Black Breath: Sentenced to Life

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Black Breath: Sentenced to Life
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Black Breath: Sentenced to Life
Death Metal, Thrash Metal
Southern Lord Records
March 27th, 2012
Release length: 33:32
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Black Breath formed back in 2006. Originating from Seattle, Washington, the group has remained pretty loyal to the underground masses with their breed of Death meets Thrash Metal material. Ever since their debut EP Razor to Oblivion stormed the shadows of the underworld through the indie label Hot Mass Records, the circles with their ears to the ground have been abuzz with their name. It was fitting for the group to sign to the always impressive Southern Lord Records for 2010’s first full-length, Heavy Breathing, another successful and well received offering. With much anticipation and excitement from those waiting on the next recording, does the burden hold Black Breath back from issuing another phenomenal album, or does their follow-up effort Sentenced to Life deliver on all expected promises?

Sentenced to Life simply sounds blunt and somewhat raw. This works in their favor, helping to capture the group’s energy that just drips from every song. Much like your standard Swedish Death Metal album, the distortion on the guitars is very sharp with a higher pitch that cuts at your skin like knives, especially when the pace picks up. The bass isn’t the strongest, but the somewhat deeper tones can still be picked up on, though largely come off as a twanging performance that keeps the release grounded just enough to make headbanging to the rhythm mandatory. The drums help to keep that alive with crisp cymbals and rich higher snares, both a bit buried during the quicker moments or generally richer performances of higher distortions on the guitars, but the click of the bass kicks are unmistakeable, ripping right through everything quite well. The vocals also feed into the quality with a nice distortion on the harsher to shouting approach, adding some extra noise to the equation to fill all the gaps without being too overbearing.

There are really only two modes that Black Breath make available on this recording, and that’s either energetic or intimidating. There are songs like the furious “Forced Into Possession” which kicks into high speed shortly after starting, punishing the listener with pounding drums and guitar chords that just tear away at the soul. Eventually the pace does die down a bit, allowing some calmer, yet still ruthless passages to come through and add some variety to the mix. Surprisingly, it’s songs like these that generally make up that Swedish Death Metal push, which you will immediately pick up on with “Feast of the Damned.” While not quite as adrenaline soaked, the energy is still there, and the underlying creepier tones to the brutalising hooks does grab the listener while the intensity just screams in your face with full authority. “Mother Abyss” is another hard-hitting Death Metal fueled offering that varies the pace greatly thanks to some held chords and faster drums in the chorus that build a little tension while the slightly tighter and complex ones make a superbly violent outlet for the listener. This, like the others, is a pretty short offering, barely going past the two and a half minute mark, but overall it ends up being far more than enough without pushing itself in a way to lose your attention, or just generally overwhelm you with the aggression put on display.

The other side of Sentenced to Life largely stems from a strong Thrash Metal foundation or attitude, and really becomes the more authorative element to the band’s sound. The mixture of the two styles on “Sentenced to Life” finds a nice bit of Crossover thrown in with two-stepping that compliments the shouting vocals. The gang chants that do appear during the chorus suit the attitude of the song, and around the one minute and twenty-five second mark the music really picks up to pure intensity with tighter chants occuring that leads to a catchy bridge of additional two-steps that will make any veteran of the style immediately want to mosh or dance along. “The Flame” is a much slower song overall, and again blends the two styles together a little more. This allows for the chords to usher in that creepy, unsetteling vibe, but some of the passages show a bit of an early Slayer influence. Unfortunately, this song isn’t the most engaging because of it. Up to this point, Black Breath shows a rather unique identity, and this just feels a little more like someone else’s composition. The same goes for “Obey,” which isn’t too bad, but the slower pace grinds to a bit of a Heavy Metal anthem-style halt towards the end that suits the atmosphere, but again just sounds contradicting to what the goal of the album was.

Sentenced to Life is still an album that delivers on all levels. There’s a good deal of variety throughout despite most of it falling into one of two categories. The energy and attitude that Black Breath carries with them is evident from the moment each and every song kicks in. It’s really sad that the last two songs on this release don’t seem to fit, coming off a little more like a completely different band’s work, but they aren’t anything you couldn’t listen to, or even come back to on repeat spins. Either way, Black Breath has come through again with another brutal offering that stands out as a hidden gem in the flooded out Metal underground world, and one that any self respecting Metal fan should acquaint themselves with.

01. Feast of the Damned – 2:56
02. Sentenced to Life – 2:28
03. Forced into Possession – 2:00
04. Home of the Grave – 3:36
05. Endless Corpse – 4:38
06. Mother Abyss – 2:37
07. Of Flesh – 3:38
08. Doomed – 2:03
09. The Flame – 4:16
10. Obey – 5:21
Overall Score: 9.5/10


Digital review copy of this release provided by Southern Lord Records via Earsplit PR.