Friday, June 29, 2012

Black Breath - Sentenced to Life

Black Breath are a relatively new outfit from Seattle. Sentenced to Life is their second full-length album, and it is also my first encounter with the band.

I've noticed some disagreement over how exactly this band should be labeled. Crust punk, thrash, and death metal seem to be the prime contenders, so to a certain extent the band sits on an intersection of those three. I'm personally most inclined to say death metal, but that's just me. Fortunately, this difficult-to-classify sound is not so much the product of mixing several separate elements as it is the result of a band whose sound hearkens back to the early days of groups like Possessed when death metal had not yet fully clawed its way free from its thrash roots.The crunching guitar frequently employs the oh-so-famous Swedish buzzsaw tone of Entombed et al. This is not constant, though it crops up pretty often. The drumming is rock solid and paces the music well, not really going into extended double-bass pounding but instead maintaining a more varied approach.

In my opinion the great strength of this group is their vocalist. His hoarsely bellowed assault has real intensity, and remains understandable at least part of the time. Like the rest of the band, the vocals are an echo of the early death metal groups who really shouted and attacked with their voices rather than relying on deep cookie monster growls to make them sound tough and scary in the absence of genuine energy.

You probably think, from the way I've described this album, that lack of originality is its big weakness. Well you'd be right to some degree, but mostly that's because apart from its somewhat "retro" sound, the album doesn't really have any noticeable flaws. And while it does sound very much like it should have been released a couple decades ago, it doesn't come across as a clone or a copy. The group has its own personality, the songs are distinct, and they mix in just enough proto-death to keep their album from sounding like the bulk of the new old-school imitators. Unlike many other bands that employ the buzzsaw, I don't feel like I might as well be listening to Dismember. That's a refreshing statement to be able to make.

Grade: A-
Very strong thrash/crust/death metal (mostly death metal) album from an up and coming band. Rooted in the classics but not bound by them. I really enjoyed this and I hope to hear more from them in the future.

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