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Maybe I'm a latecomer but this is the album that piqued my interest in one-man black metal from the United States. Not only am I continually impressed by DIY musicians who handle every aspect of their art, but with this album specifically I had my hair blown back at how every instrument was performed with such proficiency. At this point, we already know that Wrest is a fantastic drummer. His technique, patterns, and usage of fills are distinct enough to make himself identifiable on other projects he's participated in such as Twilight. Tenth Sub Level really gave me a large appreciation for Wrest's musicianship entirely.
Amid the screeching chaos of the guitars, one can still clearly hear the bass guitar, nuanced drumming, occasional synthesized melodies, and the varying vocals used. Every song has a unique flow to it, and the album in its entirety flows together nicely both as something conceptual but not so much that picking out a random track to listen to would feel out of place. Tenth Sub Level is not a lazy album that falls into generic black metal methods, yet on the other end of the spectrum it isn't trying to be radical for the sake of it.
One of the most distinct signatures for me is the vocals which span between low guttural growls and demented mumbling, to piercing shrieks and wailing. As prominent as the vocals may be, they can sometimes feel disconnected from the music depending on their need for delivery. Some of the slower moments, such as on "The Idiot Sun" draw a larger distance from the otherwise prominent performances. This contributes to the many dynamics already present on this entire recording.
No song has the habit of overstaying its welcome. Just as a fiery riff has been repeated thoroughly enough the song might go one of two directions: either raising the stakes with increased intensity, or to blur out into moderate plodding before exploding into the next measure. This gives opportunity to breathe a little bit between the largely relentless songs without ever growing stale. Another great aspect of the slower moments gives the bass guitar a chance to really shine, and sometimes even feels like a preview of what would ultimately create such a unique mood on Lurker of Chalice.
With all of that said, my favorite moment on the album to this day is still on the final track. About halfway through the relentless blast beats, rolling fills and closing guitar melodies, the drumming stops, the bass guitar fades out and we hear an echoing percussive sound. The guitar tempo slows down greatly and from here the rest of the song slowly builds up, adding one element at a time, slithering bass guitar, funeral paced drums, second guitar. The finale of the song explodes starting with a few snare hits and one of the most mournful riffs I have ever heard. The vocals shriek at a higher intensity than any other preceding moments. Despite the processing, you can hear his voice strain on some of these shrieks, making this finale to me, a particularly authentic moment on this recording.
A voice to drown out
Taken in mine own hand
A blade, a rope, biter poison
Climb into the nil realm
One of the many profound questions we humans can ask ourselves is "should I kill myself?" Although the layers of answers to this question may not be what one would want, the experience of sincerely contemplating that act, not just crying for help, is certainly part of the human experience. This is what makes The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide such a genuine experience for me, because this idea is flirted with in such a vulnerable manner. Beneath the stoic posturing and often inhuman aesthetic of black metal, the real worthwhile material for me tends to be absolutely human to its core. This album is written and performed with relentless heart and it shows.
First of all I want to say that this album has a great title. The title is much more than just something containing shock-value; it is in fact addressing a dimension of suicide that is mainly considered taboo in everyday society. Furthermore, it deconstructs the concept of suicide in the sense that it explores suicide as an aesthetic concept that is so complex, that it literally has sub-levels, let alone levels.
Leviathan launches a subjective journey into the idea of an outsider reflecting on suicide. Throughout the album a whole lot of psychological concepts manifest themselves via the implementation of desolation, solitude and general anxiety. The vocals are the most outstanding of the whole album – they rip through my soul every time I listen to this album. The guitars are very basic black metal styled riffs combined with the usual fast-paced drumming. Still, the guitars contribute to the general dark aura of the music – on “Sardoniscorn” there are fast parts that are constantly broken down into slower parts containing rhythmic riffs combined with slow picking. I also like the bass playing on this track – the bass is brought forward in a strong sense on some parts. I want to emphasize this, because a lot of bands play bass, but the guitars dominate so strongly that you don’t really hear the bass. Why use bass then?
