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Leviathan's developmental shift from depressive (albeit sophisticated) bedroom murk to angular prog-black metal in the vein of Deathspell Omega was not wholly intentional, but that's not to say it was a mistake. Between Wrest's two primary projects, Lurker of Chalice was the one that better-suited the experimental approach. Massive Conspiracy Against All Life was originally intended as a Lurker of Chalice album, and it was only through label meddling that it became the third full-length under the Leviathan banner. With that kind of preface, it's easier to connect the dots between this and the first two albums. MCAAL is clearly torn from the same despondent outlook as Tentacles of Whorror and The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide, but the distinctly polished means of expression sets it apart from all its predecessors. In a broad sense, MCAAL was both the rebirth and maturation of Leviathan. This was an artist no longer content to linger on in the shadows. It could be said that adding more conventionally sound musicianship and full-bodied production standards actually worked against the alienating vibe of Leviathan's early material, but in doing so, Wrest solidified the evolution his career had led towards.
While the controversy surrounding its release helps to explain the anomaly a bit, there's still no album of Wrest's that sounds like Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. The two full-lengths and myriad demos previously released under the Leviathan moniker were far murkier affairs, and despite its original intended context, it sounds even a further step away from the experimental ambient-doom of Lurker of Chalice. Even Leviathan's future work sounds different; True Traitor, True Whore was a much more primitive surge more in line with the early stuff, and the most recent LP Scar Sighted was complex and varied.
From where I stand, Massive Conspiracy Against All Life seems to rest at the apex of Leviathan's career. Beyond even as it now stands as the chronological 'mid-point' in the band's evolution, this is the album where all of Wrest's motives-- past and present-- came together to inform his style. Though the dissonant, technically-inclined riffs justify its common comparison with DSO, there is far more at work in its style. Wrest may have given his work a fresh, 'modern' sheen with its production, but it's very much the same disturbing, dissociative atmosphere I'd have come to expect from his music. To date, Wrest stands as one of the very few artists in black metal with an inimitable atmosphere all his own; even his mellower sections (hell; especially his mellower sections) are weaponized to create a musical undertone that sounds and feels like the aural equivalent of nausea. Other bands have accomplished this as well, but none quite like Wrest; fans of his work will know what I'm talking about. Even with its modern bells and whistles, MCAAL carries that disturbing aura about it. With that essence intact, it feels like garden-variety kvltist gripes about Wrest losing touch on this album are that much more irrelevant.
Despite Leviathan's push towards a greater sense of controlled chaos by means of the swirling riffs and wall-of-sound production, I'd actually call MCAAL the most consistent and straightforward of Leviathan's full-lengths. At his most primitive, Wrest's material is still replete with uncomfortable twists and changes. One of my favourite things about experiencing The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide is the sense that I never know at what point he's going to switch from grimy black metal to ambiance, and vice-versa. Although MCAAL has a few examples of his best songwriting (most notably "Merging With Sword, Onto Them") I don't quite get the same sense of spontaneity with these songs, and that arguably is the most disappointing part of the album.
"Vesture Dipped in the Blood of Morning" introduces most of the album's threads, but it doesn't congeal in time to make a great song of its own; I tend to see it better as an extended overture for the incredible second track. "Receive the World" is some of the most energetic riff-centrism I've ever heard from Leviathan. "VI-XI-VI" and "Noisome Ash Crown" generally stick to his ambient side, and their black metal exploits are moderate and controlled. "Made as the Stale Wine of Wrath" and "Vulgar Asceticism" are solid indicators for the atmosphere-infused-with-technique style Wrest was working with at the point, but don't serve to justify their lengths. For all the progress made in its style and execution, the songwriting on MCAAL doesn't feel as organic nor exciting as I would have hoped to hear from a guy whose debut impressed me with virtually every riff he penned, almost without exception.
Massive Conspiracy Against All Life was not a step forward in every way for Leviathan, and I wouldn't call it my favourite of his albums, but it is Wrest at his boldest. As much as The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide deserves its own shade of legend, MCAAL is sharp and ambitious enough to have placed Leviathan in the big leagues. This bottomless pit calculated chaos can be a hard beast to tame, and if Leviathan's core songwriting was less vibrant this time around, I think it's excused on the merit that he was pushing himself hard in other ways. As the album with the dubious honour of being caught between eras, MCAAL is a perfect introduction to Leviathan, both old and new. It cannot justly be compared directly with the weirder stuff he was doing earlier; one cannot stay in the cradle forever, despite all of the primitive charms that come with youth. This album brought Wrest's execution to a level on par with the best modern black metal has to offer, and the leap forward opened new doors of possibility for the band as a whole. WithScar Sighted seven years later in 2015, and we're seeing the dismal buds of this album come full bloom at last.
Since 1998 the one-man project LEVIATHAN (driven by the Californian tattoo-artist known as Wrest) has built a reputation as one of the absolute pioneers and prodigal children of the USBM-scene. After a ridiculous number of demos and splits, as well as two full-lengths, ranging in quality from daft bedroom-Metal to depressive masterpieces, "Massive Conspiracy Against All Life" apparently marks the end of his reign, since Wrest reportedly will focus on his other project, LURKER OF CHALICE, in the future.
For his third proper album, Wrest has abandoned some of the characteristics of his earlier material in favor of a grander evil sound inspired by bands in the vein of the revered DEATHSPELL OMEGA and BLUT AUS NORD. The number of ambient segments that used to provide an eerie backdrop have been reduced, the strong bass-lines have been dropped in the favor of a sharp guitar sound, and many songs have downplayed the depressive mood, instead taking a larger-than-life misanthropic approach. The production is still dirty, the drums are confined to the background and Wrest's vocals still come on the form of distorted grunts and crude growls, with the odd animal noises and howls thrown in. In other words, this isn't a simple rehashing of earlier work, but it's still very clear that "Massive Conspiracy Against All Life" is a beast that could only have emerged from the twisted maw of LEVIATHAN.
By this point it should be obvious that Wrest knows exactly what he's doing, and while I don't blame him for trying a new formula, the lack of stand-out tracks still feels like a weak move at this stage of the band's life. The songs aren't indistinguishable from each other, but they all seem to more or less follow the same recipe of an evil riff that feels like the armies of hell marching to war, followed by a short ambient break, before they return with twice the force and ferocity (“Noisome Ash Crown” is the only real exception, and feels more like a LURKER OF CHALICE track in its creepiness). However, there is enough force in every riff to ensure a strong collection of songs, and the “total warfare”-feeling is an approach that works well for LEVIATHAN.
Coming from any other band, this would be a fantastic release, but the lack of key-elements that made Wrest the most original American Black Metal artist out there will disappoint many old-time fans. To some extent this sentiment includes yours truly, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have "Massive Conspiracy Against All Life" sitting on your shelf alongside his earlier masterpieces, and in retrospect it feels like a somewhat worthy eulogy for one of the most outstanding bands in Black Metal.
(Online August 5, 2008)
Written for the Metal Observer
Massive Conspiracy Against All Life? What kind of a name is that? I wonder whether it has something to do with all the d00ds from McDonald's peeing into our food. Regardless of the dull name, Wrest brings forth a very lively album. The first thing you notice when the opening track Vesture Dipped In The Blood Of Morning erupts is that the production has gotten cleaner by more than a few notches. Also, its clear that a real drumkit was used on most of the tracks this time - which sounds great, despite being low in the mix. But the most noticeable aspect is that Wrest has been taking French lessons.
There are all sorts of riffs on this album. Many atonal/dissonant/convoluted/offbeat riffs (which were never as pronounced or as chaotic in the older albums) throng the album, and I believe this is attributable to black metal darlings, Deathspell Omega and their now-forgotten brethren Blut Aus Nord. Some of them even bring to mind names like Immolation , which shows the diversity on the album. There are less ambient/clean moments than on Tentacles Of Whorror but the ones that are present are engaging for the most part. These too bear a resemblance with some of the quieter passages produced by the aforementioned French bands (Procession Of Dead Clowns and Kenose I came to mind when I heard the 13 minute, Noisome Ash Crown). Apart from these, you have your standard tremolo picked riffs to keep the old-school touch which was always featured on the past catalog. But all of these are densely layered and have all sorts of twisted notes hanging above them like sharply cut pieces of glass on an already vicious wall of sound. These piercing riffs are interspersed with the dirge-like, doomy riffs that Leviathan are known for.
