Review Summary: There is an inner freedom that comes with defiance
Respire is a screamo band; Respire is a black metal band. There's an equal devotion to the sonic and emotional hallmarks of both genres that makes explicit the fact that this is a band that does not do anything by halves. There is the sweltering desperation and unguarded honesty of screamo combined with the murky density and feral brutality of black metal. Warbling sheets of tremolo riffing descend like lightning into the center of string-laden processions embellished with jazzy French horns and raw backing vocals. There's a degree of harmony that Respire have achieved with their fourth full-length release that tips its hat to the post-internet age of genre melding without having too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Each moment feels not only purposeful and steadfast, but duly earned. It's an impressive and mesmerizing accomplishment for a band to hit their peak in the same apocalyptic hellhole we're all trudging through this year, but what makes Black Line
stand out most is how utterly necessary it sounds, for both listeners and the band themselves: this is a scorching song cycle of rapturous majesty and apoplectic ferocity that acts as a balm for all that has been lost, and all that can be gained by sifting through the wreckage instead of remaining buried underneath it.
It can be admittedly tempting to play 'spot the influence' here, but this isn't due to a lack of originality and rather comes down to the fact that the places Respire pluck inspiration from are varied and distinct. Where most blackgaze bands have yet to move on from sucking at the teat of Deafheaven, I instead hear some more unexpected influences here. Instead of the usual stargazing theatrics, I hear the symphonic stomp and arduous tumult of the sadly disbanded False in the calamitous 'Cicatrice', which the band then puts their own stamp on by including a, in their own words, "hxc crustpunk beginning and clapping emo sing-along". "Embers to End" recalls the glacial and nigh-impenetrable volatility of Infant Island, a daunting wall of noise that is then corralled into a swirling vortex of melodic power metal leads and distant horns. Album standout, and my betting pick for best song released this year, is 'Lost Virtue': simply put, it's the best Godspeed You! Black Emperor song since 'We Drifted Like Worried Fire'. Opening with atmospheric guitar scrapes and austere violin, a rousing speech about humanity and endurance wafts in and out of legibility, grounded by the intermittent thump of a deep bass drum. A lone foreboding guitar track orbits like a derelict satellite, encroaching more and more as the violin and drums steadily and incessantly grow faster and faster, reaching a level of almost unbearable tension and speed until a ghostly chorale of backing vocals appear the instant before the song freefalls completely into possibly the most outright furious and pummeling section of the entire album. It's an exhausting and exhilarating piece of music that easily leapfrogs any thoughts of imitation and cements Respire as a singularly focused force to be reckoned with in their own right.
comes to a close with its two most emotional tracks, taking a look back into the past of both the personal lives of the members and calling back to previous album Denouement
. 'To Our Dead Friends' boasts the most crisp production to be found here, and it's a sub-3 minute heartbreaker of monolithic bass, pinwheeling guitar bedlam and frenzied display of vocal countermelodies. The effusive amount of passion in the "clean" backing vocals in particular is a hair-raising moment that proves one of the most haunting to be found here. 'Catacombs Part II' closes out Black Line
on a reflective and sumptuous note, with violins that sound like they are actually weeping and extended sections of affecting crooning. Circuitous clarion calls of trumpet drizzle like reams of confetti over crushing waves of growing dissonance and claustrophobic screams until the album closes on a forlorn recording of what sounds like pouring rain. It's a triumphant but realistic finish to such an emotionally draining and musically expansive release. It's the sound of hope and renewal, but it's not as clear-cut or easy as that statement sounds; as with their influences, Respire don't trace a clear trajectory or hold the listener's hand. Black Line
isn't above commiserating, but it's ultimately about the ugly, nonlinear and thankless act of confronting the past and present and moving on to, one can dare to hope, a brighter future.