Luckily, there is no stagnation concerning the basic fast-paced guitars. On some tracks the guitar riffs have an almost ritualistic sound that is drenched in a sea of slow poison. Leviathan succeeds in composing a sick symphony of aesthetical desolation. The music literally incarnates as the voice of desolation which makes this album hard to listen to. I don’t mean hard to listen to in the negative sense of the word; in fact, I mean to say that the general uneasiness that comes out in the honesty might be too hard to bear for a lot of us in a psychological sense. Leviathan doesn’t want to entertain; it’s something much deeper and more complex than that – the idea of the music is rather to implore you to search your own soul and mind. While you are searching, you start to open up wounds. You experience pain and the more pain you experience, the deeper you dig. This is a philosophical idea that goes back to Theodor W. Adorno’s idea that the best art is non-conformist art that makes you feel uneasy.
I was scared that I might begin to get bored as I got to “He whom shadows move towards”, because it felt like this was just another track filled with quite a lot of black metal clichés. But that was not the case, since the next track titled “Submersed” is a dark ambient kind of track that gives a bit of a welcome break from that. The rest of the album is fresh in the sense that there are a lot of different styles thrown into the mix. Low-tuned guitars are altered by more high-pitched picking and riffs. The drums are mostly used as background rhythm, but still have an interesting way of mixing with the intensity of the vocals. The intensity just gets better in the title-track where another ambient kind of approach is suddenly thrown into the mix.
In general, I think that this album is much more than just musical. Music is supposed to embody a strong and unique aesthetical philosophy wherein the work of art literally becomes the philosophical concept itself. In my opinion, Leviathan has succeeded with this is more than one way.
"How low can a person go?" you might ask - well, according to the one-man band Leviathan, a person can go very low indeed, at least where this album's concept and lyrics are concerned. In Wrest's view, death and hell are inevitable and should be accepted, maybe even welcomed, and life and hated humanity should be shunned. A tragic grandeur is the hallmark of this music even at its most aggressive and thrashy and the anger and furious pace prevent it from sounding self-piteous even when everything seems most desperate. Production is foggy as though Wrest is screaming and playing in a huge cavern behind a thick steel prison door but our man forces the situation to turn to his advantage by creating a distinctive black metal universe and turning those echoing monster screams into something very unearthly. The music flows very well and Wrest maintains a solid and consistent standard throughout the album.
Even though the pace is extremely fast, this is a highly melodic recording and some tracks like "Submersed" have an atmospheric beauty and majesty. I sometimes wish there were more moments of ambient icy-winter soundscape wonder on this album but Leviathan seems happy playing a style of music that combines traditional song-based heavy metal elements with black metal. Some melodic passages don't sound all that original but appear to be derived from a general universal formula and I have the impression that Wrest acquired considerable classical or other professional music training before answering the call of black metal and making it his vocation.
The major achievement here is how Wrest makes creating his own operatic black metal cosmos look so easy and natural. Everything is solid from start to finish with no filler track and nothing can be faulted. With every song contributing to a perfectly built edifice, Wrest is to be commended but, contrary creature that I am, I find myself wishing that he could have allowed the odd eccentric worm-hole or two to be burrowed in his perfect universe. Sometimes a work can be just too perfect and the odd imperfection can paradoxically lift it to an even greater height.
An original version of this review appeared in The Sound Projector (Issue 14, 2006) which is now no longer in print.
Leviathan's The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide is a scathing and caustic whirlwind of feral black metal negativity, replete with unnerving ambient passages and a surprising sense of melody that, while showcased on various past releases (Demo 5 and White Devil, Black Metal come to mind), seems not to have been fully realized or implemented until this release.
Using often times simple guitar and bass picking patterns, Wrest, the entity behind this specific burnt-black wall of sound, builds layers of hellacious chaos by adding percussive flourishes for texture and vocals so desperate and visceral that they can, on occasion, make you wince in sympathy. He understands incredibly well the importance of building tension and the catharsis of release (though the music rarely lets up), and each song exhibits his talent at blurring the fine line between rage and sorrow, as the two are not mutually exclusive.
