Labored Breath delve deep into end-of-life trauma, anxiety with psyche-ravaging debut ‘Dyspnea’

No one likes to think about death, or at least I don’t think most people do who are at least in decent health. But it’s a process that faces us all, and we don’t know how or when we’re going to go. But it’s a part of life that is ingrained in us all, and no matter what faces us, the anxiety can be overwhelming if we spend too much time dwelling on this conclusion.

We’re not going to shy away from this today as we have “Dyspnea,” the new record from Labored Breath, a one-man black metal project helmed by artist JK. The project’s name and the title of the record itself refer to the process of struggling for breath when a human is reaching the end of life, the struggle to survive, and the realization than the end is near. It’s doubly heavy considering the COVID pandemic as this is one of the traits of the disease, which might cause for some uncomfortable listening for those who have been impacted (it’s gave me some uncomfortable moments, if we’re being honest). The music itself is brutal, yet atmospheric black metal, as JK acknowledges influences from both the French and Icelandic scene that he used to help inform his own style. It makes for a stunning, sometimes disorienting, always devastating experience that’ll stick with you and warp your mind.

“Hypoesthesia” opens the record amid eerie strangeness before the track erupts, and a black metal tornado touches down and sends shit flying. Everything here is combustible as the atmosphere chokes, and the playing simmers in madness, contending with wild howls and strange auras. Further detonations add to the destruction, vicious shrieks hammer, and the track ends in strange echo. “Agnosia” is stirring from the start as shrieks explode, and the fury is utterly storming, with the pace lurching dangerously. The tempo envelopes as speaking crawls down your spine, and the tempo crushes and squeezes blood from your flesh. The track then dissolves into ambiance, leaving your head swimming as everything floats into deep space.

“Serpent Womb” is a quick interlude with noises stinging and echoes teasing, reminding a little of Altar of Plagues, and then we’re on to “Belie” that gusts and crushes from the start. Growls collect and massacre, later turning to shrieks, while the drums destroy, and the playing eats at your brain. Shouts jab amid fiery madness as chants usher you deeper into hell before a gushing storm takes you against your will, drowning you out in warped chaos. “Pathogenesis” caps off the album, trudging and stamping through mud as a full-force assault rolls out. Shrieks melt flesh as the playing flattens whatever’s in front of it, and a brief halt leads way for a blazing reignition that ups the ante on complete violence. Shrieks spit fire, the ferocity peaks, and suddenly everything disappears into quiet echo, fading into the void.

There’s a lot of uncomfortable content with which to grapple on “Dyspnea,” not only because the concepts are scary but also because so many of us are surrounded by death right now. But JK’s intent as Labored Breath isn’t to make you feel calm or chilled or relieved. It’s to make you confront this inevitability, think about it, sink yourself in it and see how you’re impacted on the other side. You’re either going to feel unprecedented anxiety or perhaps you’ll confront one of the most frightening realities in all of our lives and come out hardened.   

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