One of my favorite things about being introduced to a band late in their career is that the opportunity to look back on its music catalogue opens up and is ready to be taken advantage of. As far as music goes, there are few things more interesting than seeing where a favorite band of yours has been. In this, questions arise, and thinking ensues: “If I had listened to this album before anything else, would I still hold this band in as high esteem as I do now?”
So it comes as no surprise that when I came across Breathing and Dying in this Place, one of Envy’s first extended efforts, I was a bit ecstatic. Envy: the phenomenal band, whose music spills of pure, unadulterated, raw emotion, and striking beauty – the band that turned me on to a whole new genre with their staunch originality and restrained fits of incredible talent. Even before I discovered Breathing and Dying in this place, I could already see an ever-changing trend in their style, starting from From Here To Eternity, moving on to more the more developed All the Footsteps You’ve Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead, to the masterpiece that is A Dead Sinking Story, and concluding with the culmination of Envy’s musical career, Insomniac Doze. Sensing the trend, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with Breathing and Dying in this Place, though in the back of my mind I had a hunch it would have the raw, emotional groove to it that From Here to Eternity held in spades.
What I got was something completely different – something that made me question if the band in question was even at all the Envy that I knew. What immediately comes as a shock is the absolute straightforwardness of it. Envy’s talent for adding longevity to their songs is all but vacant in Breathing and Dying in this Place, filled instead with a steady, fast paced bombardment of wildly distorted guitar, and frantic screaming, resembling close to nothing of the Tetsuya of today. In roughly forty-three seconds, the instrumental introduction, “Remember” is over, paving way for yet another short fit of Envy’s own brand of generic hardcore, “Ability”.
The sheer terseness of Breathing and Dying in this place is most definitely the most disconcerting aspect of the album, especially when coupled with the album’s inability to differentiate tracks. With the longest song being only two minutes and thirty seconds long, and several others fizzing out in the one minute range, Breathing and Dying in this Place is an extremely quick listen. While conciseness can sometimes be an attractive quality for an album, it fails miserably in this case. At just under sixteen minutes, Breathing and Dying in this Place allows itself not enough time to cover very much ground at all musically, and instead insists on driving the same thing repeatedly. And though while later on in Envy’s career this may work fairly well for them, it’s a complete wreck in this instance, as everything runs together far too much and far too fast to even notice.
Aside from being a largely fast paced, straight forward album, sonically, this is not the Envy many will be more accustomed with. The beautiful, clean passages scattered throughout their albums are nonexistent, as well as any singing from Tetsuya. Breathing and Dying in this Place is a largely hardcore album, briefly drawing on some other facets as well, such as rock and grunge. The most major disappointment in Envy’s sound is in the way each member fails to compliment any other. Most aspects of Breathing and Drying in this Place are forgettable, save for the couple of short, clean passages thrown in sparingly in a couple of songs, such as “Passage of Wind” and “Just Alive”.
But all the while, even as the album plays, and everything seems to fall together in a cluster of noise, a careful ear can sense that Envy is not completely without talent, even as presented on this album. A couple of songs actually have a very vague framework for the style of Envy later to come. “Just Alive” paints the most accurate portrait of this. The clean introduction is the only thing remotely resembling of Envy’s later technique, starting quietly, building up to the heavy, emotive savage of a band that Envy is most known for. “Just Alive” emulates the most convincingly emotional work Envy has to offer on Breathing and Dying in this Place, and also offers an insight into the direction that the band would later take with their music while concomitantly fitting in line with all the rest of the songs on Breathing and Dying in this Place. Though this duality is all but abundant on Breathing and Dying in this Place, its mere existence is a relief, as it signifies that the members of the band, early in their career, were not completely at a loss for themselves.
Breathing and Dying in this Place is a fairly difficult album, even despite its simplicity and brevity, and I don’t recommend anyone interested in Envy to give this a listen before giving their newer works, the works more accurately introducing Envy, a listen. Taken individually, this album is mediocre all around, but pitted against practically everything else Envy has written, Breathing and Dying in this Place is a fluke in the Envy canon. Though, as earlier stated, it is an intriguing insight into the musicianship of Envy, and begs one to ponder how a band can go from such sheer mediocrity to massive godliness.
“If I had listened to this album before anything else, would I still hold this band in as high esteem as I do now?”
I give this album a 2.5 out of 5 rating.