Wrest is a talented person alright. The drumming on the album is top notch - the best it has ever been. The vocals aren't nearly as acidic as they were on the previous albums and are quite low in the mix, comparatively. Again, a DsO influence, one can say. This maybe a problem for some of you, but I had no issues with it. Another departure from the previous albums, the familiar lush bass sound is nowhere to be found, nor are the in-your-face bass lines, which was a negative. Summing up, if you've never heard any of Wrest's previous efforts then this is as good a place to start as any. This is supposed to be Leviathan's last album (due to differences with Moribund), and Wrest will concentrate solely on Lurker Of Chalice (which I happen to be a greater fan of) from now on. Well, Massive Conspiracy Against All Life is a definite high point to end on for a band that will go down as a great in USBM history.
Originally written for http://www.kvltsite.com
Wrest has made quite a name for himself in the extreme metal scene for the past five years or so, with numerous Eps, and two prior full lengths, the prestige that Leviathan has received is beyond that of most USBM bands. Unlike the other well received USBM band (Judas Iscariot) Wrest has forged his own, unique sound which none can match. Being a large fan of Leviathan myself, I can adequately describe what makes Leviathan so enticing to me, simply put; it is the enthralling nature of Leviathan that has kept me hooked. Wrest's ability to craft vast, ethereal atmospheres, sometimes harrowing, sometimes blissful, is just one of the many traits that has made me enjoy this band so much. While the atmosphere is concrete, it is also the way he so subtlety manipulates melodies to reflect whichever mood or emotion he wishes. Leviathan is multifaceted in a way that very few bands are. There are extremely atmospheric and moody sections, then there are your melodic and catchy areas, and then there are plenty of times where you can just bang your head. All these things that have made me worship the multitude of releases are present within Massive... but they are stretched far and wide.
Massive Conspiracy Against All Life is a Leviathan album for sure, no doubts about that, but (and I emphasize that but) it is not the Leviathan that I have come to embrace as my favorite band. Here Wrest tries his hand at a more frightful and disturbing, if you will, atmosphere. The first thing that I thought of whilst listening to Massive... was Deathspell Omega's Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fas... it's a jarring departure from Deathspell's melodic, and even catchy at times, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, instead it is extremely dense and atonal. The reason why my mind automatically struck up the comparison was because of the hollow nature that I attribute to both Massive and Fas. Sections like the beginning to the second track, "Merging with Sword, Onto Them", and the end of "Made as the Stale Wine of Wrath" seems to break up any momentum the album tries to carry.
Which leads me to my largest complaint, the songwriting.
Wrest's strongest attribute in my mind is his ability to craft enthralling atmospheres which wind and slither as the song progresses, with melodies appearing here and there, and more venomous sections every so often. With Massive, each track seems to carry the same, dense and foreboding atmosphere, but it seems to rarely progress, to me it even feels that some songs are broken up so much that they could be standalone releases themselves. An example of this are the first two tracks, the first one is a scathing blast beat track that thins out into a boring, murky intro for the second song which flickers back and forth for many minutes, until it finally picks up within the last half of the song. Every song, except the first, ends on an ambient note which I guess is used to induce an overall atmosphere, but to me it just makes the album as a whole very inaccessible.
The songs themselves are enjoyable, few, if any really stick out to me, which wouldn't be such a big deal if I felt the album was more concrete and fastened tighter to itself. "IV-XI-IV" is a great song that contains that hypnotic blast beat that has become quite a staple of Wrest's. Along with that, there's the last three minutes to "Merging with Sword, Onto Them" which I find to be the high point of the album. The album plods along until we reach "Receive the World" which explodes in a torrent of drums and buzzing guitars. After that track fades out we get "Vulgar Asceticism" which strongly reminds me of Blut Aus Nord's The Work Which Transforms God, the kind of tripped out guitar and never ending drums and distant vocals create an eerie atmosphere. Like many of the songs, the structure is vast and overwhelming; the changes within many of these tracks is simply astonishing. "Noisome Ash Crown" serves as an ambient ending to this massive album.
