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True Traitor, True Whore is honest. Say what you will about the album (Wrest himself apparently dislikes the result) a sense of personal sincerity is not something that can often be said for black metal. There is plenty of music out there inspired by feelings of anger and betrayal, but how much really sounds like it was penned in the midst of rage? The best artists have almost always felt the nagging blade of despair at one point or another, but the art usually comes after the fact, after there's been some time to come to grips with the bad feelings and find a way to channel them productively. I can say from personal experience that trying to be creative while depressed or enraged isn't just difficult, but usually fucking impossible. In the instances where music is made in spite of the handicap, it usually comes out sounding a head less nuanced and in-depth than usual.
It's the same feeling I had when I listened to St. Anger for the first time; regardless of the shit that album gets, it felt like a rare instance where Metallica made themselves completely vulnerable to the listener. Leviathan's active surrender to hatred and anger is decidedly less out-of-place than that of Hetfield and co., but you can immediately tell Whitehead was in a different state of mind when he wrote and recorded the album. Having recently heard (and loved) Leviathan's follow-up record Scar Sighted, True Traitor, True Whore offers significantly less depth and replayability than that, or some of the other masterpieces Wrest has conjured over the years. Parts of it sound undercooked, eschewing the meticulous corners of musicmaking, as if he felt rushed to get the thing done before the bite of rage began to wear off.
True Traitor, True Whore is an album that cannot be dissociated from the circumstances of its recording, specifically the alleged sexual assault Wrest was accused of by his then-girlfriend. The album's title makes no attempt to dress Wrest's feelings about the situation in metaphor, and the song titles pull no punches-- suffice to say, it may be reasonably assumed that "Every Orifice Yawning Her Price" wasn't penned with the same feelings of tenderness Seth Putnam had when writing Picnic of Love. True Traitor, True Whore is one of the few black metal albums that make me really want to look into the lyrics. It's not everyday you see an artist in this style drawing upon their life so directly; alas, no lyrics are included in the CD booklet, and none have been released to date. Why has Wrest withheld this aspect of the art? Maybe the lyrics would see fit to confirm his guilt. The vocal performance here sounds appropriately tortured (and a mite more pronounced in the mix than Wrest's usual shrieks) but without explicit lyrics, it feels like a potentially vital part of the album's experience has been withheld.
Although the songwriting rarely stays in one place for long, True Traitor, True Whore tends to favour a stripped down approach; distorted dissonant guitars, organic drums, and a mire of indecipherable snarling. The composition rarely sounds like Wrest cares whether the minor details mesh together or not. A handful of excellent songs (the surprisingly nuanced "Her Circle Is the Noose" not least of all) have still emerged from it, but more often than not, there isn't the feeling that True Traitor, True Whore has hidden secrets to reward the particularly patient or attentive listener. The guitars and drums are both performed impressively (at least relative to the genre) but don't always blend well together. There are times on the album where it sounds like the two instruments want to play something separate from the other-- a strange impression to get when the music is being played by one guy.
Although the writing isn't nearly as consistent or adventurous as it has been with some of Wrest's other work (again, I have recently experienced Scar Sighted) the times where the music ventures past the typically hazy raw dissonance are usually effective. Hear, for instance, the wonderfully out-of-place acoustic break past the halfway mark on "Harlot Rises", or the miserable shoegazing on "Brought Up to the Bottom". The detours on TT, TW don't have the coherence and intention of a better rounded masterpiece, but they make a welcome contrast to the expression of malice unleashed throughout the rest of the album. Considering how brutal the album generally comes across as being, it's surprising there are any moments of experimentation to be found on True Traitor, True Whore. Anger doesn't tend to leave much room for artsiness.
Even within Wrest's fairly prolific career, True Traitor, True Whore stands as a unique entry. It's far from being Leviathan's greatest work, but at the same time, any changes or additions after-the-fact may have taken away some of the visceral charge this album has in store. This is music forged in the furnace of fresh hatred, the source of the album's greatest strengths and weaknesses alike.
Let's face it, when you pick up an album entitled, "True Traitor, True Whore," I think you know exactly what you're looking for and expecting. This album is exactly what you think it is, and it's exactly what you need.