The atmosphere on this record is fucking undeniable, and, in the end, that's what Leviathan (and Lurker of Chalice, for that matter) have always been about. Somehow, perhaps via faculties that most of us cannot comprehend, Wrest is able to channel an unfiltered deluge of hatred, frustration and unhinged nihilism onto cheap cassette. Though the masters have been cleaned up, the familiar hiss, whir and pop of the tape deck is ever-present. It adds a sense of organic immediacy, and as each song ends you can't help thinking to yourself, "This guy really fucking means." Far from typical black metal posturing, Wrest drives his home his point with the force of a fucking lava vent.
The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide is one man's plaintive cry for the world to wake up. Well, maybe plaintive isn't the apt adjective. He seems, throughout much of the lyrics, to glorify not the act of taking one's own life, but the power of choice. The choice to hate or love, to ignore or shout down, to strike quickly or slither timidly into the shadows. More than anything, The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide is about truly understanding yourself and the things that bring you contentment. In the case of one Jef Whitehead, such satisfaction comes from knowing that at any time, he could walk, head held high, into the finality of eternal blackness, blood dripping from his wrists with every step.
Stand-out tracks: Fucking Your Ghost In Chains of Ice, The Bitter Emblem of Dissolve, At the Door to the Tenth Sub Level of Suicide
Welcome to your death. It's dark all around you. Suddenly, you see a light. You slowly move toward the light feeling warmer and happier as you move closer to it. But just as you get within grasping range, you are quickly picked up and taken backwards, away from the light, by an ominous force. Besides your own wailing, all you hear is a demonic voice uttering one line:
"There is no light for you...At the end of the tunnel..."
Leviathan's first official full-length release has nearly everything you need to experience from black metal's darkest tones. It's sole member Wrest has expertly pieced together furious riffs, tortured voices, and even added some well placed dark ambient passages for good measure.
On one end, you have songs that are almost entirely composed of furious riffs such as "Fucking Your Ghost In Chains Of Ice," "Scenic Solitude and Leprosy," and "At the Door to the Tenth Sub Level of Suicide." Wrest can make some really catchy riff passages in those songs particularly the "refrain" riff in "Fucking Your Ghost..." Wrest also got away with not repeating a riff passage on the fifteen minute long finale "At the Door..."
However, I think his best job on the album is shown on "Sardoniscorn" and "Mine Molten Armor," both which have a particularly chilling mid-section break. Each of them start out aggressive and eventually come to the break; but while "Mine Molten Armor" eventually rebuilds its speed for the blastbeating finish, "Sardoniscorn" stays a little slower repeating a few verses until Wrest utters "Kill Yourself" at the end.
"The Bitter Emblem of Dissolve," "He Whom Shadows Move Towards," and "The Idiot Sun" are all slower paced and desolate sounding which fits well in some places but gets kinda tiresome at others. "The Bitter Emblem..." fits the style the most perfectly but mostly because the black metal only goes on for three minutes before the dark ambient takes over. "The Idiot Sun" is simply a somber sounding song that sends chills down my spine, especially with Wrest howling "self destruction universe" at the end. Even so, if I'm eager to get to the final song, I usually end up skipping "The Idiot Sun."
'The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide' is one of the best US black metal albums released. Wrest has given us some of his best work in this album. Black metal fans should be prepared to fork over their cash if they hope to obtain this CD. I luckily found it for around $11.99 at a store and even then it was used.
“The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide” is an enormous monster of size, strength, and power - just as the band’s name would imply. It’s also a monster of slight beauty and a whole lot of bitter ugliness. Truth be told, “The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide” is an uncomfortable album; I would never describe it as tranquil. It stresses a certain mood, and that mood is not a positive one. However, while the mood it circulates may be a dreary one, that mood is consistent, and that’s one of the things that makes this album work so wonderfully.
