‘All great art is born through suffering’. Whilst the exact origin of that quote may be lost, it is a tragic myth/truth that to activate true greatness in the pursuit of their craft, the artist must experience trauma to fuel their muse.
Breaths, the expressive vehicle for passionate talents of singer and multi-instrumentalist Jason Roberts would suggest so. Despite releasing his debut, Lined In Silver, less than a year ago has barely paused for breath(!) and not only written the sophomore album, but also recorded and produced this very intimate affair.
Though life has turned out nothing like I imagined, it is far better than I could have dreamt. (to give it the full title) is an intense affair that very much documents Robert’s own internal struggles, articulating both hope and despair in equal measure through a kaleidoscope of musical variations that encompasses post-metal, blackgaze, post-hardcore and dalliances with the progressive.
Just a quick glance at the titles of the six tracks that make up Though life… The Elders, The Patriarch, The Tormented, The Empty, The Matriarch, and The Wayward will tell you that this is an artist who has taken a scalpel to his own psyche in pursuit of the inspiration that compels an artist to embrace the negative, then channel it into something positive.
The album starts with a bang, no drawn-out introduction, straight into a juddering, smashing riffs and rasping vocal, like a black metal version of the Deftones giving a sense of free fall as the hammering descends into melodic, choral lamenting. The switching contrast between the angelic and the feral flows like the transitions in blackgaze, perfected by Alcest, then brought to wider attention by Deafheaven. Its come as no surprise that Neige’s post-black metal outfit and the Sacramento post rockers are both cited as influences.
Lyrically the song deals with loss of someone close in both savage and mournful turns equally, the complexity of pain and relationships laid bare in an emotional, tumultuous track that is laced with synths and the teasing lead work that has come to be a staple of blackgaze.
The Patriarch builds on a light indie guitar motif that’s almost Yawning Man like, and the lyrics continue with the theme of being barely able to remember the name of someone close. The up-tempo drumming keeps the track driving towards the huge breakdown chorus full of double bass and swelling chords. In spite of this frenetic energy, it remains wistful, tender and full of love. Robert’s voice is entirely clean in delivery, revealing a soulful, searching lyric that asks the questions of ‘What if?’ before the track takes a darker turn towards the end and crushes a downtuned late era Deftones riff into the ground.
Every instrument is used to perfectly overlap a range of techniques, it all sounds fantastic, reinforcing that Jason Roberts is hands down one talented dude…
This pounding builds a segue into the tribal drums of The Tormented. One of the most out and out heavy tracks on the album, it forms a musical lynchpin at the heart of Though life… that walks the line between the post-hardcore edge of nu metal bands and progressive metal shifting guitar work. This urgent, tense atmosphere continues onto The Empty with uneasy tempos and time changes. The lyrics form a huge part of the mood that hangs over the track as the space, created by the interplay between the instruments, brings no relief before the full-on black metal rock out.
The Matriarch is another complex track that ebbs and flows between the impassioned screams and the heartfelt caress of almost anthemic indie-lite moments that recall the excellent recent works from the likes of Chrome Waves and Deafheaven’s almost entirely light Infinite Granite. The switch between the two sides of Breaths split personality is seamless and, on this track, overall is used to great effect with the pleading delicate vocal and airy guitar underpinned by gargled backing vocals and thumping bass drums.
The Wayward is a painfully raw and open track about stepbrother relationships that is an ambitious composition welding pop, industrial like sensibilities to the already rich blend of styles. Densely layered and intriguing, this hardcore outpouring of emotions, at first loving and then increasingly harsh, building with the music, as things go sour. Ending on an orchestral sweep of instruments in a final goodbye, the album finishes on an echoing note that you hope is bringing closure to the man who composed it.
Though life… isn’t overtly doing anything that is going to change blackgaze or post-metal, but by adding in the robust sounds of the likes of Deftones and laying bare the emotional scars in such an honest manner, turns an album that could, on the surface, be pigeonholed into what might seem a slightly cold genre (not to take anything away from the lyrics of, say George Clark) and lend it an introspective howl of despair that’s usually associated with the personal therapy of grunge or Korn.
Every instrument is used to perfectly overlap a range of techniques, it all sounds fantastic, reinforcing that Jason Roberts is hands down one talented dude. If I was to temper my enthusiasm for the album slightly, I will point out that at some moments this honesty can stray into the genuinely uncomfortable, there are no metaphors to get lost in, at times there are no riddles or suggestions that can be universally applied. Though life… is intensely personal and at times extremely raw in a way that the clunky raps of Papa Roach about broken homes simply don’t come close to.
This is an elegant album in construct, and if any of the influences found here appeal then this is probably going to be in your listening rotation for a long time. It is unlikely to make you fall in love with black/doom/shoegaze, but you must applaud the immense effort in the delivery of the vision.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden