Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Long Hundred 012/100: Breach - Friction which some straight-edge kids from the North of Sweden pioneered HM-2 flavoured hardcore.

[This is part of a series of posts dedicated to 100 albums I feel lucky to have heard. The full list and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here.]

I discovered Breach in high school, thanks to a Swedish punk friend who lent me Northcore: The Polar Scene Compilation. Released in 1994, the comp introduced the world to Sweden's bustling straight edge scene. Possibly best known for producing the mighty Refused, the cities of Umeå and Luleå teemed with hardcore kids who were unabashed in their love for metal. And none of them were heavier than Breach. As a Swedish death metal fan with a growing fondness for hardcore punk, it didn't take much for me to love Breach; with their barked vocals and "that" guitar tone, they were the perfect confluence of my interests.

Like Refused, Breach journeyed south to Stockholm in order to record their debut album Friction at Sunlight Studios (Wolverine Blues had come out a few years prior, and its impact was being felt beyond the confines of death metal). Producing the album was none other than Dismember drummer Fred Estby, who ensured that Breach achieved HM-2 perfection. If Wolverine Blues was the sound of a death metal band cutting loose with whiskey and some MC5 records, then Friction was its austere younger brother - as sincere in its finger-pointing and sloganeering as Entombed were tongue in cheek about death and Satan.

When I first added Breach to "The Long Hundred", I was partly motivated by the sheer number of power violence bands who are as influenced by Swedish death metal as Breach once were. My thinking was that Breach were a band that were far ahead of the curve in mixing the two genres. In retrospect, Breach bear only a superficial resemblance to their modern counterparts; Friction is an unmistakably Nineties creation; besides the Sunlight Studios production, its insistent palm-muted chugging bears the influence of straight-edge hardcore peers/antecedents Earth Crisis, as well as Sepultura and Helmet. I suspect that the groovy and breakdown-happy Friction isn't heavy enough for the current generation of hardcore kids tearing it up for Nails and Full of Hell, who sound closer to old school death metal than death metal bands did when Friction came out in 1995.

All the same, Breach weren't content with being a hardcore band using HM-2 pedals - having created (and perfected) the perfect blend of Nineties hardcore and Swedish death metal, the band reinvented themselves as a doomy post-hardcore band with their next album It's Me God. They would have been the perfect European counterpart to Isis, if they didn't morph yet again on their subsequent album Venom into a noisy post-hardcore band employing two drummers.

When It's Me God came out, I was deeply disappointed by the band's stylistic shift. I couldn't understand why anyone would ditch that Swedish death metal sound; but twenty years and a thousand uninspired Entombed clones later, it seems like the only logical choice. Breach was never a band to stay in one place for too long; like true innovators, their creative instincts kept them ahead of the curve, though that undoubtedly hurt their appeal with hardcore's notoriously myopic audience. [There's a reason "post-hardcore" is a genre but "progressive hardcore" is not.]

"The Long Hundred" is a series that by its nature is stuck in the past, but this installment is strangely timely. Breach vocalist Tomas Liljedahl has contributed vocals to the debut album of Novarupta - a new project formed by Moth Gather's Alex Stjernfeld, who wears the influence of Breach on his sleeve. Members of Breach have also resurfaced in The Old Wind and, allegedly, the mysterious Terra Tenebrosa. - leading me to believe that the band's influence is still being felt, however subtly, throughout the world of heavy music. With Friction and the other Breach albums being long out of print and hard to find, the time is past for them to be reissued and rediscovered. I hope this post helps people remember how special this band was, and how lucky those of us who got to hear them were.

Almighty Generation:

Dan Swanö -