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Album Review: TBA

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Album Review: Black Breath – Sentenced To Life

To find an album that sets off the same kind of emotions and sensory reactions that you’d experience when seeing the band up close and personal is a very rare thing. The last album I felt this way about was ’s perfectly-titled debut Heavy Breathing. With its gritty, damaged production values and hammer to the skull attack, all it took was the volume knob to be yanked to the right and eyes to be squeezed shut and suddenly you’d find yourself flinching from the imagined flailing of arms. Your blood pressure would rise, beads of sweat would be summoned forth and heart palpitations would have you clutching your chest until you’d be forced to open up those lids and dial back the sound. Inevitably, then, you might expect this sophomore effort from Seattle’s sonic battering ram, Sentenced To Life, to have the potential to do the same.

From the off, “Feast Of The Damned” sees the band sucking up a reversed soundtrack before spitting it back out in a hail of sputum as the raging, low-end, fuzzed wall of chugging guitars produce what can only be described as a deep, continual growl. The cantankerous punk spirit of the vocals and gang-chants do the rest sending you barrelling straight into the title-track where the band get their full rock on. It’s from this point onwards that find new ways to break you.

It’s not a wholly new concept for them but, even more so than on their debut, are keen to surprise by switching their method of attack to come at you from two different sides. They are either compacting crushing hardcore into a speeding rock n’ roll ball and scorching a d-beat-happy crust brand onto its surface, or they are slipping on a death-mask and swaggering their way into the arenas of doom and black metal. It’s like hearing driving -sized into ’s coffin.

Tracks like “Forced Into Possession”, “Mother Abyss” and “Doomed” offer you the chance to get your pump on as the band feverishly burn through their own style of step-on, step-off thrash mania. Often the drum patter is so rapid and the buzzsaw guitars so all-consuming that they begin to outgun even themselves. At some points during “Of Flesh”, before a sharp break for a slow-dance of spinning harmonics, the music seems ready to shake itself apart and they lose that vital level of intensity for a while. Thankfully, they regain composure quickly by winding it back to a mid-tempo chug – don’t think it’s your chance to rest easy though, as before long they’re back tearing your head off and spitting into the bloodied hole.

The real magical element of Sentenced To Life though, comes when reveal their dark side. Tracks like “Home Of The Grave” drops down for the chorus to an almost swampy, smeared, loping crush as vocalist Elijah Nelson manages to twist his scorched, atonal delivery into a screaming weapon of mass destruction. With a title like “Endless Corpse” inevitably getting its black on, letting slip the moaning soul of a dying guitar, it’s our first real taste of how they can mash d-beat battery into something even more menacing. There’s a sharp breakdown where a warbling riff takes centre-stage amidst a wall of fuzz that steadily crescendos to agonising levels.

They climax by stepping yet further away from their bread-and-butter. “The Flame” brings to the fore a feisty hardcore vocal, a diamond riff, steady chugs from the depths of hell, and a swaggering blues-flecked confidence. There’s even a memorably giddy riff to revel in. This is essentially gutter rock, yet the chunks of fuzz lift it above all-comers. Think of it as sounding like a steroid-abusing, puffed-up or a more insane sibling version of . The scream near the end is from the charred throat of Satan himself. “Obey” is even blacker, crustier and more inherently evil. It is crawling with raw power, pumped out by some unholy force. Fuck, this is heavy. The sudden flick to clean is a nod to their more raw and wild side – almost a signal of the change as a solo comes screaming in.

Having learned how the album was jammed through in a matter of days, it’s a surprise to find the album hammering so hard on so many doors. God City studios maestro Kurt Ballou still keeps it down and dirty having, once again, resisted the temptation to produce the album to within an inch of its life (those 10 tracks dive in and out of your lugholes in just over 30 short minutes). However, with the introduction of more bleak trudgers to balance the squalid d-beat batterers, that signature live feel was never going to be as intense. Yet, rather than disappoint, Sentenced To Life has you reeling just as hard, only with a bigger smile on your face, thankful for a chance to breathe more easily; to fully soak up the see-sawing brilliance of a band at the top of their game.

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