While I can't understand a word Wrest says (as usual for Leviathan work for me), the incoherent croaking actually WORKS in this composition. When I hit play on my iPod or in my car, though, his vocal style is the angriest I've ever heard (desperate, too). It's a known fact Wrest prides himself in drumwork being his primary instrument of choice, but I wouldn't be so quick to put down his guitar work though.
There are some bands that invoke landscape, winter, especially when they combine dark ambience in with their black metal. Elffor does this nicely, Summoning as well. The ambience Wrest conjures is self-loathsome filth and bitterness spread across a bleak field of ash; and it's just what I need. I'd have to say, my favorite track on this album is "Brought Up To The Bottom," specifically, the :31 second mark and then repeated at 1:10. There's just something about the string bends, or slides, that he does when combined with his blast beat that instantly invokes windmill headbanging until your neck grows numb or the riff ends, whichever comes first.
"Her Circle Is The Noose," a slower-themed track with trippy chords, has a shoegaze effect upon the listener. To someone that enjoys Blut Aus Nord and Sun Devoured Earth, a little shoegaze in with hateful black metal is never a bad thing. This album, while seemingly centered on betrayal, is ANYTHING but emo. It's vengeful, hateful, disgusting. And it's what you need. When introducing someone to Leviathan, this would be the album to promote first, in my opinion.
My least favorite track on this album (and I do believe it's a repeated track throughout Leviathan's career), "Blood Red & True." The only reason I would hit skip on my iPod, is simply because to me the main riff is a bit repetitive. This is easily remedied halfway through the song though, as Wrest includes more of those trippy chords to lose yourself in.
I enjoyed this album, and it is a frequent play, when you're in the mood for it.
...in my book it's not exactly Leviathan.
The creepy processed shriek from "Tentacles" and "Howl" is absent here - Wrest instead makes use of a raspy croak that reminds me of the infant-esque screech of Maniac from Mayhem. His voice here sounds easily mockable to any teenage prepster who doesn't listen to or appreciate any extreme metal. And much to my chagrin, my efforts to track down lyrics to many of his releases has been fruitless (his unintelligible growl makes matters even more complicated). On songs such as "True Whorror", "Her Circle", and "Shed This Skin", he mixes in spoken word parts with more traditional heavy metal "shout-outs". Interesting to note is the sound of a female google translate voice speaking a foreign phrase (being black metal - probably Norwegian) on the album's introduction.
The drums here are being played by Wrest himself (which is good for him to show off his multi-instrumental abilities [Wrest does list drums as his "foremost" instrument]), however for Leviathan I truly believe the drum machines worked better. There is also a lack of blast beats to be found (in favor of a more groove metal approach) and the overall sound to the trapset is more bottom end than previous Leviathan drums.
The guitars are still dissonant, crawling, and Gorgoroth-like; there are effects on the guitars (i.e. tremolo and flanger) that might be considered sinful in the eyes of some black metal fans, but I rather enjoy them. The intro to "Every Orifice" has acoustic guitar and tambourine that is somewhat reminiscent of Burzum (as are other parts on the album).
For the album's face we are treated to a foreboding monochrome hand containing a spider, alphabet letters, and the Greek omega symbol. As previously with "Massive Conspiracy", the Leviathan logo is absent from the cover. Very strange, however, is the apparition of the crescent moon (in the top left corner) that Wrest often uses - I can only see it on my iPod screen! For some reason it is not there when viewed on my computer screen...???
Overall, if you interested in hearing a different side to Wrest (other than his ventures in Twilight or Lurker of Chalice) than check this album out! I myself await for what he has planned next.
Let's be honest: black metal fans love controversy. The modern form of the genre was born from out of a slew of church burnings, murders and suicides. The crimes and the music were beautifully blended together, i.e. Dead's shattered corpse on the cover of Dawn of the Black Hearts and the torched Fantoft stave church on the cover of Aske. So in a respect Leviathan's latest release, True Traitor, True Whore is a throwback. Extreme crimes blended together with dark, maniacal music.
Well, it looks like Wrest didn't actually sexually assault his girlfriend with tattoo tools, but that's not stopping him from capitalizing on the hype the allegations brought to him. True Traitor, True Whore is loaded with misogynistic phrases and dirty innuendos that keep those vile accusations in your mind throughout. However, apparently Wrest spent more time thinking up witty ways to express his hatred of women than he did devising interesting compositions. Amongst Leviathan's fairly impressive (albeit slightly overhyped) discography, True Traitor, True Whore is easily the weakest full length.
