Release Date: Mar 26, 2012
Record label: Southern Lord Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal, Death Metal
Metal isn’t what it used to be: it comes in little packages these days. Labelled black, noise, dark, thrash, death, ambient, doom, sludge and all variety of prefixes, the humble formula for the metal LP has been twisted and distorted beyond recognition. And one of the chief responsibilities for that change lies with Sunn O)))’s Southern Lord imprint, characteristically the most avant-garde and famous heavy label operating today.
If you buy only one face-liquidising, denim-skinned album of demonic metal thunder this year because you saw it reviewed in [i]NME[/i], then make it this face-liquidising, denim-skinned… well, you get the message. The effectively faultless output of Seattle rivetheads Black Breath prior to this – one EP, one album – is not remotely diminished by ‘Sentenced To Life’, which is half an hour of double-kickdrum rippage that raises tankards to Slayer and Entombed while sounding crustier than a pie shop. It’s like the best bits of every extreme metal subgenre: a deathly crossover of sludgy, blackened thrash that will put hairs on your chest.
Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, Sentenced to Life feels like an exclamation point studded with framing nails. Steeped in the punishing gloom of early black metal, but fueled by the muscular attack of thrash and punk, what Seattle's Black Breath lacks in the hooks department, it more than makes up for in sheer, unfiltered menace. There's an overall sense of history at play here, but it never results in the material sounding retro.
Don't let the hair fool you: Black Breath are, more or less, a hardcore band. Yes, there are those death and thrash influences-- no denying the air-guitaring solos, Swedish influences, or double leads. But when you listen to the Seattle-via-Bellingham quintet's second full-length, Sentenced to Death, you're just as likely to hear early East Coast hardcore acts like Cro-Mags and a variety of European crust punks as you are Slayer or Entombed (from whom they likely snagged their name, via a cover of an earlier Repulsion song, and definitely nicked their HM-2 guitar tone).
It’s all there in the cover art: a sledgehammer shattering a pane of glass. It’s a reverential nod to Black Breath’s destructive predecessors, and a clear-cut symbol of what to expect on the Seattle, Washington band’s battering sophomore release. Sentenced to Life follows on from Black Breath’s debut full-length, ‘10’s Heavy Breathing, an album slathered in the crusty lacquer of D-beat fired death ‘n’ roll, tussling with a raging ‘80’s-fuelled hardcore bite.
Mary Stallings A lot of artists are unsettled on principle; they are driven by the unreasonable idea that there’s something they ought to do or can’t do. The jazz singer Mary Stallings, a San Francisco Bay Area native, is in her early 70s and undiminished; she sounds like someone who knows and ….
At first I was somewhat hesitant to review Sentenced to Life due to the sludgy/doom offerings that are generally churned out from Southern Lord, of which I am not much of a fan. After hearing “Sentenced to Life”, the title track I felt more compelled to give it another spin. This is the second full length from Black Breath, a Seattle, Washington based death/thrash/crossover outfit.
For some reason, Seattle, WA still brings to mind timid, sad Kurt Cobain types from the mid-'90s. You know the kind, with long, greasy hair hanging over their eyes. For many of us, that's the image of Seattle burned into our brains after growing up with Nirvana, forever marking the city. Sure, the '90s were all angst-y and damaged, but Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden or anything that came from that period in history can't hold a candle to the kind of screaming rage that Seattle, and Washington state in general, is producing in metal today.
Alongside labelmates Nails and All Pigs Must Die, Seattle’s Black Breath have been doing a fine job of keeping the spirit and sound of crust punk alive and well in recent years. With 2010’s Heavy Breathing, they took the fuzzy clamor, sneering obnoxiousness and hardcore attitude of Discharge or Hellbastard and infused it with flavors of thrash and Iron Monkey-esque sludge to riveting effect. Sentenced To Life is no less impressive, maintaining the belligerence and coarse edges of its predecessor while building upon this to make a more diverse and arresting collection.
Labelmates and recent tour chemists, Seattle quintet Black Breath and Swedish fourpiece Martyrdöd share a gallop, the former's hornet thrash meeting the latter's blackened crust in high third gear. Sentenced to Life mostly retreads 2010 Southern Lord debut Heavy Breathing, but with boosted boom and production clarity; the death metal pulse of the title cuts a heartbeat in your busted eardrum. Mikael Kjellman's tracheotomy craw maintains a gutter-fi contrast to axe handle Pontus Redig's war-standard leads, cutting Martyrdöd with both Mastodon ("Nog Är Nog") and Motörhead ("Det Sker Samtidigt") on fourth LP Paranoid.