‘Sentenced to life’, with its picture of a gloved hand smashing a window, immediately puts you on the alert. The picture – with its connotations of faceless brutality – manages to set the nerves jangling; and even the band’s name: ‘black breath’, conjures up an instant images of decay and pestilence that persist throughout listening to this violent mini-masterpiece.
Black Breath deal in some of the scuzziest, most brutal, virulent metal you’re likely to hear. Forget about studio-polished perfection, reverb-saturated drums and vocals that sit comfortably back in the mix to allow you to appreciate the musicianship of the band – what you get here is the aural equivalent of a crack fiend grabbing you in the street and spitting blood in your face for roughly thirty minutes before stealing your wallet and leaving you standing, shaking, wondering what the hell went wrong with your life that you had to go through such an experience. It’s raw, it’s dirty and it sounds a little like Slayer’s early material sped up and played back through a dirty, cheap stereo in a mud-soaked field somewhere.
Opening track ‘feast of the damned’ is the perfect summation of the album, everything sounds distorted, from the bass, rumbling away somewhere near the earth’s core, to the tinny, flesh-ripping guitars. Even the drums sound amped to the max, as if everything this band learnt about rock ‘n’ roll came from a potent cocktail of Iggy Pop’s legendarily fierce ‘Raw Power’ and Slayer’s ‘Hell awaits’. There is, of course, skill buried deep in the production, squirreled away as if the band are ashamed at having practiced, but a blistering solo bursts forth towards the song’s conclusion, whilst the gang-style chorus of ‘feast of the damned’, bears a close relation to angel of death’s similarly catchy centrepiece. The album’s title track is equally vicious. Soaked in sweat and blood it comes roaring out of the speakers with a barely restrained fury that even at some distance from the time of recording manages to unnerve. The riffs are brutal, beautiful, mechanistic blasts of pure metal, and there is no doubt that fans of thrash metal’s most extreme outer reaches will love this. ‘Forced into possession’ somehow appears even faster than its predecessor with the drums resembling a monumental artillery barrage and the guitars not far removed from the sound of a buzz saw.
We get a break come ‘home of the grave’, not in the form of a ballad, but in terms of an almighty groove that offers the very real possibility of audience members suffering from whiplash come the conclusion of the song. With a mid-section that is almost doom with its mid-tempo, crunching riffs and earth-shattering drums, it’s a sludgy treat that gives one a moment to take stock before the haunting riff of ‘endless corpse’ takes you entirely by surprise. It is a mellow moment destined not to last however, as a huge distorted riff is unleashed over the top and suddenly the song transforms in front of your very eyes into a marauding juggernaut of a track, all hyper-speed riffing and agonised screams before collapsing in on itself in and grinding to a halt on a massive, chrome-plated doom riff. ‘Mother abyss’, in contrast, comes snarling out of the mud and detritus left by its predecessor, and goes straight for the jugular. Rabid, stunning in its intensity, it’s a warp speed, and warped, beast that is over before you know it leaving you dizzy, bewildered and ready to fall straight into the clutches ‘of flesh’ – a sludge laden, Black Sabbath obsessed hymn to neuroses. ‘Doomed’, ironically, is precisely the opposite – a rampaging beast that offers up none of the oppressive, blackened atmosphere associated with its title. ‘The flame’ is another track to cruise in on an almighty groove, the guitars meshed together for a tight, mid-paced thrash slog that gets the head moving instinctively. It’s one of the many highlights here and again recalls the might of early Slayer leading you towards one final abyss – the awesome ‘obey’ which closes the album on a note of frantic, wide-eyed terror complete with earth-shaking drums, a harmonised guitar solo and tormented screams before fading out in a buzz of static and tortured guitar amps.
Black Breath are as metal as they come. They are as shocking and traumatic as the faceless attack represented on the cover and everything from the stunningly raw, yet powerful production to the abundance of first-rate riffs marks this album out as something special indeed. Our review of the band’s debut EP (you can find it here if you like) ended with the words “Worth checking out whether you like hardcore punk, black metal, doom or thrash this is a brutal missive from a band destined to do great things.” This album sees the band fulfilling that destiny and unleashing great things indeed. An awesome, in the truest sense of the word, release – if you love metal, you will love this.
You can also check the band out on their all-too-brief tour: