Exclusive Interview – Black Breath: ”There were so many last-minute things on Sentenced to Life”

”Nine slaves of death, Trapped in eternal Hell, Kill you with their breath…” That is how the Repuslion song begins – Black Breath. Which also happens to be the name of a great band that got a lot of attention 2012.

Eric Wallace [guitar] gives Bara Metal the details about the Sentenced to Life album, talks about the $500 riff and explains the background to the visual mix of Judas Priest, Metallica and one more classic band. Oh, and he let’s us know everything about the last-minute things that made Sentenced to Life really stick out.

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So what has this year meant to you, you seem pretty popular within the metal community, and I know at least Roadrunner praised you on Facebook recently?

– This year has brought us more of everything: more tours, more killer bands to play with, more countries to wreck, more untamed energy at shows, more interviews, more miles driven and flown, more records sold, more opportunities to kick ass.

– I’d say it’s been a fuckin great year so far! And it’s not over yet. It’s quite flattering that people enjoy the songs we released this year, and that always makes it easier to bring the Black Breath spectacle to their town.

Any big record company that has shown interest? Let the beans be spilled.

– Ha! I’m not sure if I need to name names, but there have been some bigger labels interested over the last year. As of now we’re still planning to release our next record with Southern Lord though.

Good to hear! I know you had to do rehearsels in the studio for Sentenced to Life. Please tell us some of the last things that you added to any song? Usually those ideas turn out really great.

– There were so many last-minute things it’s hard to even think of one! Some of my favorite last-minute additions were the chorus in Home of the Grave, where all the lyrics and vocal arrangement and even musical arrangement of adding some extra bars to the second chorus were very last-minute changes.

– Another of my favorite additions was in The Flame at the end of the song where Neil says his last vocal line and holds out a long scream, we were just gonna end the song, but I asked Kurt [Ballou – producer, guitarist of Converge] to see what it would be like if he brought back in the riff again during the middle of the scream so it was like the band kicked in again. He did it and we all thought it was cool so we kept it. That’s not how we played it originally! Then again, that whole song was basically written in the studio.

– Probably half of the lyrics, including most everything in Mother Abyss, The Flame, Home of the Grave and probably others were written between 2 am and 5 am in the hotel while we would stay up trying to come up with shit. Luckily Neil had a hearty base of material to work with.

– The way the gang vocals are arranged in the bridge part in Feast of the Damned were originally just so we could hear what it would be like with and without them. We didn’t intend on having none on the first two times through and then including them on the 3rd and 4th time, but we ended up liking it when we heard it so it stuck. You want one more? The entire beginning and ending of Mother Abyss were written in the studio. The list goes on, I could do this all day!

– Oh yeah, then there was a pretty funny set of little guitar runs in Of Flesh that we refer to as the $200 riffs or $500 riff or something, because we spent so long trying to figure out how to harmonize a set of like, four notes between the two guitars. The part doesn’t even last more than 1.5 seconds but we still spent an afternoon on that and I smile every time I hear it. Most every guitar lead and solo on the album were written basically on the spot too.

You mentioned The Flame, it happens to be my favourite – tell us how that song developed from nothing to all the riffs put together!

– It’s funny that the song even turned out in the first place! We were considering only putting nine songs on the record and then at the last moment arranged The Flame in a way we were happy with so it stuck. Actually, we didn’t even know if we were happy with it at the time because the process of completing it was such a whirlwind experience that our heads were just sort of spinning from it. We lost perspective on the whole thing and just didn’t listen to it for a while. Listening back now, and playing the song live, I’ve come to really enjoy it as well.

– Basically, Jamie had the guitar riff that ended up being the sort of signature riff in the song, the more Slayer-sounding riff. So we started with that, and I had another riff from before getting to the studio that we used as the bridge, and we filled in the rest around those two.

– I wrote the music in the verses in the middle of the night while we were all getting drunk at the hotel, and I think Zack helped come up with the intro and outro riffs while we were tracking the drums to the song. I remember us standing there and basically writing that one within five seconds before we needed to come up with the drum parts so they could be recorded properly.

– We took a couple cues from Vinnie Appice for the drum parts to that, and then we decided to start the song off in F and bring that theme back in the bridge before allowing everything to drop back down to Eb, which seemed to lend a little more weight to the heaviness. I had to play the Slayer-sounding riff with a capo and then stop and take it off and record the next part – the same riff, just a full step lower – without it, since I didn’t have time to learn the transposed version of it in normal tuning.

