Formed in 2006, Seattle ragers Black Breath have blazed a trail into the metal consciousness, particularly over the last couple of years, thanks to the blistering EP ‘Razor to Oblivion‘, which brought them to the attention of Greg Anderson, who promptly signed them to Southern Lord. Their 2010 debut ‘Heavy Breathing‘ is a standout record, featuring ferocious hardcore/d-beat intensity and razor sharp metal shred. After a series of successful tours, they recently completed their follow-up record ‘Sentenced to Life‘.
I’ve been trying to get this interview for a while and now we finally have it. Enjoy.
We toured the UK and Europe twice for ‘Heavy Breathing‘ and there were definitely some great shows amongst them all. We didn’t anticipate much the first time over (November 2010) but some of the responses were pretty overwhelming. I was definitely surprised by how willing the crowds were to get wild, so that made it fun as hell! We don’t expect anything at a show, we just get on stage and play loud and hard and the rest usually falls into place. Ideally some people dig it, and it seems that has been the case for both trips over the pond. The second time back in July 2011 was cool because we got to met up with some friends we made on the first trip, debuted some new stuff, got to play some festivals, and generally had a killer time. Even more heads banged.
How do you manage to keep yourself busy during the downtime, on the road and off it?
There is a lot of book reading on tour by the more learned of us… sci-fi, serial killer biographies, fantasy shit. I haven’t learned to read yet so I rarely partake, but I pass time driving a lot (if we’re in the U.S.), jamming tunes, and sleeping. In Europe there seems to be more sleeping during the days and staying up too late at night.
How do you feel things have changed for you since the release of ‘Heavy Breathing’?
Well, we woke up the day after it was released and had more money than we knew what to do with. Just completely rich, over night. So that was cool, but then we blew it all and were back to square one, which leads us to the rest of the answer. Having our first LP out sort of legitimized the band in some ways. I don’t mean to say bands that never put out an LP weren’t serious, but people were willing to put in more work on our behalf for sure. That LP being sent to a few different people solidified some touring opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and got us on some awesome shows. Also, more people seem to have an opinion on us since ‘Heavy Breathing‘ came out, ha!
You’ve got a new album due out very soon, ‘Sentenced to Life’. Any story or reasoning behind the title?
‘Sentenced to Life‘ is also the title of the 2nd track on the record, but as an album title it can be taken a few ways. I’m sure people will come up with more metaphors than we could provide.
What can we expect from the new record in comparison to your past efforts?
More riffs, more fast, more bringing down the hammer.
Kurt Ballou is again at the helm for the production of ‘Sentenced to Life’, as he was for ‘Heavy Breathing’– was it an easy choice to work with him again?
It was a pretty easy choice for most of us. One guy was opposed at first but quickly came around when he realized he didn’t want to make a weak-ass record. There are plenty of talented producers and engineers, but we figured building on the last experience there with Kurt would be a good idea. It wasn’t necessarily easier this time around, but we’re pleased with the results.
I heard you wrote the new record in a short time following the European tour – did you feel any pressure to get the album out at all, or was the time just right?
Well, we almost jumped the gun and tried to book time well before we ended up being ready. Luckily we held-off until March ’11 before we went to the studio, so it was pretty much a four month span of time when the bulk of the record was put together after the first European tour. A serious chunk of that, maybe half, was done in the last month so there was some pressure toward the end of writing to get everything finished. We didn’t want to show up with half an album and be expected to record a full one, you know? That definitely forced us to trim the fat in some spots and not over think everything. We can get a bit caught up in second-guessing stuff and not actually improving anything in the end, so it was a test in being concise. We were still writing stuff while recording, which we never do, but I think in the end the time spent staying up all night at the hotel phrasing lyrics or arranging riffs helped add to overall intensity of the record. Running low on sleep and high on adrenaline knowing the clock was ticking…
‘Heavy Breathing’ was a stand-out record for many people in 2010. I was particularly grabbed by the occult themes and the sheer intensity of it all. Was that the sort of vibe you were after from the start or was there more to it than simply thrashing away?
