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At least in the realms of black metal, Americans and Russians are able to co-exist very well as demonstrated in this split album between USBM act Leviathan and the then duo Blackdeath from St Petersburg (Vladimir Putin's hometown). Each band contributes four songs to the album. Blackdeath plays a raw and ferocious style of primitive black metal with very demented singing, from what I remember of their "Saturn Sector" recording which to be honest didn't have much variety and wasn't very good. Leviathan have a more atmospheric style of black metal but there is still a strong aggressive element to the music.
On their side of the split, Blackdeath initially indulge in a lot of deranged vocal gymnastics against a background of noisy, buzzy black metal guitar shower. Track 2, "Der absolute Bose" is a bit more melodic than the first song but the croaky singing, or what passes for croaky singing, is still batshit nutty. Any differences in Blackdeath's contributions to the split are mainly in the details of the songs, analogous to fine print on legal documents which as we all know nobody ever takes notice of. The style stays the same throughout, ditto for the pace and the vocal style, and listeners can get the impression that the four songs must be linked chapters in one opus. The fourth and final track has different vocals from the other three - they're more bloodcurdling and a little deeper - but the music remains stubbornly the same.
Leviathan's side of the split begins with a sinister spoken incantation that opens the flood-gates to a genuinely aggressive and savage song "Corpse Glide (Beneath Great Dragon)" with a fierce if ragged vocal, pummelling rhythms and some bubbling tremolo lead guitar work. Each track begins with a spoken-voice sample that gets swept aside by a dramatic and often stupendous instrumental passage that introduces the main riffs and brings some aspect of Leviathan's style into very sharp focus: in "Mine Portrait in Scars", this is a sparkly guitar tone that is almost bluesy in feel. The singing here is more genuinely melancholy and anguished and the tone of guitar and the tremolo playing reinforce this sad atmosphere. Ambient space effects supply a dizzying mood that might allude to the disorienting depths of depression.
"The Wither Season" showcases the more ambient side of Leviathan: it's a deeply blues-influenced track with very dark jangly guitar chords and a charging noise-guitar blizzard, from beneath which pained synthesiser melody and guitar drone try to pass into the foreground. Banshee wails are just barely audible. "Derision" is a fairly straightforward piece with solid vibrato guitar riffs, militant drumming which might be a mixture of programmed beats and Jeff Whitehead's own efforts on the skins, and howling vocals filled with the pain of depression and other mental illness. There's also some experimentation with processed guitars and distorted voices.
Without a doubt, Leviathan put more effort into its side of the split in spite of there being only one person in that act while Blackdeath had the benefit of two in 2005. It's a pity this recording is so uneven: Blackdeath's half seems to be a continuation of that earlier album of theirs that I mentioned while Leviathan's half is practically a summation of what Whitehead is capable of in writing and playing music, and suggests that if he wanted to, he could take Leviathan into a more experimental, space-ambient, almost sound-art direction.
Like the reviewer before me, I'd like to just skip the Blackdeath part of this split. It's really atrocious and frightfully bad. Awful, awful, awful recording with an uninteresting and stereotypical sound; forget it. That being said, this is a great release. Don't even think about the Blackdeath part of the album, and you'll be sure to enjoy this release a great deal. I'm not even equating them into the score of this release.
A similar low-key and on the thin side production is to be found here as it was on Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide, but as always it doesn't serve as fault or as an imperfection. There's also an oddity to be found on this release, something which I can't recall on any other Leviathan album: movie samples. They don't detract from the value of the release at all, in fact they fit fine, but it was just a big surprise for me. Beyond that it's all typical Leviathan; dense and harrowing atmospheres, distorted and tortured vocals, catchy and trance inducing riffs and a touch of ambiance.
The release starts strong with two of Wrest's better songs. "Corpse Glide" relies on a particularly catchy riff as the song carries itself at a medium to fast pace all along keeping things interesting with little breaks and changes here and there, as well as an awesome refrain. The second track brings about the more emotional and atmospheric side of Leviathan, which all starts off, and ends, with a twisted quote from Ichi The Killer (a personal favorite of mine) and acts a more ambient ridden song. "The Wither Season" serves as our expected ambient track. It's pretty neat, a bit on the creepy side, more in tune with his A Silhouette In Splinters release. Lastly the release ends with another phenomenal track, which showcases a nice mixture of a more direct black metal style song with a subtle but lethal dose of atmosphere and a calming drone ending.
This release is defiantly essential if you've enjoyed any of Leviathan's work. The first two tracks are seemingly accessible (for one who is accustomed to black metal and it's constant flirtation with analog recording in its poorest form) and should get you hooked on Leviathan. Skip over Blackdeath's stinky broccoli vibe and go straight for the meat and potatoes that is Levithan's side of this split.
I had never heard of Black Death before purchasing this and after suffering through their half I never want to hear anything by them again. Their first three songs sound exactly the same and not in a good way. Standard new school black metal riffs and vocals are the worst I have ever heard. Black Death do not use any effects on their vocals which only makes them sound foolish. There is no real way to describe how ridiculous the vocals are and in no way is it recommended that one should buy a Black Death album to hear them. The fourth song's production is greatly improved so I'm assuming that it's not from the same recording session but it still does not make up for how god awful the first three songs were.
Wrest's half makes this split worth purchasing. Strangely each song-except for the last-starts with a horror movie sample. While this is usually a prerequisite with bad goth industrial it does not harm the songs. Whats also strange is that the samples don't return on the Sapthuran split. Wrest uses his side very well and each song demonstrates one aspect of the Leviathan sound. "Corpseglide" is the thrashier song and doesn't slow down for one moment. "Mine portrait in Scars" continues in the same way but towards the end travels into the ambient/shoegaze territory. Track 3 "The Wither Season" continues with this and is the instrumental but there are some vokills present just completely buried in the mix. "Derision" is more mid-tempo and concludes in some light droning. At this point the music drops out and the listener is left with the sound of Wrest's processed growl-the perfect way to end an album.
Bottom line: Get this for Leviathan but skip the first four tracks.