LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT Black Breath's blunt force steamrolls over genre conventions in its obsessive
journey of pure metal domination.
Anyone with even a passing interest in heavy metal knows by now that the musical style has become subsumed in an obsession with subgenres, warring factions under metal's big black hate-filled umbrella. A band crawling through the sausage factory that is modern metal will continually be shunted off into pigeonholes based on how "black," "death," or whatever their attack is. After a while, bands begin to self-categorize, proudly flaunting their own genre limitations as if they were badges of metal courage — after all, being thrust to the fringes appeals to the outsider pugilist within every metal soul. But in a sense, the truest metal is the kind that eschews categorization, the kind that tosses out style and genre in favor of the purest intensity. And for my money, there is no band putting their heads down and just bringing it — with zero consideration for the extemporaneous theatrics of metal-scene bullshit — like Seattle's Black Breath.
The band's nihilistic trill-heavy plod often gets them pegged black metal; their sheer speed gets them labeled thrash, or even hardcore. "Yeah, people say that stuff, claim we're part of these scenes," says guitarist Eric Wallace. "Which, you know, we're not really going for. But whatever people say we are, we say, 'Sure, fine, whatever.' In our minds, we're just trying to streamline things, get to the point, cut out the bullshit." This philosophy is in full display on the band's sophomore long-player, this spring's eviscerating Sentenced to Life.
The new album — like their 2010 debut, Heavy Breathing — was released by Southern Lord Records, the house of sludge built by the cloaks-and-20-minute-drone not-metal of Greg Anderson's Sunn O))). And if this seems a weird imprint to be repping a no-frills unit like Black Breath, clearly even Anderson saw fit to bow down to the relentless majesty of Black Breath's sick approach. Each track on Sentenced is an infernal machine, growing tighter and tighter, with shifting percussion building momentum while concentric scuzz riffs and full-on nihilistic vocals close in on your mind. Whether it's the under-two-minutes thrash-paddling of "Forced into Possession," the chugging evil of trill-filled grunt vehicle "The Flame," or the epic bullying brilliance of closer "Obey," Black Breath's blunt force steamrolls over genre conventions in its odyssey of metal domination.
"I guess we cram in a wide range of stuff, whatever we think we can pull off," Wallace explains. "A lot of our favorite records are kind of just one thing, one sound — it's easy, when you're trying to be dynamic, to come off as unfocused. But the reactions we get sometimes are nuts: some people will say we're a metal band, someone else will say we're hardcore, then it's black metal, or just rock and roll. After a while, I have no idea what we are anymore!"