This sound is achieved by the sole member of Leviathan: Wrest. Sure, it’s not terribly uncommon for a black metal band to have only one member. However, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a black metal album, performed by one person, that has been played with so much talent musically. He’s not a virtuoso at any one instrument, but he is easily well above average on all of them.
First, let me start with the drums. The drums are pretty solid overall. They definitely aren’t flashy. They do, however, have no problem getting the job done. The blast beats are played with vigor and dedication. However, the album isn’t just constant blast beats. There’s a lot of mid-paced drumming, which, while not as impressive, definitely fits the overall sounds of the album considerably well. Furthermore, I really liked the regular use of cymbals. Sans hi-hats, I think cymbals are terribly underused in metal (especially black metal). Wrest uses an above average amount of cymbals, and he uses them quite competently.
Wrest’s vocals may be the strongest point of the whole album. Leviathan would not be the black metal monster that it is without the vocals. They’re easily some of the best that I have ever heard. His shrieks are inhuman and reek of anguish and misery. Wrest sounds as though he is being tortured, which is, surely, what he’s going for. Often he uses several overdubs on the vocals, and has them beginning and ending seconds apart causing a very layered (and effective) wall of sound. He also occasionally just throws in random howls of suffering, grief, and utter pain (they're all over "Scenic Solitude and Leprosy"). One of my favorite aspects to his vocals, is this thing he does where he starts a superb shriek only to let that same shriek rise and rise in volume, tone, and power (0:36 in "Fucking your Ghost in Chains of Ice" is a great example of this).
The surprise performance of this album is the bass. The bass does a solid job of keeping the rhythm of the songs going and letting the guitars do their best to display an eerie and depressing mood. The bass isn't just playing basic parts either; quite often they're pretty damn impressive (without getting into the bracket of being overly technical). Even though the bass plays the backseat role pretty much the entire album, it does so valiantly and is absolutely essential to the album's success. It sits in the background and (at least somewhat) quietly takes the album from the beginning to the end on it's back. Is the bass the most important part of the album? It certainly isn't, but the album wouldn't be nearly as good without it. 2:35-3:30 in "Scenic Solitude and Leprosy" is a pretty good example of a section that, while seemingly dominated by the guitar, is being driven by the subterranean bass sound. Every time I listen through this album, the bass impresses me more and more each time.
Now Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that the guitars aren’t doing some heavy lifting, because they undoubtedly are. Take the first couple of riffs at the start of "Mine Molten Armor", They're absolutely blistering. Then at 2:22 in the same song Wrest slows it down and plays a little a creepy riff. Both of these are good examples of how Wrest is constantly using the guitar to create a feeling of melancholy and pain. As you might expect, the guitars abuse tremolo picking causing a general sound of discordance. Wrest does a pretty good job of changing up his riff style (sometimes playing a semi-groovy hooks, and sometimes sections of almost pure beauty), but in the end, Wrest’s guitar strength is reliant on his ability to create unnerving, happiness-shattering riffs. Some of his riffs just ooze with agony and sorrow (0:58 "At the Door to the Tenth Sub Level of Suicide" is a perfect example of this).
One thing that I found to be interesting was the use of keyboards. They’re not used heavily, and when they are they are usually during beginning, ending, or interlude type sections. I found this to be a very strong trait. While, I think keyboards are good at adding ambience, and a lot of time, mood, I think here Wrest has discovered when they're good for complimenting a section, and when he should just let the other instruments do their thing.
The arrangements of the songs are another strong point of the album. Even with most of the tracks being five to six minutes or more (with four being over seven, and "At the Door to the Tenth Sub Level of Suicide" being over fifteen) I never felt bored, or that the songs were dragging on . This has a lot to do with the arrangements. There's enough new stuff going on all the time, that I'm never given a chance to feel as though a song has gone on for too long.
All in all “The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide” is one of the better records I’ve heard in a while. The music is interesting and well-played. Yet, in the end, the album is great because Wrest has done a superb job of painting a terrifying picture of horror - which makes me listen to this record over and over and over and over.