Musically, True Traitor, True Whore is surprisingly conventional when compared to works like Tentacles of Whorror or The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide. Those earlier albums were like riding some dizzying hyper-coaster that twisted you about in every way imaginable and left you nauseous and disoriented. True Traitor, True Whore is more like a marry-go-round; you can sort of see what's coming. The album is devised of several elements: fast and twisted black metal, slow and dirty passages and trippy stretches of blackened shoegaze. A lot of Wrest's success has relied on mixing these elements in unexpected ways. However, here all the shifts are pretty predictable. In the same way that seeing an all white canvas in a museum surprises no one anymore, neither do Wrest's musical twists and turns. Furthermore, he often telegraphs the changes, removing the element of surprise.
More problematic is that the performance is halfhearted. These songs are not seeped with fury, pain or madness. They sort of posture the feelings like a daytime TV actor. This album doesn't draw out those maddening psychopathic juices that previous Leviathan albums did. Wrest sounds tired; for most of the album it feels like he's just going through the motions. The guitars are weak and keys are tepid. Only the percussion draws much interest.
Now there are some decent passages throughout the album. Some of the more somber shoegazing passages are quite satiating and every once in a while there's a dose of disoriented, fucked up dissonance that stands up to Wrest's prior releases. However, most of this album just happens. It passes by like the daily commute; barely noticed. The only standout track is the heavy, depressive closer “Blood Red and True” which slams down gritty slabs of tragic doom and tops it off with luminous layers of swirling post rock riffs.
But like a bland symphony with some nice fanfare at the end, the closer cannot compensate for the pedestrian journey that preceded it. While there is nothing explicitly offensive or obnoxious about True Traitor, True Whore it ultimately lacks innovation, passion and staying power. All in all, this album is more hype than substance.
(Originally written for www.deafsparrow.com)
Where solo act Leviathan has found success in the past in densely harrowing, vulgar, and paradoxically beautiful efforts, he seems to over look it with his latest release True Traitor, True Whore. Personal impetus aside, the album appears to be a connect the dots effort in order to make an overall homogeneous, digestible, and painfully overproduced work that leaves a die-hard like me disappointed.
Much to blame is the production, not only in sound and style, but in the sheer amount of effects and things at hand for Wrest to over complicate and distract with. Right from the beginning there is this laughable gibberish which goes into a great curve ball riff that's then torn apart by a very violent and thrashing riff. I get it, he wants to play with the listener's expectations and contradict whatever might be pleasant and melodic sounding with violent and unsettling sounds; but it's just so forced sounding. This works well on some tracks, "Her Circle is the Noose" and "Blood Red and True", but for the most part, every song seems to follow the same idea and strains my interest.
The album is a strange form of retrogression as it borrows not only previously used ideas and tropes from Leviathan's back catalog, but also previous songs ("Shed this Skin" and "Blood Red and True"). The variance between tracks themselves is little, if any. They all jump from typical black metal sections to overproduced hazes of effects and creepy effects, in some way, shape, or form. Previous efforts had such strong writing chops and attention to structure, in that sense, True Traitor, True Whore feels much more like a pop album, where each track was conceived on its own and only the production with a vague agenda to keep them together.
While Wrest deserves the attention he's got for this record, I think it would've been more appropriate some five years ago. Sheer talent and good ideas don't save Leviathan from this overproduced (literal) nightmare of an album that lacks the atmospheric brilliance of prior releases and pushes the envelope of digestible dissonance black metal to another level. The simple, ending track "Blood Red and True" manages to build upon a simple, plodding riff which shows Wrest's talent for not only creating dense and creepy songs, but also something rhythmic and hypnotic.
Will I buy it? Probably on vinyl, because as both a fan and a collector, it has been Leviathan that first spurred me to collect records. Will I listen to it? Doubtful.
Originally Written for http://perpetualstrifemusic.blogspot.com/
In terms of United States black metal Wrest is certainly one of the consistent strongholds, quite possibly more resonating and musically attuned than any of his contemporaries. His project of Leviathan has always managed to tap into the darkest and most sinister corners of the brain and soul, especially discomforting on his Tenth Sublevel of Suicide and A Silhouette in Splinters efforts from a few years back. With his latest release True Traitor, True Whore being one of the more anticipated releases to round out the year I admit a certain excitement at what’s currently passing through my ear drums.
