Black Breath are heavily dark, ear torturingly loud, and Swedish metal influenced. They boil songs over with tight, assailing ball and chain blows. Chunks of Gibson chords and dual kick drum feast on each other. With songs like “Eat the Witch”, “Unholy Virgin”, and “Black Sin (Spit on the Cross)”, Black Breath dabbles in darkness and in the spirit of destruction. Currently, Black Breath is on tour with Converge and Coalesce (Jeff Kirby’s interview — here.) I spoke with drummer J. Byrum while the band rolled through a snowstorm in Wyoming on their way to Seattle. The built up snow had disconnected their fuel pump and they had broken down. It was frigid, snow beat down upon them, and they were on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. They got towed to Buffalo, WY to get it fixed:
How far from Seattle are you? How’s the tour so far? Byrum: I think we have about twenty-four hours of driving ahead of us. Loving the snow, let me tell you. We’re a week and half into the tour and something has happened to each band. The singer of Lewd Acts went ape shit, threw a fit, and kicked over their merch table. The band left him in New York and basically broke up. So they’re off the tour. Converge blew out their transmission and missed shows in Denver and Lawrence, Kansas. They had to get their shit fixed in Cleveland. Now they’re driving straight to Seattle. Coalesce ate too much White Castle and fucked up their van with their Castle ass. And our roadie had a seizure in our van while we were driving through rural Pennsylvania. He was unconscious for a while. It scared the shit out of us. We thought he was going to die. When he came to, he couldn’t really talk, and he didn’t remember anything. He’s my roommate, a good friend of mine, I’ve known him for a while. Somehow he neglected to tell me that he occasionally has seizures. He’s in the hospital now and doing OK. I think he’s on a plane to Seattle today.
How did the seizure happen? He was just shaking and started hitting someone’s leg with his hand. Then he was out cold.
Describe Black Breath’s sound. Satanic rock n roll. Devil music. We’re not really Satanic though. I’d say it’s just fucking evil rock and roll. There are enough sub genres out there for everyone. We don’t really define our sound by anything. There are ties to metal and hardcore of course. Heavy metal rock n roll.
What’s your song “Black Sin (Spit on the Cross)” about? It’s about a black mass ceremony. And the social implications of Church and State. And sacrificing babies and drinking their blood. You know, all that good stuff. Our singer Neil does a lot of weird shit on his own time. I think he started with crickets, sacrificing those and drinking their blood, and I think he’ll be working up to babies in the near future.
Or at least baby crickets. Exactly. You can’t just jump right into human babies. You gotta work up to that.
Where does Black Breath see themselves in the metal scene? I don’t think we really fit in with the metal scene so much, currently in the U.S. I don’t know where we fit. I feel more at home in the punk scene in the NW. In Seattle, punk kids go to metal shows and vice versa, it’s more united than other places I’ve seen.
And PWRFL Power. Definitely. That’s all we’ve been listening to in the van.
Have you had any rest stop adventures? On a previous tour our van got attacked by 2000 bees at Hell’s Creek Rest Stop in Montana. We had gone into the bathroom to brush our teeth and when we came out, the front of our van was encased in bees. One of us got into the van, started the engine, and did loops around the parking lot to get them off, but it didn’t really work. So we all got in, got back on the highway, and they eventually went away. Nobody got stung, I couldn’t believe it.
At least you all were able to brush your teeth. Yeah. And in Salem, when we were mixing our album at Godcity Studio, there was a school of bats hovering over the studio, which I thought was morbid and cool. Hopefully, we had something to do with it.
Black Breath is into the morbid side. What’s alluring to you about dark energy? We’re into all kinds of morbid shit, but we like to have fun with it too. Not enough people explore the dark side. We try to. Ever since I was a kid, I was into evil and darkness. It doesn’t make me feel creepy, it makes me feel good and intrigued and I’m not the only one in the band that feels that way. Metal has gotten so safe and so fucking arty. When it started, it was about stuff to scare your parents with and being evil, and being the hardest darkest shit out there. We didn’t start this, we’re just trying to continue the legacy, I guess.
Any specific morbid shit you’re into? Graveyards. And bleeding on graves. Neil cut himself on the Civil War grave of a baby in Connecticut. We were looking for ghosts and we found one. We got it on tape. You can plainly hear a scream on tape, and it wasn’t by any of us. It creeped out the Swedish band we were on tour with.
How did you know it was a baby's grave? It didn’t have a name. It just said ‘BABY’. And there was a picture of lamb. It needed a taste of blood, and Neil offered it some.
Black Breath play Neumos tonight.
You are a dual kick drum drummer. What does having two kick drums enable you to do? Be more evil. I played a kit with single kick for ten years then realized I needed to play with two kick drums. I think having two independent pedals sounds better than having all the linkage and weird shit that’s on a double kick pedal. I think it’s more authentic, more classic to have two separate kick drums. I try to use the second kick drum sparingly and tastefully. Sometimes metal drummers are too busy with dual kick drums, they can’t keep their foot off that second kick, and it sounds annoying.
Name double kick drummers you study. Obviously Dave Lombardo, I think he pretty much invented it. Pete Sandoval from Morbid Angel and Terrorizer, he’s a total ripper. Mikkey Dee from Motorhead and King Diamond.
How did you know you needed to play with two kick drums? I don’t know. I always liked that sound. And liked tons of drummers that played with dual kicks so I decided to go all out and get a new kit with the dual kick set up. It took me some time to hash it out and learn two play, about eight months, but I wanted the dual kicks to be on the album, so I gave myself a little timeline for it. I was sober when I was learning it, so basically the only thing I was doing was practicing and playing drums every day until I got it. I’m getting better at it, still improving. It was basically getting my left foot to not be totally retarded. Now I can play everything with my left foot that I can play with my right, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do.
You’re amphibious. Yes.
And evil. Yes.
How have the shows on this tour been so far? How did you guys get on the tour? The shows with Converge have been awesome. It’s unfortunate they had to drop off the last two. New York was sold out. Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit were killer. Converge is destroying it every night. We have friends that work with their booking agent, and we had recorded with their guitarist. A band dropped off the tour, and we got added.
Where did you record Heavy Breathing? Break down some of the gear. Godcity Studios in Salem, Massachusetts. We spent eleven days over there. Nine recording and two mixing. We play through Peavey heads and Ampeg heads. We use an Emperor cabinet, a Marshall 4x10 cabinet, and I use Sonar drums with two twenty-four inch kicks. We run an Ampeg V4 and a Peavey VTM 120 together at the same time, really loud. Guitars were a Gibson Les Paul Custom and a Gibson SG Standard, Elijah did his bass on a Gibson Ripper.
Mostly though, you guys don't need gear. You just need evil. Yeah.