BLACK BREATH captured lightning in a bottle on debut full length "Heavy Breathing", one of those releases on which everything clicked, the stars aligned, and the Swedish death metal (ENTOMBED in particular) crossed with crusty hardcore worked in a way that made the Seattle rabble set themselves apart from the pack. Hell, BLACK BREATH's voltage level and foaming-at-the-mouth intensity made them stand out from the herd, qualities that were apparently right off the bat when the "Razor to Oblivion" EP first caused a ruckus. In other words, on both of those releases BLACK BREATH had a vibe that cut like a thousand tiny knives and tore like piranhas feasting on a freshly drowned victim. That's an awful lot of credit afforded a band with an EP and a full-length to its name, setting BLACK BREATH up for analysis with the proverbial microscope upon the dropping of release number three, "Sentenced to Life". Apparently, BLACK BREATH gave not one shit about expectations nor felt much pressure during the writing and recording phases since on "Sentenced to Life" there is no letup on the gas and no easing of the intensity.
Quite the contrary, "Sentenced to Life" is a leaner, meaner version of its predecessor. This version actually comes with a more compact, though no less crusty hardcore (and sort of thrash based) approach to go with all that Sunlight/ENTOMBED motoring. Interestingly enough, one hears more similarities to the work of TRAP THEM on this album, never a bad point of comparison. But the most pertinent point here is that nary a second of the album's 33 minutes is wasted. Much of the material is pedal-to-the-metal/go-for-the-throat type of stuff that hits quicker and with more immediacy in a songwriting sense. A case in point is two-minute balls out thrasher "Doomed". At the same time, BLACK BREATH show a better developed knack for nuance, as shown by the spooky build that occurs during the first minute-and-a-half of "Endless Corpse" before it turns into a bloody speed-romp.
With the exception of the controlled pacing of closers "The Flame" and "Obey", this is an album that just feels reckless in the most dangerous (and complimentary) of ways. But it's a slightly catchier disc too as evidenced right from the start on the one-two punch of "Feast of the Damned" and the title track. Both are probably the best examples of the channeling of the evil energy of "Heavy Breathing" into a form more streamlined, albeit in a crust/hardcore/thrash manner of speaking. "Mother Abyss" and "Of Flesh" split genres down the middle and make their points in a most convincing fashion too however. But it may be "Home of the Grave" (as in "beneath the earth / in the land of the dead / and the home of the grave") that serves as the most memorable cut, one that also features some of the rottenest Stockholm licks penned by BLACK BREATH to date.
Much praise should go to Kurt Ballou for a most fitting engineering job and mix, as well as his shared production credit with the band. It seems both parties were going for a studio interpretation of running through barbwire during a salt shower. It's almost unnecessary at this point to make such statements about Ballou's obvious talents, given the man's body of work. But we'll state it anyway since Ballou has harnessed the feral viciousness of BLACK BREATH on "Sentenced to Life". In other words, the pain is not a dull one. It's fucking sharp and difficult to forget!
So what it comes down to in determining how "Sentenced to Life" measures up to "Heavy Breathing" is that it is largely a matter of preference. Both are outstanding, year-end-list kind of releases and while some may prefer the quicker-kill songwriting method of "Sentence to Life", others might give the nod to "Heavy Breathing" for that certain "something" that it had in the way of pure malice, pure evil, and unmitigated violence. In short, it's damn difficult to detect anything resembling a flaw on this album either. "Razor to Oblivion", "Heavy Breathing", and "Sentenced to Life" should be mandatory purchases. BLACK BREATH is possessed of that certain something for which many bands pine, but few will ever capture.