Slowly but surely, Leviathan's Tenth Sub Level of Suicide has worked its way to be one of my favorite albums of all time.
I can't explain what drove me to really pursue this album, but I did and it completely
consumed me. I truly love this album, and within a year of my life I do not think I went one day without listening to it.
Leviathan plays a raw, atmospheric, dark, and ambient style of black metal. It is hateful, mournful, depressive and destructive. While it is labeled as "suicidal black metal" it is more moving and powerful than any other album in the genre, and it manages to do this without sounding cliche. Even some of Wrest's lyrics are impressive.The production is raw and gritty, which works extremely well here. With the given production the album gains a depth that is unmatched in my eyes(or ears for that matter). Tenth Sub Level requires multiple listens to catch all these enthralling melodies and pieces of ambiance. While the spotlight is typically on the guitar, the keys and the bass are just as important in setting the ambiance and atmosphere.
From the intro until the closing second on the title track, The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide is guaranteed to be one of the darkest and complete albums you will ever hear. Each track flows perfectly, even though some tracks are more aggressive than others( Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice and Mine Molten Armor) they fit the mood and tone of the album perfectly; they also provide a nice counterpoint to the slower or more 'moody' songs.
Not only is Wrest one of the most competent composers of metal, he is also a gifted musician. Wrest is able to drive each song with amazing vigor while behind the drum set. He goes from typical blast beats, to great off time sounding beats, and everywhere in between. I love the drumming on this album, it fits each song perfectly. This album is full of beautiful, catchy, minor riff melodies. As mentioned earlier, this album would lack all atmosphere if it weren't for the synth and bass. While most bm albums have a bass somewhere in the background, the bass shines through plenty here(Scenic Solitude And Leprosy and Ye Whom Shadows Move Towards) and provides strong bridge work for the guitar to cover. As expected the synth holds up a lot of the ambience's, in fact the ambient track "Submersed" is one of the best tracks on the album. And finally, the last instrument; the voice. Wrest's voice is disturbing and frightening. At times it seems
toyed with thanks to some studio magic, but it's still chilling and perfect for the album.
The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide is a masterpiece. Few albums in my mind even compare, it's also an album that is extremely consistent and should be listened to from beginning to end. This album deserves endless praise and is highly recommended for any fan of black metal.
Among the head of the Californian black metal horde, Leviathan surely is a strange breed stirring a strange brew, with Leviathan’s one man ghoul Wrest combining his own special hybrid of black metal, dark ambient, and post-rock riffs, furthermore among truly alienating atmospheres (which is added by keyboards; quite tastefully used in most respects), both grotesque and majestic, sometimes simultaneously.
Now this is where things become fairly difficult; The Tenth Level of Suicide works well in some areas and struggles in others just the same. To have a proper analysis in order, I’ll be dissecting areas to subject them to the most effective examination.
The blueprints of all of these songs are structured with good intentions, but some of the songwriting works much more in favor for some songs than others. Many Leviathan fans might know well that Wrest doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to changing up the songs to prevent stagnation; this album is chock-full of riffs. Many times however, I notice some passages of songs to be tedious; there is no sufficient buildup or climax in some tracks. That’s a part of the formula that seems to be missing, and many times there are just successful bridges into other parts of the songs. The entire contents however don’t lack all intensity. There are all sorts of noises, textures, and atmospheres present that give the songs a degree of intensity as well as interest. I might say that my personal favorite would be “Scenic Solitude and Leprosy,” the albums fifth track, for the great succession of riffs and smoother transitions. For example, “The Bitter Emblem of Dissolve” gives off this feeling of being in a decrepit cathedral in a night raging with storm, before giving away to this desolation of emptiness, one of the successful ambient backdrops that Wrest uses to good advantage. In other displays, “Submersed” gives that eerie and dark, yet ethereal use of his keyboards. I personally would’ve thought that the album track of nearly the same name (the last track) would be extremely morose, but there is much more energy there than I would’ve expected. There are parts in the song where I notice some real drive and emotion, but not much of a great deal of sorrow; the track is much more bitter and grim. Many of the songs as well perform their share of emotion and drive, and yet, the emotion isn’t really what’s lacking. There are some improvements where I think marks have been missed, but I noticed a good deal of thought went into the structures of the song and a great deal of effort would make me say that it would be enough for this to be a successful album in this area.
