Review: Humanity’s Last Breath Defies the Laws of Heaviness with Ashen
Comparing Humanity’s Last Breath to Meshuggah is fair enough, considering the weird time signatures and detuned guitars, but nods to Ion Dissonance and doom metal can’t be understated in their self-styled “Thall” sound. Atonal chaos and a frightful atmosphere set these guys apart from the usual djentlemen, all with a healthy respect for melody. These disparate ingredients helped make 2021’s Välde a singular cross-section of brutality, carving out a niche to further explore on the band’s follow-up album Ashen. For all of their experimenting with texture, mood and even hooks, Humanity’s Last Breath still has plenty to say through punishing grooves and skull-caving violence.
The sweeping intro to “Blood Spilled” might bring to mind the current symphonic deathcore wave, the uncanny eeriness enhanced by delicious rhythm changes. Guitarists Buster Odeholm and Calle Thomér continue to refine their alien balance of bottomed-out abuse and ambiance, using string bends and chugs more like an expressionist painter than a mosh part writer. This doesn’t mean they can’t latch onto some memorable motifs, like the barrel-chested stompings and rousing chorus of “Linger.” These rafts of accessibility, whether it’s a more traditional beat or a melodious tremolo line, keep the non-linear rhythms and piercing dissonance from getting too monotonous.
In spite of the abject insanity, it’s as easy to get lost in the soundscapes of “Labyrinthian” as it is to grimace at the sheer weight of each sonic assault. This is one case where comparisons to Meshuggah make sense, as the track’s constant turbulent destruction actually takes on an enthralling (en-“Thall”-ing?) effect. But the true potential of Humanity’s Last Breath manifests when “Instill” comes through with a densely harmonized Bulgarian choir to match the blackened tremolo riffs and blast beats. The mixture of bewitching beauty and horrifying intensity epitomizes what makes this band so great. The fact polyrhythms become the least noteworthy aspect says a lot.
During a time of heavy bands distinguished more by vocals than instrumental arrangement, it’s refreshing to hear Filip Danielsson getting disgusting with his gutturals, but not overpowering. The complex syncopation and high-to-low jumps on “Lifeless, Deathless” could honestly work as an instrumental, making the vocals a welcome cherry on top rather than a crutch. It also helps that drummer Klas Blomgren never sounds like he’s compensating for the guitars, or vice versa. Take “Withering” in which he overflows with technical drum fills to keep up with acrobatic fretwork, while still circling back to a simple, thug-and-chug breakdown.
Speaking of thug-and-chug, look further than “Catastrophize” for a healthy dose of downtempo beatdowns, laced with the band’s Swedish roots. The descending melodic lines and infectious motifs do a lot for the memorability of the chopped-up beats and protracted breakdowns. It’s like an alien’s interpretation of melodic death metal, as illustrated by the melodic guitar leads interwoven into the double-kick bursts, depth-charge chugs, and stabs of shrill noise found in “Death Spiral.” This undercurrent of tunefulness would also explain why the transition to Gojira-esque melodic singing goes over so well amid the craziness.
Humanity’s Last Breath has no problem with going straight for the jugular on a cut like “Shell.” Shell indeed, with triplet chug riffs hitting like mortars explosions. It’s fascinating that these guys haven’t reached the limit of what they can do with ultra-slow breakdowns full of over-the-top sound effects. It goes to show how far these guys have progressed past the realm of panic chords and mosh calls. Even more fascinating is how Odeholm and Thomér reject the rules of playing leads over the rhythms. For a cut like “Passage,” they manage to weave the leads straight into the outlandish chops, effectively setting up the doomy bridge section. Again, the songwriting takes the cake here, not just the sonic devastation.
This is a rare album where a penultimate synth-laden interlude like “Burden” feels necessary, as the sheer scope of Ashen is palpable; physical even. The closing cut “Bearer” isn’t just “heavy.” Anyone can sound “heavy” these days. Humanity’s Last Breath is apocalyptic. Beyond the low tunings and filthy growls lies something genuinely scary. That’s really the beauty of Thall. Is it doom? Deathcore? Djent? Blackened-’core? It’s really whatever these guys need it to be in order to deal maximum damage in just under an hour.
Ashen shows how Humanity’s Last Breath defies classification while achieving an immediately recognizable vibe. We’re talking about an album with cover art straight out of phallic machinations of H.R. Giger, featuring an opening track with a riff that’s essentially several bars of one giant upward string bend. It sounds completely out of control, and maybe it really is out of control, but Humanity’s Last Breath rides the tumultuous tides gracefully.
Humanity’s Last Breath’s Ashen is out now via Unique Leader Records.