyssal Mouth” and the appropriately pulse-raising (yet also unexpectedly proggy) “Pulsating Black” being early standouts, in addition to the previously identified “Bursting Bowel of Tellus”, with the contorted coils (and chilling climax) of “Sterile” and the grim, ghost-haunted grooves of “Vånda” (which seems to unfurl, layer-by-layer, a little more each time I listen to it) being highlights of the album’s slightly less consistent second-half – but even some of the tracks which don’t quite hit the same heights (“Like Flies”, “Rampant”) are more than capable of hitting you so hard that the risk of sustaining a very real concussion is still worryingly high.
Like I said before, it’s no surprise that so many people still hold this album in such high regard – it certainly deserves it in my book – and it’s only the fact that the band themselves have since gone on to create even bigger and better (and, inexplicably, even heavier) albums that, ultimately, changes where it stands in the grand scheme of things.
2021 – VÄLDE
If Abyssal was the epitome of Deathcore at the cutting/edge, then it’s safe to say that Välde was HLB‘s first step over that edge, and into the dark unknown beyond.
By rejecting (or perverting) many of the more derivative tricks and tropes often associated with the genre in favour of an approach that favours dissonant atmospheric density and abrasive textural tonality as much as pure, punishing physicality, tracks like “Descent” and the chest-crushing crawl of unorthodox closer “Vittring” often have as much in common with the devastating blackened discordance of the likes of Altarage and Cosmovore as they do the sheer sonic mass of groups such as Black Tongue and Impending Doom, and this focus on creating a more “holistic” (for want of a better word) form of heaviness means that Välde is an album with proven staying power.
The eerie atmospherics and subtle electro-symphonics of “Glutton” and “Earthless” for example add an extra dash of cinematic darkness to the album’s gigaton guitars and propulsive, pulverising drums, while the quake-inducing growls (which would probably register on the Richter Scale if someone were of a mind to measure them) of “Spectre” eventually give way to some moody, clean (but not too clean) sung melodies in a way that enhances and expands the band’s creative palette in a very Fit For An Autopsy-esque manner.
And while there’s still some room for improvement here and there – a few judicious cuts to the twelve-song track-list would certainly help tighten things up even more, and the running order in the back-half of the album doesn’t always work to the band’s best advantage – the highs on this album just keep on coming, and hitting harder and harder, one after the other.
The middle of the record in particular is a thing of brutal beauty, with the Brobdingnagian, bone-grinding grooves and demonic symphonics of “Dehumanize” transitioning into the savage, shape-shifting riffs and time-twisting tempo changes of “Hadean”, before the album reaches its peak (in my opinion at least) with the lurching, pneumatic rhythms and proggy, atmospheric ambitions of “Tide” (whose soaring finale really should have been held off for the climax of the entire album).
Make no mistake about it, despite the occasional (and relatively minor) flaws in its makeup, Välde is firm and undeniable proof, if any were ever needed, that the evolution of Deathcore – once the most maligned and misunderstood of genres – is still ongoing, and still producing some truly world-class bands.
2023 – ASHEN
As good as Välde was (and, if I haven’t made it clear, I think it was very good indeed) the release of Ashen earlier this month almost makes it seem like a mere “proof of concept” in comparison, as the band’s latest (and greatest) album takes everything that made its predecessor so good and somehow makes it even better – even heavier, even darker, even doomier and more foreboding – while simultaneously managing to both tighten up and expand upon the group’s signature sonic formula.
From the baleful beginning of opener “Blood Spilled” – five minutes of utterly gigantic, doom-laden riffage and eerie, gloom-ridden atmospherics – to the cataclysmic closing bars of “Bearer” there’s nary an ounce of fat or wasted space to be found here, with practically every song (barring the penultimate instrumental “act break” of “Burden”) managing to pack in even more incendiary intensity and tightly-wound tension into an even leaner and meaner package.
“Linger”, for example, gets right to the meat of the matter almost immediately with its stunningly syncopated riffs and rhythms, yet also manages to build organically to an absolutely massive (and subtly melodic) chorus without feeling rushed or reckless, while the extra layers of malevolent synthetic soundscapes underpinning “Lifeless, Deathless” add a sense of fathomless depths to the song’s devastatingly doomy delivery.
The angular intensity and nightmarish (and Nightmarer-ish) dissonance of “Withering” puts the focus equally on the band’s booming guitars and proggy sense of ebb-and-flow dynamics, with the latter taking on even greater prominence during “Instill”, where the album’s overall darker and moodier approach (and, make no mistake about it, if you thought the previous albums were ominous and oppressive you ain’t
seen heard nothing yet) reaches its apex.
With all of the songs being, on average, shorter and more tightly written this time around, Ashen positively seems to fly by yet never fails to leave a deep and lasting impression, whether that’s the way in which the push-and-pull between hammering guitars and haunting ambience serves to make “Labyrinthian” one of the album’s major stand-outs, or how the almost unrelentingly heavy riffage which drives “Catastrophize” shares as much in common with the Dissonant Death Metal scene as it does the more “Progressive” side of Deathcore, as if the band had been mainlining a heavy dose of Nott and Ulcerate during the writing process.
And so, when all is said and done, Odeholm and co’s instantly-recognisable brand of atmosphere-enhanced extremity – and I haven’t even found time to mention “Death Spiral”, “Shell”, or the convulsive Doom-core of “Passage” – continues to impress, inspire, and inflict massive damage while expanding the boundaries (and possibilities) of what “Progressive” Deathcore can be.