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2010 A Glass Half Full

Black Breath And The Loss Of Inculcation
Jamie Thomson , July 2nd, 2010 11:56

Jamie Thomson takes a long hard look under his sleng teng while listening to Black Breath's excellent Heavy Breathing album and finds we've lost something essential in the hyper-accelerated way we consume music...

"Have you heard that new Black Breath album?" I asked my friend, a walking encyclopedia of metal. The question itself was slightly loaded; I'd been sent a preview copy, and he, being of the old school, would only hear music if someone sat him down and played him it, or – heaven forfend – he actually went out and bought it himself. So my query was partially rhetorical, a bid to elbow my way into a musical conversation with a slight advantage.
"No. Any good?"

"Yeah, it's great – they've got that punk-metal thing going on – a bit D-beat, a bit Celtic Frost, a bit ..."
"A bit Autopsy?", he countered, with a weary 'heard it all before' sigh.

"Umm, yeah." I replied, deflated – it was pretty clear he wouldn't bother picking the record up. My bid to be a tastemaker to the man who had heard everything had fallen on stony ground once again.

Little did I know, but this conversation would be writ large for Black Breath and the release of Heavy Breathing, their debut album on Southern Lord – pre-release hype would give way to post-release ennui, as the metal gurus and their audience of sceptics used this album (and every other release that has had a bit of buzz about it) in the constant battle of attrition to see who can appear more knowing yet more outre in the giant clusterfuck that is 'internet discussion'. By the time Heavy Breathing received a proper release, the kids, who had gorged themselves on the fruits of a pre-release leaked download, had moved on. What should have been a big splash barely caused a ripple.

The thing is, Heavy Breathing is a great record – OK, it's probably not going to define its era the way Morbid Tales, Why? or Severed Survival did. But it has fallen victim, like so many others, to the pitiless gainsaying of music arguments on the internet. When the acolytes of any number of underground microgenres aren't bitching about bands or relaying gossip about who is a rapist or a Nazi or who raped a Nazi, they sometimes actually get around to talking about the music in question. But if internet discussions can be illustrated by the image of a bunch of people in a room shouting at the tops of their voices, then internet music arguments are best described as a bunch of people shouting at the tops of their voices while slapping you in the face and pointing at the cool new band shirt they're wearing. One person's honest proclamation of love for a new record is mere fodder for the music bully in waiting, ready to cut them down with a ‘pfft, clearly you've never heard the first Mayhem practice tape – it's clearly superior (and more necro and kvlt and other words I heard for the first time last month).’ Worse still is when entire genres - ‘Let's talk about speed metal’ - are held up for collective examination; a collection of work that could span a decade or more is scrutinised, picked apart and brushed aside in the space of an afternoon. That's not criticism or appraisal – it's musical tourism, the equivalent of the moron who holds his camera phone up above the crowd in the Louvre to take a picture of the Mona Lisa rather than wait in line to see it for himself.

So how did it come to this? Well, aside from the perennial squabbling of message board know-it-alls, is it just possible that there's – how can I put this delicately – too much fucking music around? The ludicrous, unimaginable luxury of having almost every recorded piece of music available to us immediately has not only spoiled us, it's removed one of the great rites of passage of becoming a music fan: discovery. Where is the joy in connecting the dots from Black Sabbath via Budgie and Angelwitch to Metallica, Possessed and beyond, when Blogspot has already done it for you? Have a hankering for scratchy, inept punk that intrepid collectors would spend years compiling into the Killed By Death series? Shit, you can just head over to, hit ‘downloadthemall’ and sift through the best bits of an evening. But make sure you head over to your favourite message board and tell everyone why The Tits' ‘Daddy Is My Pusher’ is a way better KBD song than ‘Bummer Bitch’ by Freestone, even though you had no idea either of them existed till today.

(Warning: the following paragraphs may contain information that is weird and distressing to younger people.) When I first got into punk (about age 14) I had three records at my disposal. I even made a mix tape of them, much to the amusement of my best friend - ‘What's next? Bad Brains AGAIN?’ - but fuck it; I had records, and I wanted to make a mix of the best bits. By the time I was 17, that collection had grown exponentially, through tape-trading, judicious purchases of records with aforementioned friend (‘You get the Misfits LP, I'll get that 7 Seconds one’), and a LOT of trial and error.

My memories of leaping around my bedroom at 7am while cranking a newly arrived Chain of Strength EP or Citizen's Arrest LP are more than tempered by the many, many mornings of disappointment, sat in a semicircle of torn record mailers, listening – bewildered – to the second DYS LP or innumerable meanderings of Dischord's execrable post-Revolution Summer output. The point is that I took time to listen to each and every one of those, whether they were hits or misses - £10 was a lot of money for someone on the dole in the late 80s, but that's how much an import LP cost, even then. So, by Christ, you had to make bloody sure you REALLY didn't like the sub-Red Hot Chili Peppers funk-metal offered on the Heads Up 12” before you tried to pass it off on someone else less discerning.

So when you finally received a record that hit all the right spots – even if they were pretty generic spots that had been hit numerous times before – you fell to your knees and thanked God that you'd spent your hard-scrounged on something half-decent. And then you put that fucker on a tape, filled the space at the end of the side with the less crappy of the 7”s that you also got sent, and then wore out the batteries of your Walkman rewinding to the two REALLY good songs that kicked off side B. Now forgive me if I sound a little preachy here, but there was slightly more engagement on the listener's side than going to a Blogspot page, hitting a Rapidshare link and then posting, 'Well, I really don't see what the fuss about Bathory is! I mean, one of the songs is just horses neighing! WTF?' while you listen to Blood Fire Death fart its way out of your tinny computer speakers for the first time.

So here's a radical thought. Stick Black Breath on one side of a C60, and fuck it – put Morbid Tales on the other side. Dig out your granddad's Walkman and make it the only tape you listen to for a month, then come back and tell me you don't really rate it, and you've heard it all before. You won't. You'll love it. It's called inculcation – and it's how music should be listened to.