Black Line

Orchestral black metal/screamo outfit Respire delivers Black Line, a traversal of our highs and lows, our fears and our passions.

As we fight against the tide of oppressive forces, it’s easy to lose hope in the wake of seemingly insurmountable opposition. Whereas some scars manifest physically, others settle in as mingled feelings of surrender and dejection. And yet, the convictions to which we tenuously cling still somehow drag us forward, getting us back on our feet so that we may work towards a better tomorrow. Into a world shattered by the pandemic and other tyrannical forces, orchestral black metal/screamo outfit Respire delivers Black Line — a harrowing traversal of our highs and lows, our fears and our passions. Succumbing to modern pressures can often feel inevitable, but Respire chooses to seek the light in the darkness.

In 2019, back before the pandemic’s reign of terror took hold on a global scale, , there was still the ongoing climate disaster that continues to affect millions of people. Respire wrote the lyrics for Black Line as wildfires raged worldwide, from British Columbia to Brazil to Australia. “The backdrop of Black Line is the setting of these growing fires, a world where even with a climate catastrophe closer to home than ever before, our leaders continue to sow fear and division with a reactionary populist demagoguery, all for a desire to go back to some imaginary place of homogenous security,” the band recently told This Noise Is Ours. On previous records, Respire looked internally; on their latest, they address the world’s toxic afflictions and how they can affect us as individuals.

Musically, Black Line thrives on the duality of the ugly and beautiful. For someone who doesn’t listen to black metal often, the chaotic pummeling of the drums and the guitar heroics can be a little overwhelming. Still, the tension that builds  over the course of a track usually arrives at a highly gratifying denouement. On single “Cicatrice,” the band thrashes and convulses, building and building until everything crashes into a sea of ablution, bringing to the forefront horns and strings that make you want to drown in your pain and feel everything all at once. “We’re all disease / Destroy, destroyer / Curse against the tides / Writhe against the call,” scream the voices in despair. The rise of right-wing fascist ideology manifests itself as rot and decay, a disease that must be extinguished before we are left to our own destructive devices. It’s the guidance of Eslin McKay’s strings that seems to tend to these wounds. Amidst the tremolo picking and blast-beats, her viola/violin provides a sense of ease and comfort. When other instruments are absent (“Blight,” “Lost Virtue,” “Kindling”), we get respite, reminding us that rest is a virtue.

The cruelty of this world seems to fall on Respire’s shoulders, and you can feel every affection on every scream and every note played. To live this life means enduring suffering and loss, but to hope is to preserve our humanity. “Suffer (everyday) / Lose (everything) / Just this one life / Resist! Resist! Resist!,” they scream on “Flicker and Faint” as a movement that recalls Godspeed You! Black Emperor forms. By the end of the track, you can’t help but shed a tear as they scream, “I want to stop running from myself / I want to feel the weight of it,” while a faint yet fervent vocal sustains and eclipses the track to its conclusion. At some point, escapism becomes futile. Too many lives have been lost to the oppression of our governing forces. “I’m drowning, so lost to the high / So lost to the lows / I’m not found at all,” they scream on “To Our Dead Friends.” The transition into the track offers an intruiging composite of Respire’s influences as familiar emo-tinged vocals mingle with black metal screams behind post-hardcore thrashing.

By the end of Black Line, you will need to take a breath, especially in light of recent events. The recent invasion of Capitol Hill by white supremacists and the neglect of swift arrests for these rioters might compel us to retreat towards defeatist attitudes. While there will be more of these acts of insurrection, Respire believes this feeling of helplessness will ultimately be overshadowed by the fight; it’s the community we build around ourselves that engenders this faith in a better tomorrow. A quote by philosopher and historian Howard Zinn on “Lost Virtue” epitomizes this philosophy: “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” The grand epics of Black Line draw us to our pain for good reason: They are a reminder that, in spite of all the world’s filth, on the other side of this pain are the loving bonds we form that empower us to fight for one another.

William Prince