*Ashen will be released on 08/04/2023 on Unique Leader Records*
Sweden's Humanity's Last Breath return with their new album Ashen, their fifth album, and third album on Unique Leader Records. Their follow up to 2021's Välde, Ashen continues the progressive downtempo fusion of djent and deathcore. A heavy record, and I mean pummeling your bass speakers in your headphones heavy with this album. The band has cranked the volume knob past eleven and tuned even lower to give us one of the heaviest sounding records of this year.
Opening the album is song "Blood Spilled". The song opens with that heavy, downtuned, djent-style guitar sound like fellow downtempo juggernauts Vildhjarta. The vocals are almost drowned out at some points, with the overall heaviness of the guitars and pounding double bass, which is an ongoing theme of the record, but it is just a massive sounding song. Vocals are guttural and deep when present with the thick double bass kicking behind it, adding a fury and tenacity in the performance. The band also builds atmosphere and anxiety throughout the song with hanging guitar notes and ambient pads creating a feeling of unease and dread throughout the song. Ending the song with a low and slow chugging breakdown, this is a downtempo masterpiece.
The next track "Linger" continues the heaviness with a great djent-style opening riff with the kick drums just relentless in the mix, pummeling the listener with unstoppable force. There is clean singing in the track during the chorus, but with so much bass and kick drums, along with the atmospheric elements, they are almost hard to hear with so much ambience and heaviness the band delivers on the track. Guitars are drenched in atmosphere, playing reverb-laden dissonance, while also playing gritty and low, overdriven pounding guitars, enforcing the relentless and massive tone the band does so well on this record. Tracks like "Lifeless, Deathless" and "Withering" continue the band's intense downtempo deathcore. With intricate guitar playing and start/stop moments throughout, the band shows more of the progressive elements on the track continued from their previous record Välde.
The track "Instill" is one of the standout tracks for me on this album. The band opens with its atmospheric, unease feeling that the band does so well on this release. With a choir adding to the track and pounding, almost thunderous sounding drum hits, with guitars adding to the drums, creates an ominous and unease with tension building into the guitars as the song kicks in. Guitars are all over the place with the time signatures, and the drums trying to play along with the intricacy matching its technicality. The choir comes back at the end to continue the uneasy feeling, when the drums and guitar pound you into submission with the closing breakdown of the song. Potentially one of the heaviest breakdowns of the year.
The following track "Labyrinthian" opens with another strong opening riff, very djenty and progressive, in the vein of the mighty Meshuggah. I love the guitar mixing on the track with the songs hopping in-between speakers, adding a chaotic and frantic feeling with the dotted style of playing. The droning ambience under the breakdown adds another feeling of uneasiness and anxiousness while punishing the listener's ears with the low, heavy tone of the guitars. I do like the midtempo change after the halfway mark with the simple drumming section, but adding dynamics to the mix. "Catastrophize" continues the low and slow sound the band has down perfectly in the opening of this track, with the drums even going slower, adding more impact to the guitar playing. The band's sound is so good at adding a horror movie feeling of not being safe and uneasiness and giving that always lurking feeling before the band hits with another punishing breakdown.
My other standout track from this album is "Death Spiral". Pummeling double bass in the intro with the corresponding riff is INSANELY heavy and fast for an opener. The song starts with a breakdown, one of the heaviest on the album, with the song almost giving a feeling that the whole song is one solid breakdown broken down in stages. Drums are just aggressive and relentless in the playing and with the mix adding vigor and fury in the production style, matched by the chuggy palm muting of the guitars.
Overall, Humanity's Last Breath have sonically delivered one of the heaviest, speaker pummeling records of the year. Though with the pummeling sound, the vocals and other elements can sometimes sound muddled, which sometimes can hurt the record at certain points. The band's deeper dive into the progressive elements they developed on Välde, shows the band is making and developing their own unique sound. Fusing its take on deathcore with adding downtempo and slam death metal, while also infusing elements of progressive metal and djent. Creating a monstrous sound that is a behemoth of a record. If the band continues this progressive sound and goes even heavier and slower on the next record, I don't think there is a pair of headphones or speakers that can handle this band and their devastating sound.
Degenerator, led by Barrett Klesko (Alle Else Fails) who is joined by Jonathan Webster (Pass of Era, ex-Striker), this relentless musical force delivers a spellbinding sound that resonates with fans of grunge, sludge, stoner, and doom metal.