As the album title suggests, most of this album is about just what it says, suicide. I find most of it to be something not to overlook, as I prefer to digest it, as I find it worthy of being noted, as well as it being thoughtful poetry. One person I know in particular on M-A might say that he hated the song titles, due to their verbose quality and extravagance. “Sardoniscorn” has a passage that recalls Wrest and his supposed encounters with otherworldly figures: “come with us, you belong to us, kill yourself, you deserve this.” Now whether he might believe in whatever he’s talking about, or whether it might be figurative is of no concern to me. “Mine Molten Armor” gives off the vibe of a zealot: “bitter taste of ash, your whimpers feed the flame, the scent of fear, and searing flesh, I will meet you with war.” Wrest even recalls an account of the sun going out in “The Idiot Sun,” in all of its exaggerated notions. I noted myself, that “Mine Molten Armor” and “Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice” might very much be outside of anyone else’s comprehension, but I happen to like Wrest’s writing style.
Production isn’t exactly the same for any Leviathan song, and on this album, it’s just the same. On one hand, you could have “Sardoniscorn,” having a much cleaner sound, with bass and treble levels fairly low, and vocals taking prominence in the foreground of the song. On the other hand, something like “He Whom Shadows Move Towards,” the bass is very audible, and the guitar is a bit scratchier, treble turned up. I suppose that this where Wrest gains and at the same time, loses some efficacy. Usually on the album, the guitars are fairly thin, but the bass can usually be heard, and the programmed drums (it’s not at all a negative in my book; Wrest uses them well with the analog drum kit) are sporadically fascinating, but for the most part, are exceptionally precise, both in sound, volume, and for their propelling force in most songs. The sound is a bit irregular, and I can’t explain it without bias as I’ve listened to Leviathan so many times. I can’t say at times that the production works for all songs, but at times it tends to fit here and there.
For all of the criticism I’ve created for this album, I didn’t think it would do any good if I didn’t point out what I thought what was wrong with it. But for it being Wrest’s first release, I must say that The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide has some real potential for growing on someone after a few listens, despite the ups and downs it may create at first. I also believe that this album does show that glimmer to some of the brilliance that Wrest does have, and I think it’s a stable groundwork for his next full-length.
Production: While there is a distance created by a layer of black metal atmosphere now famous in the genre`, there is a clarity in each specific instruments's tracks creating a grim but smooth sound. The only exception to this is the vocals, which are ragged and harsh, sounding as if a hacksaw has been taken to the vocal chords.
As the title suggests, the focus of this album is, much like Wrest's other project, Lurker of Chalice, the journey through serious suicidal thought. Unlike Lurker of Chalice, Leviathan thrives off the hatred side of despair, showing the listener that not only can sadness cause suicidal contemplation, but pure rage towards human life can as well.
The mutilated vocals are a true manifestation of what one can expect to find coming from a soul as tortured as this. No whining. No pitiful self absorbed ego gratification. Just a writhing beast; don't get too close, you'll lose an arm(or more)!
At times there are similarities to Mutiilation, in that both dive freely into the deep current of black emotion; letting the depths suck them deeper until all that remains is the unlit abyss. One can find several influences as the album progresses though, and this is one of the charms that Leviathan possesses. Wrest never tries to take black metal out the boundaries of known workable theories, but takes the formulas that have been proven to deliver, and execute the best ideas to get the best results.
Wrest is a solid musician; familiar enough with guitars, bass, and drums to piece together songs so well that, without prior knowledge, one would think an entire band had recorded this album.
