Album Review: Labored Breath – “Dyspnea” 7.5/10 (Black Metal)

Written by Coreycritiques

Labored BreathDyspnea
Black Metal from California, USA
Released April 2nd, 2021
via Sentient Ruin Laboratories

The black metal scene is full of one-man bands, so what’s one more to add to the pile? Labored Breath’s sole member is JK. You might not think that a person who lives in the sunny state of California could create music this cold ad furious, but Dyspnea is one of the iciest albums I’ve listened to this year. The name of the album is a medical term, meaning “difficult or labored breathing”. Not the most original to just have your band name be the definition of your album title but I suppose it’s very fitting with the ongoing COVID pandemic.

The album opener, “Hypoesthesia”, opens with some winding, echoing guitar notes that seem to swirl around a dank and dark cave before erupting into a whirlwind of tremolo-picked guitars, violent blastbeats, and high-pitched, snarled shrieks. Labored Breath doesn’t waste any time and just immediately goes balls-to-the-wall. It’s not necessarily hummable or headbangable but it doesn’t need to be. We’ve got some nice squealy guitar sections here, reminding me of something you’d hear in a Death Metal song but without the low-end, chugga-chugga that typically comes with Death Metal. The drums are also giving us something interesting as they are thrashed relentlessly. Eventually, the violent attack subsides a little and we get a bit of a breather but the song is no less awesome for that. More than anything, it seems to give the vocals a rest but everything else keeps going. When the vocals do come back in, they do so in a lower pitch, almost sounding like some fuzzy, Hardcore, hoarse vocals as opposed to strictly BM shrieks. Some interesting drum fills add some nice texture to end the song, as well as some cool little guitar flourishes.

“Agnosia” is up next and is my favorite track off the album. It’s definitely the most memorable. We are treated to an indecipherable sample played over some thundering drums and moody guitar work. Again, the drums here are providing some interesting patterns and eventually go into blastbeat mode as the higher-pitched shrieks kick in. As the song progresses, the guitars do some cool noodly shit (that’s the technical term) and it’s a fucking earworm. Creepy and melodic at the same time. Eventually, the same man’s voice from the sample from the at the beginning comes back, lamenting about his inability to understand the happiness of others. It definitely puts you in the mind of a sick, depraved individual. The song then slows down to a Doomy pace as we are lead into the enveloping thick, evil atmosphere of the midway section of the album, the instrumental “Serpent Womb”.

I don’t usually jive with instrumentals in black metal. Oftentimes, they are unnecessary and forgettable. But with “Serpent Womb”, I feel that it’s not only memorable, so far as instrumentals go, but it’s perfectly placed on the album, allowing for moments of introspection before diving further into the hell that is “Belie”. Immediately, we are thrown back into a storm of furious tremolo guitars, insane blastbeats, and a mixture of shrieks and low, gurgly death growls. Most of this song is just some of the same ol’ black metal fury that the first two songs gave us, but there is this cool section where we get some cool choirlike chanting and perhaps some keyboards, before continuing on with the aforementioned fury, spicing things up with a really bouncy rhythm section. The final track, “Pathogenesis”, starts off slow, like a giant slow to wake. The evil melodies weave in and around the sparse drums before things kick into high gear yet again. The track then lets the listener down gently, as if the black metal maelstrom was gently subsiding.

I’ve said before that Sentient Ruin Laboratories is one of the best labels for underground black metal and this is another album that proves it. Nothing terribly innovative but it’s certainly enjoyable and the musicianship is quality. Great atmosphere and I love a themed album. This is definitely one that I’ll be picking up on vinyl to fully appreciate what Labored Breath have gifted to the Black Metal landscape.


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