Written by: Lunar Fanatic
Dissonant black death metal is nothing new, in fact the subgenre feels a bit trite by this point. That being said Labored Breath’s debut album, Dyspnea, is a fresh, bludgeoning entry into what I’d consider one of metal’s darkest styles. This album from the one-man project from Oakland, CA wastes no time in setting the album’s tone.
Cavernous (and that description is truly earned here), bleeding dissonant notes erupt into pure auditory violence on opening track "Hypothesia." The drumming is explosive, and the guitar work swirls around it, made even more prominent by the excellent use of panning. Both ears are under constant yet varied assault throughout the album, and the beautifully raw production obscures enough detail from the surface to make diving deeper into the ocean of the winding song structures featured throughout Dyspnea.
The vocal work is just as varied, switching from shrieks that would make any trve kvltist grimace with glee, to furious howls and monstrous gutturals. Thankfully, Labored Breath offers moments of reprieve from this vicious siege where the spastic tremolo riffs evolve into sludgy, crawling beasts that lure you further into their dens, extinguishing any hope of ever seeing the light of day again. The sludge factor is made even more prominent by the crushing, distorted bass tone. The rhythm section on Dyspnea offers just enough of a handrail to prevent you from tumbling into a freefall towards insanity without sacrificing any sort of heaviness.
Dyspnea does however fall into a slight lull with the ambient/electronic third track, "Serpent Womb," which is the only track on the album I’d call “filler.” While the transition into "Serpent Womb" from the previous track, "Agnosia," is incredibly smooth, had Labored Breath instead opted to continue the barrage into the fourth track, "Belie," the album’s pacing would have felt a touch more seamless. That being said, the second half of the album is absolutely the highlight. Here, the aggression felt in "Hypothesia" and "Agnosia" is retained and expanded upon, yet the guitar work evolves into something more melodic. You can definitely feel the “black” in the black death label much more clearly in the final two tracks, "Belie" and "Pathogenesis." The synth work introduced in "Serpent Womb" is used more centrally in the final two tracks, offering an intoxicating variation into Labored Breaths already addicting song structure.
My main gripe with the album, the vocal mixing, is partially addressed in the latter half of the album as well. The vocals in the first two tracks feel placed too far back in the mix, weakening their effect. In "Belie" they are placed front and center. You can practically feel the venom being slung from sole member Jamison Kester’s mouth. Unfortunately, the vocal work is once again placed more in the background in the closing track, "Pathogenesis." Had the vocals been more consistently front and center throughout the entirety of Dyspnea, it would have given the album the final push into true greatness.
The formula for a milestone album in this style is clearly present throughout Dyspnea, it just needed to cook ever so slightly longer. That being said, I am incredibly excited for the future of Labored Breath. Dyspnea is an absolute must-listen for fans of Drastus, Antaeus, and the entirety of the Icelandic black metal scene. You can listen to Dyspnea now via the mighty Sentient Ruin, and you should because this is not an album to miss.
Labored Breath - Dyspnea was released April 2nd, 2021 via Sentient Ruin.
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!