While bands like Fucked Up giving the hardcore genre a slightly more intelligent and thought out approach is certainly appreciated and enjoyable, there's something to be said for a band who gives it an unrelenting, unapologetic brutality, and Seattle's Black Breath is more than happy to give it. On their full-length debut, Heavy Breathing, they fulfill the promise of their buzz generating EP Razor to Oblivion, melding punk, hardcore, and metal with a fury not seen since Superjoint Ritual's last album. Label Southern Lords (home of Sunn O))) and Pelican, to name a few) quite excitedly picked these guys up after hearing Oblivion, and while it may have seemed that the young band wouldn't be able to match the standards set by their respective drone and progressive labelmates, Heavy Breathing proves that they'll have no trouble keeping such company.
Excluding the instrumental title track, which is the only somewhat tame track, Heavy Breathing is a blistering exercise in brutality from start to finish. The album is rife with the familiar thrashing hardcore reminiscent of the crossover movement of the mid to late eighties, but one notable change from their earlier work is the incorporation of death metal techniques. There are rapid tempo changes abound on Breathing, something completely absent from their EP, and incredibly fast tremolo picking; there are points throughout opener Black Sin (Spit on the Cross) or the intense Escape from Death where the band sounds almost like Bleeding-era Cannibal Corpse.
While they still aren't exactly virtuoso players, the writing aspect has grown tremendously. Virus is probably the most indicative of the jump the band has taken; half of it is straight-forward hardcore, stomping and furious, complete with a scream-along-if-you-know-it chorus, until the middle when they suddenly switch gears in favor of a more free form structure, complete with multiple change ups and a solo. Unholy Virgin starts out with a typical thumping drum and bass intro, but quickly morphs into an off beat, and switches back and forth until the churning break. Heavy Breathing has an excellent flow as well, something which becomes more evident as the space between songs shrinks while the album progresses, culminating with the closer Wewhocannotbenamed, which like the rest of the album, alternately thrashes and grooves with tight yet incredibly aggressive playing.
Of course, Black Breath doesn't really offer anything new with their latest. This isn't groundbreaking material, and it's certainly not going to change anyone's mind about the genre if they don't already like it. Being that as it may, Heavy Breathing displays quite a bit of range, more in fact than many hardcore bands have throughout their entire careers (*cough* Agnostic Front *cough*). And as accomplished an album as it is for a still fledgling band, it still has every quality that hardcore fans want - it's loud, it's visceral, and it's brutal.