– Live obviously I don’t do that, but it took a while to figure out how to play it with our standard tuning so it sounds the same! The chorus is a weird one. We weren’t coming up with much that we liked for that part and Kurt actually suggested we try out a few chords that we normally wouldn’t have thought to use together and we took his suggestions and put it through the Black Breath filter and liked the result enough to record it. So I have to give credit to Kurt for coming up with the chorus idea.

– While we were tracking music to the song Neil and Zack were in the basement arranging the lyrics in a way that ended up being a bit unique for us, so that’s probably why they ended up that way. The music in the song was more unique than other songs on the record so it seemed to fit decently together.

I love the backward intro to Feast of the damned, I guess it is the intro riff in reverse. How did you come up with that? Inspirde by Morbid Angel’s Immortal Rites?

– Initially the idea was to try and replicate the effect used at the start of Suicidal Revelations by Dismember with the tape reels spinning backwards by hand. …or at least that’s how I thought they made that effect, I’m not sure.

– But at that point we were in Seattle communicating with Kurt, who was mixing the record in Salem, MA on the other side of the country so there wasn’t much room for experimentation. Kurt sent a mockup and it wasn’t quite what I was looking for so I tried flipping it myself and sent it back to show how I wanted it.

– In my head it was gonna be different, but since that was the first time I actually heard it, it turned out to be much more similar to the Morbid Angel intro than I thought it would be. Essentially it’s just the first few bars of Feast of the Damned in reverse and it fades in until the start of the song, the riff played forward like normal, kicks in. We settled on the version that’s on the record after he put it all together a little cleaner. It has a weird groovy bounce thing going on, sounds pretty cool to me!

Agree. Out of the album/EP before this release, name one song that you really think new fans should listen to! Pick one that will follow your liveset for a long time.

– We don’t play songs from the EP at every show, but I think we’ve played two songs from Heavy Breathing at every show since they were released. I guess that means I would recommend Black Sin or Wewhocannotbenamed. Most likely Black Sin since it starts off the album and I usually think the first song from an album is a pretty good impression of what you’re going to get after that.

About the cover art – I came to think of Kill’em All and British Steel. How did you decide upon this? It looks like a studio photo, which is quiet contrary to your previous releases.

– You’re right on the money with those two covers! Another cover we talked about was Black Flag’s Damaged, and we set out to reference the different visual aesthetics of those three albums to make our own. We decided we wanted something that somewhat referenced the title, which we had already decided would be Sentenced to Life.

– Originally we were talking about using a chrome gavel and smashing glass and had a good chuckle at the idea of actually doing that, but obviously it was a bit too literal and the sledgehammer was way more menacing so we did that. It took a long time to make up our minds about using a painting or an illustration or a photograph, and we finally decided on creating an original photography-based cover since the other two record covers have used pieces borrowed from elsewhere, and also because we love so many of the photography-based artwork from the ‘80’s.

– Even though we don’t sound like Judas Priest, we couldn’t think of other bands doing that kind of artwork these days so we thought it could set us apart a bit. Weird right? But a sledgehammer smashing glass, what’s not mean about that? Anger, destruction, violence, and some leather thrown in for good measure!

So, nerdy detail – whose hand is it on the cover?

– Haha, I wish I could say it was someone really notable but it’s just my hand. Pretty funny story about how that cover art came together though, maybe I’ll save that one for later…

Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal Pedal – how many do you have and how important is the pedal to your music?

– I think I own three, but we probably have six between us, just so there are some backups. Shit breaks, you know? The sound those things create dictates to some extent how we write riffs so I suppose it’s pretty important. Obviously people love referencing the Sunlight sound and buzzsaw riffs and all that, and it’s no accident that we started experimenting with them when we did.

Next album, what can you tell us?

– We’re still waiting for it to get a bit colder and a bit more evil out before we write the next one.

Why the name Black Breath? I take it that is a tribute to Repulsion – or to the Tolkien Nazguls? I mean Eaten Alive and Lurking Fear are great names as well – both songs from Repulsion. Why did you decide on Black Breath, and what other names did you consider?

– ‘Lurking’ is a great word. Very creepy and full of evil possibilities. But the song Black Breath by legendary rippers Repulsion was just too killer for us to pass that one up.

You have played with Entombed and Grave – tell us what they said when they heard your music!

– Well, I didn’t run up and ask them what they thought so I’m not entirely sure. Victor from Entombed contacted us before we started our last European tour in Gothenburg and said he was excited for the show, but I’m not sure if he ever made it inside as I didn’t talk to him after. Maybe we were terrible, haha! All the guys we’ve talked to in Grave and Entombed seem very gracious. You Swedes are a pleasant people.

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