The thing to grasp on to during this album’s immediate sinister tone is that Wrest is particularly angry and the frustration and undisguised rage is abundantly evident with no room for shading the obvious. With most Leviathan recordings there is always an element of disdain and ebon filtering through the music, mostly obvious, sometimes not so much; through it all you know precisely the level of volatility and repetitious strife you’re encountering with each note he issues with well-constructed disgust and rancor. This album’s first two tracks in “True Whorror” and “Her Circle is the Noose” pretty much wipe clean any notions that this is the album where Wrest holds back or reins in the rage. It’s not too difficult to explain just how angry this record is in base sentences, but it certainly is a much more tangible entity when consumed with attentive register and a full understanding that what you’re experiencing is something much like Burzum only at a high level not seen since Filosofem.
The unhindered nature of Wrest’s inner torment is hauntingly evident as he slams through “Shed This Skin” as if he himself were physically trying to break free from bonds seen and unseen, laboring through a petulant period of diseased soul and mind. The music is his vehicle past the objected expectation of ‘modern’ black metal and takes on a somewhat more stylish spectral approach, literally offering a capricious view of what motivates him and also what drives him to produce such controlled violence in True Traitor, True Whore. If his Lurker of Chalice side gig was considered tempestuous and corrosive, then this latest Leviathan will cut that dead limb clean off and solemnly suture the edges for a borrowed posterity. For all intents and purposes this record could be construed in many different facets; the one guarantee is that all of it in its segregated forms are pieces of dark poetic eulogy; as a whole it’s a wild embracing of the hate and disgust in all of us that we often bury until forced into a catharsis that shifts the scales and unbalances even the most stringent of minds.
The beauty (or brilliant black serenity) of Wrest’s mind is that he doesn’t hold these ridiculous black metal devices too close to his vest; the music is allowed to rise and fall in occasional spurts of genius and depravity, and which is apparent and which is more elusive is up to personal interpretation. From the very horror dispersing from the chords of “Harlot Rises” into the literal doomy death feel of “Blood Red and True” the complete picture of pain and anger emerges from the dust din of what this record attempts to convey. I would go as far as to ascertain that this is Wrest’s finest hour in terms of total reckless honesty and resignation to his own inner turmoil. What drives the man these days is his business; what he allows us to view in terms of pieces of himself is a generous and often depressing gift.
The long three-year wait was worth the effort; Leviathan is what I consider the reigning U.S. black metal band, even though Wrest seems to have found the astral plane that transcends the obligatory and pierces the very core of essential necessity.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)
I have never been disappointed by a Leviathan album. Without exception, Wrest’s output under this moniker has been consistently brilliant. And the new album ‘True Traitor, True Whore’ more than lives up to my lofty expectations. Not that I actually had any expectations because – like most of you – I didn’t even realise this full-length was in the pipeline.
The silence from Wrest regarding his main solo project was almost deafening since the release of ‘Massive Conspiracy Against All Life’, which landed three years ago and was hyped / billed as Leviathan’s last-ever album. Since then, the mainman has been caught up in some rather unsavoury news stories, which we should assume to have no substance whatsoever seeing as there were no criminal charges and Wrest – thankfully – is still at large.
But the whole experience has obviously had a very profound effect on him as his creative juices started to flow again and with oh so much vehemence and invective! Doesn’t take a genius to work out that this collection of tunes is aimed at the female who made those accusations – the album title says it all really, not to mention song titles like ‘Her Circle Is The Noose’, ‘Every Orifice Yawning Her Price’ and the monumental ‘Harlot Rises’.
Thankfully, the raging muse so evident in the lyrical / conceptual content doesn’t manifest itself in the actual music, which remains focused and incredibly catchy by Black Metal standards. Of course, there’s always been a certain amount of aggression in Wrest’s work anyway (fuck me, it is Black Metal after all), but what I mean to say is that these songs are no more raw and visceral than any of his previous offerings. Instead, what we have is prime Leviathan. Superb, otherworldly Black Metal with a keen psychedelic, psychotic edge.
The production is immaculate and the play-off between the cavernous, harsher components and the hypnotic, more ambient textures is a joy to behear. All in all, this is an exceptionally good volume of work that easily measures up to everything else in this towering Black Metal leviathan’s astonishing back catalogue. ‘True Traitor, True Whore’ is worthy of a place in every collection.
