“By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot be fully predicted, the future remains malleable, and retains the possibility of change, the hope of coming to prevail; victory, to use an unfashionable word. In this, the future is a game; time is one of the rules.” Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games
The hollow, tumescent bass-heavy clunking of djent has never been impressive beyond the extreme point of origin it represents within a certain subspace of high-fidelity “guitar music” sound design. The waves of bonking and fidgeting machine grooves that proliferated beyond Meshuggah‘s ‘Nothing’ in 2002 were so quickly outsourced and watered down in creation of seeming endless studio-polished metalcore bands for the remainder of that decade yet none of it’d become particularly offensive (read: intrusive) to “traditional” extreme metal scenery until this fusion would begin to naturally evolve within the emergent popularity of deathcore. As a result of direct contact with several “opening act” metalcore derivatives as an unfitting preamble to legacy death metal bands I have been a conscientious objector of the artform for nearly two decades. Not only does most djent do a disservice to the fellowes who’d invented it but its infusion into deathcore exists mainly as a ridiculously flat, hardcore-danceable component which has never assisted the success of any song written in said style. The true source of bitterness for many of us old enough to have seen this trend arise and merge with unsacred others as part of the greater surface level extreme metal tendency is that it’d erased the prime directional impact of the highly technical, far more inspired inner-workings of ‘Chaosphere’. And no, this isn’t an essay on those legendary Swedes but rather a formal complaint that the “easy” path forward, to endlessly down tune and chug deep unto oddly metered harmonic minor chord DSP-wriggling Hell, has produced tonal conformity that is contradictory to the source code’s avant-garde metal intent. This ever-ominously coalescing form between djent and deathcore has seen roughly two generations of infusion and expansion as I willfully sat in the dark and avoided it, a leir-in-wait ready to pounce on the first viably “progressive death metal” record to come from it and well, we’re yet far beyond any reasonable expiration date here in 2021. Nonetheless this third album from Helsingborg, Sweden borne deathcore act Humanity’s Last Breath, “Välde“, is a neat amalgamation of pros and cons for this style of music. Crafting this quite long and coldly presented deathcore/djent album with a well-realized science fiction atmosphere is matter of idiosyncratic use of technology and I feel it warrants analysis for both musical content and its implementation of modern studio techniques, even if everything these guys do is the antithesis of my own taste in heavy music.
Fans of djent surely know the origin story better than I do. The gist is that Humanity’s Last Breath formed in 2009 and cranked out a couple of EP’s within the next couple of years, their sound was clearly influenced by not only by Meshuggah and bands like Whitechapel but also the nearby efforts from their slow-to-rise fellowes Vildhjarta. Though I was aware of this band through friends ‘Album(s) of the Year’ lists in the early 2010’s by the time their self-titled debut full-length (‘Humanity’s Last Breath‘, 2013) released and mentioned alongside the previous namedrops + Oceano I’d known better than to personally invest my ears. Perhaps because of the re-staffing of Humanity’s Last Breath in 2014 and the main composer Buster Odeholm joining Vildhjarta that same year the project is often suggested as either an offshoot or directly related entity despite a fairly long wait for a second major release from each project. The popularity of what was essentially a solo EP (‘Detestor‘, 2016) combined with the cessation of their label representation ultimately lead the band to sign with Unique Leader Records for their second album, the much improved ‘Abyssal‘ (2019) and full remixed/remastered versions of the full back catalog have followed. As I sparked my way through this discography I couldn’t help but feel any remarks were ultimately reductive as I didn’t see much of a change in compositional methodology beyond the first album though the technical aspects of the performances and the focus on glossy, moody production values saw considerable progress towards a well-glistening ideal. I think it’d been easier to remain a steady ear when scouring through bands like Thy Art is Murder or Fallujah simply because their evolutionary tracts were ultimately found modulating style alongside more expensive production. In view of ‘Välde’ we see increasingly idiosyncratic behaviors developing in production/performance methods as heavily machined elements become necessary for evolution.