As always, the musicianship is topnotch, even more so then previous releases. There are many atypical rhythms, jarring and unusual guitar progressions, and plenty of stuff that just is over my head. Along with the musicianship, the production is quite fitting; it is a lot fuller and warmer sounding than most Leviathan releases. To me, I feel this is Wrest's most complex work to date; unfortunately it has lost much of what made me such a fan of Leviathan. By no means is this album bad, but it does not compare to the Tenth Sublevel... and doesn't contain enough good songs like Tentacles. This appears to be Leviathan's most mature and complex work to date, its place in Leviathan's discography is just as important as Kenose is to DSO or The Mystical Beast Of Rebellion to BAN, it marks a significant change in style; for better or worse is for you to decide.
...while this album opens its mouth to eat fiery dick from the purulent depths of entropy, hahahaaaa!
Of course, no human is qualified to comment his ass upon the suicidal feelings, music, conception etc. of the artist or musician. But a reviewer is more than qualified to bash this album, particularly in virtue of the appreciation for two particular works, namely The Tenth Sublevel Of Suicide and Tentacles Of Whorror. These two are the only albums truly worth grabbing. The Tenth Sublevel had some intriguing epic tapestries inside its bloody caves, and Tentacles Of Whorror was a damn fine and consistent collection of instant attention keepers.
On this album, which was conceived as Levi's final revelation, unless I've heard wrong, we find all these elements that Wrest got to incorporate in his music over the years. Blasting drumming, ambient sections, embarassingly overwhelming shriek+yelp+burp+cough+snort overdubbing experiments, noisy, cacophonous riffs, distant, tense, foggy acoustic guitar fragments, and stupid, very stupid drum'n'bass-like jamming during some songs. All these elements are in full force on this last masterpiece, but one of them distracts the greatest chunk of the listener's ear: the riffs. My goodness cretacious, what the hell has happened with that tone? When the guitar stops doing high-pitched nu-USBM (no allusion towards nu-metal!) atonal stuff, which takes more than 80% of the album the USBM "riff" is replaced by a heart-felt continuous fart. Horrendous. Those motherfuckers from Deathspell Omega didn't know shit about the HEWGE influence that they would have on their corpse-painted American comrades. This is not cleverly used discordance, as in the case of that behemoth named Immolation, it is atonality for its own good.
Second, the riffs themselves bore the living macaroni out of the poor patient listener. There is nothing, but absolutely nothing remarkable, and nothing that wouldn't have been heard on previous albums (and in better shape!), like the two aforementioned masterpieces or the split with Sapthuran. It sounds as if Wrest threw in a lot of cool products and wiped his ass with them in the compositional process. Many riff changes, ambient breaks and all that shit, all of them spent prodigally, without any direction. Everything was planned to be grandiose, with those loads of distortion and all those voices in the bedroom, and it didn't manage to reach its destination.
Second, the drumming hasn't improved a bit. And we're not talking only about a lack of improvement... we're talking about regression here! The drums are low in the mix, and even at that "lowness" of theirs, one can realize that Wrest didn't give his best, and you'll witness some of the tamest, most relaxed black metal signatures in the whole world. Why doesn't Michelle Branch or Avril Lavigne hire Wrest as a drummer? He loves pain anyway, so let him have it while taking syphillis from a pop star's guitar during live shows. That ol' awesome double bass and those ol' awesome gallops are gone with the wind. Tribal drumming isn't one of Wrest's assets either. It's just a Triceratops who tried his hand at sexy beats after those heaps of crappy blastbeats and (way too) doom-ridden rituals. And he doesn't have the style necessary in order to make a great ritualistic song with that Shitless Garment of his, like Sigh did on Gundali, for example. He is a master of animalic grunts, but not a master of drama. And even in the field of overall aggression he fails miserably, for all this album appears as pointless. It's not innovative, it's not old-school worship, it has no finality. The vocals have stayed the same as always, distorted speeches, groans and shrieks floatin' everywhere. Nothing else to say, except the fact that those muttered parts are overdrawn.
This is the legacy of a highly prolificent black metal act. This act has diluted its art over maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaany demos (worthless) as well as full-lengths and splits (worthy). Leviathan was a winning card. In the very last moment, it has shown its limits. The ambient parts can't save this album from what it is: a resurrected piece of music, and a project that got ressurected, ironically, before it would fade out.