Album Review: Dyspnea by Labored Breath (Sentient Ruin Laboratories)

Released on the 2nd of April, one-man Black Metal band, Labored Breath delve into humanity’s fears with the debut album, Dyspnea.

Labored Breath hail from Oakland, California and really aren’t starting gently hitting us with a soul altering black metal force in Dyspnea. Thirty six minutes of metal dealing with mankind’s finality, the moment of death and ultimately are miniscule and pathetic existence within an infinite void. As the band put it:

“The literal medical definition of gasping for air as the final breath appears at the horizon, and of finite stubborn existence attempting to subvert the infinity and inevitability of death, “Dyspnea” is a harrowing trip deep inside humanity’s biggest fears and its all-encompassing insignificance. It is the moment of realization and the crippling instance within ones existence in which the immensity and omnipotence of death pierces the final and most armored under layers of consciousness and denial and stares at the human being straight in the eye to make it kneel in the shadow of total unavoidability”.

Labored Breath - Dyspnea band logo

This isn’t happy music. This is raw and aggressive, full of darkness and despair via the means of atmospheric, extreme black metal. Strap in.

We get underway with the song Hypoesthesia. A near 9 minute long black metal assault on the senses. The traditional sound is strong here with often unpolished rawness standing tall amid a cacophony of brutal drums and crunching riffs. Screaming lead guitars pierce the veil of darkness adding to the overall heavy sense of foreboding that accompanies the track. A constant backing chorus of noise adds a level of atmosphere that just enhances the darkness.

The vocals are growled and often kept quite far back in the mix so they become part of the overall sound instead of vocals over the music. I like that. There is also a nice little switch up nearing the end where the pace starts to drop away into a still heavy but more melodic section. The little bit of variety is welcome even if short stayed as it soon explodes back into a ferocious attack again. This is heavy stuff.

Hypoesthesia really does make it clear quickly what Dyspnea is going to be about. Brutal black metal is the order of the day and that is rammed home with the next track, Agnosia. The heavy weight of drums and guitars is enhanced by some spoken word but it is hard to pick out what is being said as all vocals sit quite far back. Again Labored Breath have managed to capture a powerful atmosphere even amidst the often relentless attack of screeched vocals and pummelled drums. It still feels dark and cold and weighty. The speed is frenetic for passages, neck breakingly so but there is more on offer than just outright brutality.

Occasional melodic guitar lines pierce the veil of darkness and the riff will change suddenly to a slower, doom pace. The whole back end of this track fades off into a doomy, atmospheric sound that springs forth images of dark caves and cold mountain forests beautifully. Great song.

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Serpent Womb follows and after two near nine minute epics, I was surprised to see a 3 minute track. It turns out to be an atmospheric instrumental. Maybe an extended intro to the following track but I love it. The gentle, subtle build of tone and noise is excellently restrained. It is creepy, foreboding and the perfect soundtrack to a horror movie. Belie follows immediately on from this with an explosion of sound. Punchy drums and crunchy riffs hit hard with rasping vocals screamed powerfully.

I really like the switch up in vocals from the screeching black metal voice to the dark, extended growls and the drums are insane in both speed and ferocity. The slow down to a more post sound is great too really ramping up the use of the backing atmospherics with extended guitar notes ringing out and a building drum beat. It also enhances the following ramp back up to the furious force that follows.

The album closes with the track Pathogenesis and really you get more of the aggressive black metal seen so far with another track full of fire and fury. It cleverly avoids sounding repetitive with intelligent use of the lead guitar adding moments of dark and sombre melody at just the right places to break up any sign of monotony. Aside from these moments though, it’s really another fine example of powerful and evocative black metal fury. The drums are insane, the riff penetrates your soul and the vocals scream fire at you all over a body of atmosphere that fills the sound out gloriously.

Dyspnea is a strong album but definitely not one for the faint hearted. Lovers of the more traditional black metal sound should rejoice at what Labored breath have achieved here but, even within the raw power on offer, there is more than enough on offer to delight fans of the post and atmospheric black metal sound. It’s an intelligent release at just the right length to not become repetitive and will leave you feeling a lot colder and a little introspective by it’s end. And all this by a one-man band, that’s some talent right there.

Grab yourself a copy from Labored Breath on Bandcamp, here or from Sentient Ruin, here. Dyspnea is out now on all the usual streaming platforms.

Labored Breath links

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Dyspnea by Labored Breath (Sentient Ruin Laboratories)
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