With ‘Heavy Breathing‘ there wasn’t too much of a plan. We just wrote a bunch of songs, mostly rippers with some jammers, kept the ones we liked and recorded them. The only ideas were to make it loud, fast, heavy, dark. We were pushing what we could physically pull off at the time, and this time around we did the same thing. Just so happens we can play a slightly faster and tighter now!
One thing that intrigues me is the artwork and imagery you employ. The images always seem very striking, particularly the cover art for ‘Heavy Breathing’. Is that a further part of the appeal you draw from occult territory?
Glad you like that cover. Even though it’s unassuming up front, it definitely gets a little creepier the longer I look at it. A lot of imagery associated with darker shit, death, the occult, religion, etc. is pretty striking so it follows that if we use anything related to these things our imagery becomes more striking too, right? We didn’t make up the formula, just using it.
I was personally slightly surprised when you signed to Southern Lord a few years back, as I knew them, as I’m sure many people did, for being traditionally a doom/ drone label. But they seem to have supported you pretty well?
We were surprised at the time as well! I thought it was a cool label, and we were excited that they had any interest in us given their previous output was a little different than what we were doing. That was before they started signing more fast bands though and now all of a sudden we don’t stick out like a sore thumb! Haha. They’ve done pretty well by us overall. Good people with good intentions run the label and we’re happy to have them as pals.
There seems to be a tendency from one or two people who point towards the Swedish death metal influence and use it as a bit of a stick towards one or two bands, particularly since Southern Lord picked up all these hardcore/d-beat style bands. Do those sorts of comments bother you at all, or do you feel that’s just negativity on their part?
I’m a bit confused as to whether this is a stick that’s being pointed or if the pointing is independent of the sticking, but I’m not too worried about comments from elsewhere. If we took every negative comment to heart we’d be a fucking wreck! It is interesting to think that we are being lumped in with any other bands or “scenes” or sounds or whatever, because we just write stuff that satisfies our basic desire to play fast, head bang, and get wild with people that like loud shit too. If the kids like it, then more fun for everyone. If they don’t, then they don’t.
Are there any influences you count that might surprise people?
Absolutely not. We only listen to the heaviest and hardest, all day and all night. And then when we get bored of that we probably spend more time listening to power pop and serious hook-driven stuff than a lot of bands, but you’re not supposed to tell anyone that. Also our singer is highly influenced by AM talk radio.
What’s your thoughts on the state of the music industry today, in particular the underground extreme music scene?
Right now I’m into more new underground stuff than I have been in quite a while. There are some cool metal bands, hardcore bands, people making good records without much care for how well they sell or how many hits their website gets. Seems like at this point most everything is “underground” though, and at the same time totally accessible thanks to modern technology, so I’m not sure what to make of all that. Mediocre side note, I suppose. The general music industry is pretty fucked, but they have known that for some years so that’s not new. I’m actually starting to think some of these newer pay-subscription internet music services may help turn things around on a larger scale, because kids that grow up in ten years may actually come up believing in a monetary value to music and art, rather than expecting it to always be free as kids of the Napster era seem to think. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing I suppose. Who knows, maybe it’ll all just go completely downhill and people will only listen to computer noises.
Do you see yourself back in the UK any time later this year?
We will be there in April!
Finally, were there any crazy experiences you wouldn’t mind sharing from the recent UK/European tour run?
Well, at the end of tour our driver’s appendix blew up or some shit, and the other dudes had to catch a £400 cab ride to the airport. Luckily he survived and they arrived in time to catch their flight home! By that point I was on vacation and ran into Sepultura at a random bar in Amsterdam the night before I was scheduled to fly home. I ended up staying out a bit too late and missed my flight the next morning so that turned out to be an expensive evening! Other than that, playing Tuska Festival in Helsinki was an all-around rad time, and Sonisphere in the UK was great as well. High-fiving Metallica, playing at the same time as Slayer and having people actually watch us, and riding bumper cars til 5am were all pretty cool.
I’d personally like to thank Black Breath for answering these questions. ‘Sentenced to Life‘ is released on Monday 26th March and a UK tour with Victims has just been announced as this goes to press.