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Black Breath are a difficult band to categorize. The vocal approach is pure crusty hardcore, the riffs are sometimes crusty but more often indulge in a tremolo-heavy sort of death-thrash. The guitar tone is pure Sunlight Studios worship and the drumming has enough d-beats to please and Discharge fan. This debut album wouldn't sound out of place alongside the Swedish crust giants, but the increased melodicism and more metallic riffing pushes them further still into metal territory.
The production on Heavy Breathing is fantastic. The guitars, with their ripping mid-heavy chainsaw tone, come through as clear or clearer than anything out of Sunlight itself and roar along with incredible ferocity. The bass has plenty of growl to it and, because the guitars are mixed so hard out to the sides, is clearly audible in the center of the mix. The drums are clear as could be (the bass drums especially have some serious rumble to them) and the vocals slice through the entire mix like a razor. This is some scuzzy, dirty music without a doubt but the production job really affords the listener the opportunity to hear just how filthy each element of the mix is.
The band's ability to effortlessly blend the crustier powerchord riffs with blistering tremolo lines is what really makes this release for me. Check out how the former morphs into the later during the chorus to "Escape from Death." There are also some ridiculously heavy breaks to be found on this album, including on the aforementioned track but most notably on "I Am Beyond," the second half of which is an extended break that's so good, the only way you won't find yourself headbanging all the way through it is if you're either dead or wearing a neck brace. Other tracks have some some really heavy, groovy death metal riffs, such as the grinding monstrosity that opens "I Am Beyond." Long story short, there isn't a single riff on this album that doesn't have me either banging my head or pumping my fist. The tremolo lines that appear periodically throughout the album wouldn't sound out of place on a Dismember tune. Finally, we're treated to a higher-than-expected dose of ass-kicking guitar solos, such as the fairly long one at the end of the punky "Virus." They're not technical by any means but they're more complex than the brief two or three note jobs I'm used to hearing on crust albums. The fuzzy chainsaw guitar tone works perfectly for every style employed on this album, bringing a sense of unity to the various riffing techniques.
The drumming on Heavy Breathing mostly takes a back seat to the guitar riffery, but at no point on the album do I think to myself, "that bit would have been better with a more interesting drum pattern." There are a few attention-grabbing fills here and there, but for the most part the sections that elicit the loudest hell yeahs are when Byrum shifts from a straightforward d-beat into a balls to the wall double bass stampede.
Neil McAdams' vocals are throat shredding, bellowing hardcore shout, but there are a few moments where he exhibits some incredible lung capacity (the scream at the end of "I Am Beyond" and at the beginning of "Fallen" being exemplary). I have no complaints about his performance at all as it suits the band's style perfectly, but it would have been nice to hear more in the way of backing vocals and gang shouts throughout the album. There's also maybe a little bit of a distorted edge to McAdams' roars, but it's not enough to detract from them in any way.
The band's songwriting is consistently good, but there is a decent amount of stylistic variation between the individual tracks. "Children of the Horn" wouldn't be out of place on a Motörhead album, "Unholy Virgin" is like a brutal, hardcore take on what could be a George Thorogood and the Destroyers track (at least until the tremolo, kicks in, that is) and album closer "Wewhocannotbenamed" could be a long lost Clandestine outtake. In spite of all of this genre-hopping, the guitar tone and technique, vocal venom and intense thrashy drumming give a sense of unity to the whole affair that results in none of the songs sounding out of place. This is one hell of an impressive debut album and leaves me drooling in anticipation for its sequel.