(Review originally appears on http://www.blackmetalreviews.com)
Perhaps my sole favorite USBM act currently active, Leviathan has rarely failed to impress me with its grimy marriage of primordial, dissonant black metal and ambient, atmospheric squalor, and it's been a pleasure for years to mine the wealth of demo material, splits and full-length efforts that comprise the project's back catalog. Like another California-based act, Xasthur, the name of Leviathan has become eponymous towards the genre's expansion into the new century, though it's certainly also earned his detractors, because really, what great artist doesn't? Thus, I was quite dismayed to find that Wrest, the sole force behind this one-man exhibition, had thought to disband the project after contractual disputes with Moribund Records, and even more so when certain allegations were brought up against him early this year which might preclude another eagerly anticipated full-length...
Now, I don't mention said allegations for any other reason than Wrest has chosen to use them as an inspiration this latest opus, True Traitor, True Whore, which is more or less back with a vengeance towards the styles he was exploring with earlier works like Tentacles of Whorror (2004) or the superb Tenth Sub Level of Suicide (2003). Rather than dodge the Great Matter of his personal life, he has chosen to explore it, to wear the events as both sword and shield, from the imposition of a tattooed palm on the album's cover to the balance of wrath and misogyny implied in tracks like "Every Orifice Yawning Her Price", "Harlot Rises" or "Her Circle is the Noose". Understandably, this is an aesthetic risk, not likely to make a share of the potential audience comfortable, but then...comfort has NEVER been on the mind of this musician nor has it been reflected in any of his works. Frankly, I find it admirable. There aren't a lot of bands in this genre which explore such shaky, personal terrain. Many are faking thoughts of suicide, trekking across the wilderness or exploring strains of Satanism or a pagan lineage that long predates them.
But creative impetus aside, I think Leviathan fans will be satisfied that Wrest has not chosen some meek, accessible path to vent his thoughts. True Traitor, True Whore is fucking brutal, yet no less evocative of the dispersed sounds that have characterized his past career. The first track, "True Whorror" alone manifests in charging, discordant filth, moody and swaggering bass lines, a panoply of howls and snarls and all manner of ambient fixtures. Chaotic, crushing, and very often confusing, but nonetheless the track never goes for a second without hurtling something into the listener's ears. Personally I enjoyed the clean guitars plucked through the middle of the song, and the weird, down-pitched vocal samples which only add to the asylum-like atmosphere. Not all of the songs here are quite so dense and impenetrable; there are segments within "Her Circle is the Noose" and "Every Orifice..." which are deceptively calm, but the general rule is that something twisted and manic is always around the corner, and this apprehension-breeding aesthetic is one of the traits I've always so enjoyed about the music.
Wrest is a talented musician, of course, and can also break out the big riffs, like the liquid rocking groove in "Brought Up to the Bottom" or the chugging substrate of "Harlot Rises", but the album never gives its audience the clemency to get 'settled in' with any particular pace. Those who are fond of dissonant rhythmic cosmonauts like Deathspell Omega will likely find much to admire in tracks like "True Whorror" and "Shed This Skin", but Leviathan is never quite so precise or exhilarating as the French maniacs. Curiously enough, True Traitor, True Whore seems to be the most polished full-length yet from Wrest, in terms of sheer production. The guitars are loud and forceful, the bass curves and saturates the mix like an overturned vat of black blood, and the drums are dynamic and grooving. About the only thing repressed in the mix might be the vocals, if only that they don't often stand out against the instruments. The growls, yawning tortured groans and higher pitched snarls all sort of blend together, slowly flirting with madness.
All told, True Traitor, True Whore is an interesting experiment even if it doesn't surpass those works that have come before it. I felt with The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide or this album's direct predecessor Massive Conspiracy of Life that there were particular layers of subtlety that would develop the more I listened, whereas this seems to me more directly thrust into the face. That's not a bad thing, and the music is no less convoluted and complex for it, but it didn't really dwell on me or haunt my conscience as much as past entries, despite the dead seriousness of its subject matter. I'm personally glad that Wrest has decided to make some more music for this project, and this is a compelling, disturbing album worth the experience, for either the long-term fans, or those holdouts who might be convinced to give Leviathan another chance.