A left-handed upside down guitar enables scale enough to drop ~five steps to a modified eight string guitar tuning on a six-string that can hold ridiculous gauges eh, in Humanity’s Last Breath‘s hands this is essentially a berimbau attached to a computer in practicum. A midi controller tracks a whammy pedal in time to each song in a live setting so that Odeholm and crew can essentially swap tunings within songs, within riffs and produce some wild sound effects along the way. This is heavily accented by a custom set DSP, a guitar plug-in serving digital effects modulation that functions well beyond a board full of stomp boxes. Quite a bit more complex you’d think a djent/deathcore piece might ultimately need but this sort of ‘competitive’ gear-obssessed solution offers a glimpse of the astute use of technology it takes to reproduce these monolithic, chugging pieces. From my point of view the specifications of this methodology provide too clear a window into “false” guitar music where the machine outweighs human input, emphasizing performances that are essentially a complex workaround that allows a guitar to be a midi-controller that doesn’t require any particular emphasis on compositional creativity to impress the average goblin picking up a guitar for the first time. So, the main point to be made here is that despite this cold alien world of chunking pistons some credit is due Odeholm and crew for placing some serious focus on semi-directional dissonance and atmosphere with worth, it is inarguably a few steps beyond the usual ethereal keyboards atop chugging open chords. But, does any of this amount to good music?
Unfortunately tunefulness does not really factor into the demographic here and I suppose if it did it’d probably pull from alternative metal for melody (see: “Spectre”). References to extreme metal tonality, extreme dissonance, hulking guitar tones, all of it reads as heavy beyond the norm and the use of jaunty sci-fi hits and count heavy post-groove metal movements make for acrobatic simplicity that is only personal for the sake of the sinister empire depicted within ‘Välde’ and its apocalyptic narrative. Here is where I sort of float a stinker your way in terms of why you might want to go sniffing around Humanity’s Last Breath‘s latest album: Djent riffing that is largely dissonant negates a lot of slamming brutal death metal clichés which often stifle the functional seriousness of post-apocalyptic progressive deathcore/brutal death when typified. Well, I didn’t say it’d be a hard sell on my part. Ultimately what ‘Välde’ represents in my ears is a work on the level of Mick Gordon‘s soundtrack work for the two most recent Doom video games, wherein big and often somewhat emergent pieces are delivered on an impossible cinematic scale. It is more or less the soundtrack to horrendous cataclysm that occasionally pieces itself into categorical deathcore amidst the wandering djent chug heavy theatrics. A bevvy of tropes can be tossed out the window for the sake of a powerful, well-considered sound that matches theme and visual. That said, the atmosphere of the whole does become difficult to emphasize after many listens, if only for the sake of the full experience relying on the very blunt obstruction of tech-timed chug bursting guitar riffing within its soundscape. If we can see this as the effective prophesied futurescape of what old death metal tuned djent albums were envisioning back in the day, it would be fair to say that the compressed neo-futurism of Humanity’s Last Breath captures both the hysteric complexity of the auld avant-garde and the binary print-out nature of fully mechanized Terminator-screeching metal taken to a fresh extreme, if only in terms of sound design.
At twelve songs and ~52 minutes with each piece ranging around four minutes ‘Välde’ is about fifteen minutes too long and severely lacking in any easily perceptible variation. This is a common complaint on my part when dealing with progressive deathcore and any form of djent where the guitar tone is thrilling for all of ten seconds before I’d like to see what else they could do with tonal play. Consistency of vision does ultimately serve a natural progression of pieces that inspire visions of dread and apocalyptic horrors yet any number of them could be considered either cursory in placement or for the sake of heavily repeated motif. The sort of uh, dubstep level of (emergent yet entirely predictable) riff movement that occurs beyond the usual meka-Meshuggah extreme works well enough here but I am absolutely hesitating to pick a handful of pieces from the bunch to really emphasize. It is the sort of record you put on and let it do its bonking, terrifyingly machined thing and I suppose I had no trouble just doing that. As was the case with Fallujah a few years back, I’ve come back to this record a number of times not for any one specific moment but because I’d found the sound of the album particularly compelling for the cinematic tunnel vision it creates when left on repeat. Use it like a drug, then, if you will and see if it works for you. Ultimately none of this really works for me on a continuous timeline, the songs don’t really stick and the spectacle of these sub-genres (separate or expertly fused as they are here) hasn’t really reached me since 2002. Though I may yet be stubbornly opposed to such inhuman feats of technological fusion with the hands of mankind in creation of music, I wouldn’t be surprised if major fans of this sort of music didn’t find ‘Välde’ to be especially captivating. Though ‘Abyssal’ was a tighter, more reasonable listening experience this one feels appropriately monolithic and intrusive both in theme and in motion. A moderate recommendation, higher if your taste specifically harmonizes between djent and deathcore.
|ARTIST:||HUMANITY’S LAST BREATH|
|LABEL(S):||Unique Leader Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||February 12th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
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