Slaves BC / Grace & Thieves – Cursed Breath / Innocent Blood (Veritas Vinyl, 04 August 2014)
The split record is an interesting concept in the music industry. The vinyl EP or LP or cassette with (usually) one band on each side, or the more modern CD or digital release with tracks contributed by two (or occasionally more) bands — these frequently fall into a couple different categories. Sometimes bands will be such kindred spirits, sharing all the same influences and each representing a similar approach to their particular genre, that it seems completely natural for them to work together; in these cases the bands probably already have a huge overlap in their fan bases, but the split will surely be a treat for those people who already like both bands. On the other hand, many joint releases are the result of bands who are close friends — perhaps they live in the same city and play shows together all the time — but who actually have little else in common; the result here is that die-hard “completist” fans of either band will end up buying the record, but probably few of them will listen to the flip side more than once (if at all).
In most other cases, two bands are brought together by songs third party: perhaps they share management or PR representation, or belong to the same record label’s roster. These could be marketed to fans of each band or just people who may have been familiar with some of the other output from that label (or whatever); it becomes an efficient way for listeners to “test drive” bands, without having to take a chance investing in a full length from someone unfamiliar. Ideally, the person putting together the release will have done some homework (or just have good instincts) and pair up artists who are different enough to attract a wide range of listeners, yet share enough of a common bond for both sides to appeal (at least to some degree) to that whole audience.
And if you ask me (and technically, by clicking on this review and reading these words I wrote, you did ask me — at least implicitly), the Veritas Vinyl label has accomplished this successfully with their Cursed Breath / Innocent Blood 12″ which officially comes out today. This split brings together bands that employ two rather disparate styles of metal (one leaning in a blackened direction, the other sticking with a more old-school doom and traditional heavy metal sound), but they each combine their respective patois with a foundation heavily influenced by hardcore/noise and/or hardcore punk.
“Turning upside-down crosses upside-down since 2010”: Slaves BC is a name that should already be fairly familiar to regular readers of this website, as we’ve talked about them previously (quite a few times). They contribute a total of four songs to this record — two brand new ones (“The Wolf You Feed’ and “Through Broken Teeth”) and two re-recorded and improved versions of tracks from the band’s 2011 demo (“Two Witnesses” and “Hide Us, O Death”). All four, which were engineered, mixed, and mastered by Matt Very of Pittsburgh’s Very Tight Recordings (who has been responsible for all of Slaves‘ recorded output over the past two years), feature all the elements that have become trademarks of the band’s sound: spastic noisegrind-hardcore explosions with blackened shrieked vocals, which suddenly and unexpectedly come to a halt and give way to balls-heavy-crawlingly-slow riff-sections. With its bursts of feedback and chaotic tempos, “The Wolf” is a welcome new addition to the band’s discography; while the real icing on this record’s cake is that we finally have a better quality recording of “Hide Us” — a song which has long been a fan favorite at shows, primarily for the occasional jumps from a lively punky beat to grinding down to near nothing, while drummer/lead vocalist Josh Thieler belts out some of the most gut-wrenchingly painful screams you never want to hear.
Here’s and old(ish) video that includes “Hide Us, O Death” — which, for a change of pace, features guitarist Sean Singer performing all the vocals. Fun fact: this was actually filmed at the first Slaves BC show I went to. Fun fact #2: both Sean and Josh currently have about 90% less hair (collectively) than depicted in this video.
On the other side we find a trio of tunes from Oregonian band Grace and Thieves, who are finding their way to my ears for the first time, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last time! “Eleventh Hour Confession” and “Fearless” each start out with slow, moody, guitar parts, reminiscent of traditional heavy metal, while “Eye of the Storm” begins with a faster (almost Iron Maidenesque) trotting pace; all three incorporate various two-part guitar harmonies which definitely bring to mind NWOBHM-style material. “Fearless” is also capped off by some sweet doomy riffs that surround a cool guitar solo (which was provided by Victor Griffin, guitarist for Place of Skulls, Veritas labelmates In-Graved, and (occasionally) for doom metal pioneers Pentagram). All of this alone would be enough of a reason to be excited about discovering this band. But in addition to paying homage to such old-school roots, then they incorporate some faster punked-out tempos (“Eleventh Hour” leaps from the trad. metal beginning into practically straight D-beat) as well as hardcore/crossover-style shouted vocals — all of which blend surprisingly well together.
The album can be streamed or downloaded at Bandcamp (see the widget embedded below), or get the 12″ vinyl in an assortment of colors right here!
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