Drums are not easy to play if one cares to add any semblance of style, and Wrest proves that he has more skill than that of an average drummer. Sure, there is not a lot of flash presented here, but each part is played to perfection, guiding the melodies with rhythms that add exactly what the song needs to thrive. Plus, any non-drummer who's tried to stumble through a drum set will tell you the drum fills executed here are not for those who can barely keep 4/4 time.
That being said, drums are not the life's blood of this album. The melodies created by the inspiration of despondency is the priority of this musical experience. Vile chaotic phrases are taken out of the repressed depths of the human psyche and brought forth in angry, nihilistic guitar riffing.
The bass guitar can, in no way, be overlooked either. So often in metal recordings this amazing instrument gets neglected; buried somewhere in the final mix. Not so with this release. The final mastering not only made sure the bass was audible, but a major force in the mix. Wrest, again, shows his musical giftedness; one could easily through a bass track together without much thought, but here the bass in ever present with lively force; either supporting the musical theme of the moment or creating it's own(Scenic Solitude and Leprosy has a great example of this).
Leviathan is a well put-together project by one individual. It is impressive that one man has such an understanding of each instrument and how these instruments interact in the formation of well made song structures.
“There is no light for you…at the end of the tunnel.”
And so begins Leviathan’s opus, a journey through the blackest depths of one man’s despair and hatred turned completely inward. Not only is this by far Leviathan’s finest hour, it’s one of the most amazing black metal bands I’ve ever heard. Wrest(the genius behind Leviathan) is a master of creating an absurd level of atmosphere, at times with utter simplicity. This atmosphere is one of the factors that sets Leviathan apart from other bands. Beneath the riffs, the insanely haunting vocals, the surprisingly audible and well-done bass, and the amazing drumming, there lies the background for each song that creates the mood. Before forming Leviathan, Wrest used to compose ambient music and it definitely shows. Give a listen to the middle of “Sardoniscorn” when everything drops out, and all that’s left is a simple bass line, subtle, but excellently done keys, and Wrest’s tortured screams, and you’ll understand exactly what I’m saying. You can pick up on slight noises in the background, but rather than distract you from such a simple point in the song, they completely envelop you and turn what would normally be nothing more than a break from the song into one of the most mind-fucking parts of the album.
Being a musician, there’s no way I could ignore Wrest’s unbelievable talent. Besides performing everything on the album(vocals/guitar/bass/keyboards/drums), he does it all magnificently. As stated before, he is able to create amazing atmosphere with the riffs he writes, be it fast-paced tremolo picking, or subtle clean notes played slowly. The bass was the most surprising part of the album, given how rarely bass is even audible in most black metal. Besides just making the bass audible, Wrest opted not to go the far-too-often traveled route of having the bass mimic the guitar, but to have the bass take off on it’s own, adding it’s own layer to each song. The keyboards, while used scarcely, add amazing depth to the songs. I’m especially pleased with the drumming. Rather than using a drum machine as so many of his peers chose to, Wrest played all the drums himself(he’s quite talented, he’s been playing the drums since he was 13). Those looking for the overused and boring orgy of nonstop blastbeats should look elsewhere, Wrest knows exactly what to play, and when to play it. He can pound away at his kit, or he can lightly add a few cymbal hits here and there if the mood calls for it. You can tell that he planned out every piece of this album to create the perfect mood, and he succeeds on all counts.
This is one of the most depressing albums I’ve ever listened to(the greats of doom metal included), and each track manages to surpass the previous. After the chilling intro, “Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice” is a fast-paced opener to give the album a frenzied start. A few tracks later, it begins to slow down with calmer pieces such as “He Whom Shadows Move Towards”, and the ambient, vocal-less “Submersed”. The definite highlight of the album would be “The Idiot Sun”, a track that begins with Wrest proclaiming “The scent of your weakness ignites this metal!” before launching into the slow-paced, most depressing song I’ve ever heard. After about 9 minutes of utter despair, the epic, 15 minute title tracks rolls around to close the album and complete the package.
