Releasing an album in December isn’t usually advisable – most publications find themselves distracted by their end of year lists from mid-November onwards, and anything that comes after that tends to get left in a sort of limbo before the new year begins. One album that deserves to rise above this problem and be held up alongside 2020’s best releases is the new album from Canadian “post-everything collective”, Respire. This brash, daring record combines everything you love about classic post-hardcore, traditional emo/screamo and acerbic black metal, and combines them with lush classical instrumentation to create one of the most captivating records of the year.
Intro track ‘Blight’ eases us in with ominous violin strokes, setting the stage for the first proper song, ‘Tempest’, to storm in and burn everything in its path with scorching blastbeats and razor-sharp tremolo guitar lines, underpinned by the violins that swirl dramatically around the arrangement. There is so much going on instrumentally that it can be a little overwhelming at times, but that’s by no means a negative point. Searing high-pitched screams fight for space with guttural growls atop the cacophony created by the musicians, and when the song finally rests after the first minute or so, it feels like the car you’ve just crashed has finally stopped rolling and screeched to a halt on its roof, leaving you to try and get your head round your recent brush with death. From here, Respire build back up to a beautiful, swelling post-rock passage that could pass for a Sigur Ros song if it wasn’t for the tortured vocals that sit atop it.
It’s hard to believe at this point that we’re only six minutes or so into the record, as it’s already been an emotional rollercoaster. With so much crammed into that first track, you might worry that Respire have already shown their full hand – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Blistering number ‘Cicatrice’ shows off the band’s screamo influences, with a stark mid-section that harks back to early Touché Amoré, before ‘Lost Virtue’ drags the listener through a spoken word section reinforced by a foundation of simple guitars and drums that builds in both density and urgency, feeling like it could cave in at any moment before it reaches a heart-wrenching conclusion.
One of the stand out moments on this record is recent single ‘To Our Dead Friends’, which excellently uses impassioned clean vocals to add yet another layer to Respire’s already textured sound. Imagine Circle Takes The Square, The Appleseed Cast and Alexisonfire jamming together, and you’re somewhere near understanding the vast range of influences this band draw from. At least, that is, until the trumpet comes in and throws you off all over again, both on this track and stunning closer ‘Catacombs Part II’.
‘Black Line’ is without a doubt one of the most ambitious, emotionally striking, and downright original records to come out this year. If you are in any way interested in emo, screamo, post-hardcore, post-rock, blackgaze, or any of the genres adjacent to those listed, this album will have something to offer you. If you think you’ve already got your end of year list figured out, think again – because with ‘Black Line’, Respire have released a late-game AOTY contender.
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