Got your filthiest, most indecipherably nasty metal t-shirt on? Toe-cap clamped firmly on the monitor or stage front? Ear-protection duly discarded? Day off work tomorrow to let your neck recover? Ready to fend off all attackers from the onslaught of the pit? Check? Good! The only other item of preparation you may need is some duct tape to secure your feet to the floor as the opening bars of ‘Sentenced to Life’ smash through your chest whilst you’re suddenly windmilling harder than the Amsterdam countryside in a hurricane. Black Breath are back, and resistance is foolish, if not futile.
Four years on from the buzzing excitement surrounding the release of debut EP ‘Razor to Oblivion’, and two years since the impact of the excellent full length ‘Heavy Breathing’, the Bellingham, Washington masters of crust-thrash emerge from the lair of Kurt Ballou’s studio with one of THE heaviest riff-fests of 2012. Put simply: if you liked ‘Heavy Breathing’ then you NEED to hear where Black Breath have managed to channel that ugly energy to this time. Not content with dishing out a simple rehash of their punch-now-ask-questions-never blackness, this band manage to perfectly combine everything from ‘80s heyday thrash, Stockholm-grind, Norwegian black-metal, gnarled punk-rock, Southern hardcore and canyons of groove enough to satisfy fans of a more mainstream obliteration (Unearth, Lamb of God, Pantera et al).
‘Sentenced to Life’ takes the chainsaw guitar department that Eric Wallace and Mark Palm showcased brilliantly on ‘Heavy Breathing’ and fine-tunes this – cleaning but yet lowering the tone, the riffs uglier and meaner, but with more upper-cutting hooks and driving breakdowns. Neil McAdams is a spitball of frothing rage in the centre of the arena, riding the apocalypse somewhere in the middle of the mix to give his venomous rasp a ringing impact, rather than overshadowing the lethal riffs or Jamie Byrum’s faultless kit pounding. Stylistically, there’s a tad more blatant thrashing this time around with the title cut and opener ‘Feast of the Damned’ borrowing the scything onslaught of Exodus or Kreator and melding it to a more Entombed-esque death metal template. The results are stunning, and complex closer ‘Obey’ shows how much of a gap in the market the band have identified for a potential successor to Death, Morbid Angel or At The Gates with a more controlled dynamic of shredding perfection.
If you just want to whip your neck harder and faster than a lasso exhibition with a prize bull gone horribly wrong, the middle order is where it’s at for you. ‘Forced Into Possession’, ‘Home of the Grave’ and the gargantuan ‘Of Flesh’ borrow the blunt, shunting stomp of classic Testament and update it to modern day aesthetic; the lead breaks sounding absolutely devastating. Once again, producer Ballou proves that he is the best in the world at making bands sound bigger than a sumo convention in a cheese factory from behind his control desk. Whether it’s anchoring each track with the ram-rod crunch of Elijah Nelson’s in-the-pocket bass performance, obtaining that delicious, crisp and hellish guitar vibe or simply layering the track order for maximum jaw-droppage, the Converge-mainman proves that he’s untouchable in getting THAT perfect metal sound. On this last point, it’s essential to recognise the role of 8th track ‘The Flame’ in slowing the tempo to a smouldering crawl and keeping the album interesting and multi-dimensional. It’s a formidable dose of lumbering might with such a colossal groove that it would sit happily on any mid-era Slayer record.
‘Sentenced to Life’ is an absolute banger, and if there’s any justice, it will go down as one of the must-have heavy metal releases of 2012. Reports from Camp BB suggest that the material came together a little too forcibly and hastily than they had intended, but the output kills with the frightening sense of urgency of a band with something to prove and nothing to lose. Southern Lord and Kurt Ballou can put another notch on their tally-charts of heaviness, whilst Black Breath can enjoy climbing up the touring bills and destroying some larger venues next time around. Now please excuse me – I’m off to hit play again and strain some more vertebrae!
Scribed by: Pete Green