In conclusion, this is one of the finest albums to come along in a while. At first glance, the casual listener will find an above-average black metal album. But repeated plays will show you all the intricacies and details that come together to make this album a must own. You are missing out if this album is not part of your collection.
USBM could currently be undergoing a significant rebirth. Bands like Weakling, Averse Sefria, Krieg, and Xasthur are all generating black metal with all the requisite elements in the right porortions: grim thick guitars, tortured semi-distorted screams and gurgles of hate, corpsepaint, obscurity, and the other aspects of a band one expects to find in an underground black metal outfit. However, there is also a flame of creativity, of musical depth, and even emotional power being lit. Leviathan is a part of this larger yet still not widely recognized movement.
The album is a singular tower built of the foundation of harmony. Thick chords move between varying degrees of tempo and phrasing, almost always spewing forth a dissonant and jumbled swath of intervals more organic than many other styles of black metal. Taking on the theoretical formula of Darkthrone’s perverted folk voicings of simple chords, augmented and diminished with dissonant 2nd and 7th intervals, Leviathan crafts haunting dilapidations of tone and mood. Guitars are surprisingly varied considering the harmonic brooding nature of the chords involved, as doom-based sections of droning repetition give way to immense spaces of complex melody only to later meet sections of speed and primal aggression as more classic ‘evil’ musical ideas move quickly only to fold upon themselves. Similar in voice and pacing to more mid-paced but twisted song aesthetics like Vlad Tepes or even Graveland, emotive refrains of droning strumming of dense diminished chords spread over two guitars give a vast and surprisingly stark and evocative mood. In the better traditions of black/doom bands such as Shining and Forgotten Tomb, the melodies and shifting harmonies take painfully long to develop but also wash satisfyingly over and through the listener as spirits in fog. Unlike the mentioned bands, Leviathan moves among quite a few styles of metal in the same song without sounding disjointed or overly ambitious; instead coming across well-rounded and articulate.
Bass has a distinct and important voice amid the harsh guitar tones, almost clean as it harmonizes intelligently with the vast chords being cast out among the stringed instruments like a net. Many times the bass moves hidden within larger guitar chords, only to peek out for a few riffs to prove it can add dimensions to a raw black metal recording, only to fade away for long sections or even whole songs. Given separate lines almost like minimalist but excellent keyboarding, the bass largely compliments the music instead of overpowering it.
Keyboards are barely present on the recording, and as such appear very infrequently but with potency. ‘Sardoniscorn’ features a slow piano melody over ambiance that’s not nearly as cheesy and predictable as its individual elements would seem, and amid the harsh complexity of the rest of the album, becomes an appropriate break that actually adds to the mood instead of killing it.
Vocals here are distorted screams and howls shrouded in dense curtains of reverb. There is so much echo and even distortion on the vocals as to render them more effect than performance, and this trick works with some degree of effectiveness in helping along the mood of distance and alienation the band emanates with. Yet the vocals seem to be pushed far forward in the mix when most other instruments drop out, giving a jarring aspect to the production it might otherwise not enjoy.
Drumming here is amazingly forgettable yet not bad at all. It fits the mood and color of each riff so well it is hard to separate it from the overall music to any significant degree, and as such, it is outstanding and praiseworthy despite its transparence.
Overall this album evokes a very specific emotion in the listener. The mood is complex and conflicting, almost visceral as waves of shuddering despair alternate with those of reverential awe. Despite all the talk of emotion and droning passages and thick majestic dissonant chords, there are many blocks of much older metal here, as minor and power chords and even melodic hooks give a primitive feel to the otherwise evolved sound Leviathan emits. A good example of this blend can be heard on the song ‘Submersed.’ That ‘new usbm’ chimeral sound that is at times distinctly Norwegian (think of the musical ideas that Taake, old Emperor, and even Ulver share) in its use of dissonant perverted folk chords, other times modern and ambient, and other times heavy metal; this combination of influences becomes a distinct sound Leviathan is not the only one to use, but they are certainly at or near the pinnacle of achievement in the field.