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A split album showcasing two one-man black metal acts from California, this self-titled release by Xasthur and Leviathan does not beat around the bush but drops you right into its heart of thorns. "The Eerie Bliss and Torture (of Solitude)" takes the listener straight deep into Xasthur's unrelenting world of blacker-than-black depression. Repetitive guitar riffs grind and churn continuously while Malefic's treated vocals moan and growl as part of the noisy yet melodic chaos. "Conjuration of Terror" is more conventionally song-like with actual lyrics and a definite lead guitar solo over the raw and amorphous layers of guitar distortion but it's still packed with horror and a mood bordering on madness. These tracks are the most interesting of the original four songs that Xasthur contributes to the split.
On the CD version of the split are included three additional tracks, one being a rehearsal of "Telepathic with the Deceased" and another a Katatonia cover. The first of the three, "Achieve Emptiness" tends to be a noisy guitar whirlwind and howling grim voices. "Telepathic ..." has a spikier sound, a deeper and crunchier bass, and more genuinely menacing vocals: this is Xasthur at his most beefed-up and substantial, and the best song of his on this split.
Leviathan is left with three tracks but what tracks they are: "Unfailing Fall Into Naught" is a delirious mad spiral into permanent anguish and pain with a despairing guitar tremolo loop riff and rattling dry vocals. This song feels more like the real deal in the way of depressive black metal than Xasthur whose songs sometimes seem sonically thin and at times even sound as if a big part of them was digitally produced. "Unfailing Fall ..." ends convincingly with a severely melancholic instrumental / ambient coda, spreading in its wake despair at the universe's indifference to its self-aware inhabitants. "The Remotest Cipher (Beside the Last Breath Vanished)" is another good track with a sense of finality and a musical style that combines black metal and some musical elements similar to post-rock and prog. As the song progresses, atmospheric wash effects, more instrumental guitar tremolo melodies and subtle key changes lead to a majestic climax that dazzles the ear before fading away gracefully. "Where the Winter Beats Incessant" is a Judas Iscariot cover which to be honest sounds very ordinary after the previous track. It does pick up though as it progresses and a solo guitar instrumental dropped somewhere in the first half of the song adds an epic touch to the track. The song throws out one surprise after another and guitar riffs and melodies are almost suffocating in their repetition and sinister nature.
The album is worth at least hearing out for fans of both bands; for first-time listeners, the Leviathan tracks are better as a group when it comes to dishing out mournful atmosphere, anguish and musicianship than the Xasthur ones although some individual Xasthur tracks are not bad. Xasthur is bearable in small doses and if people aren't able to decide if they want an entire album of Xasthur songs, they can always stick with this split.
First and foremost, I'm willing to bypass the Xasthur side completely during this review simply because this is one of Leviathan's best efforts. For fairness' sake I'll give my views for Xasthur's output on this recording. I'll skip the whole "two of America's most prolific black metal bands on one recording!? must buy!" thing and go onto the quality.
As with most of Xasthur's work, it's a love/hate thing for me. Instantly the awkward keyboards start off Xasthur's side; not a good beginning. The keyboards thin out to a more sensible melody as the track goes on, which doesn't save it from the lack of interesting riffs, or anything interesting for that matter. Problems like this, along with the obviously fake drums really hinder Xasthur and his genuine skill at writing bleak, transcending black metal. It's a shame to pair him with Leviathan on this release because he looks completely amateur. Now, now, there are saving graces for Malefic in this recording, one of them being "Conjuration Of Terror" thankfully Malefic decides to not clean pick his way through the whole goddamn song and actually uses a really cool riff. Good song overall and a nice midsection that builds back up. The Instrumental isn't that bad, in fact it's pretty good; I love the idea of Wrest playing drums for Xasthur. I've never really given Xasthur's side a full listen, and breezing through again I can see why. This is pretty bad for Xasthur, his most cliché crap,this is what makes people dislike the band. The songs are walls of distortion, howls and screams, stupid clean picked guitar notes and programmed drums. I consider myself a fan of Xasthur, but this ain't too hot.
Now, where the heart is. Leviathan brings what you've come to love and enjoy, only on a much grander scale. The two tracks included are both amazing and flawless, and without a doubt are some of Wrest's most inspired and moving works. Unfailing Fall Into Naught beings with an eerie ambiance that is broken by a great slow riff and ethereal keyboard accompaniment. The song is a mid-paced dirge which alternates around three riffs or so which are all quite captivating. Wrest's vocals are good as ever and the track ends with one of the better ambiance sections for a good three minutes. It's a simple, but enthralling song, chock full o' atmosphere.
The second song begins with a mighty howl and that nice 4th notes on the high-hat and constant double bass feel. A strong riff and ethereal keys carry onto the next riff and from there it's magic. I'm not going to bother with a play by play, but this song is one of the more moving and powerful Leviathan songs. The guitar builds and builds, almost until you can't imagine it getting any higher and then, like the bleak music that it is, it simply dissolves into a somber, strangely blissful sea of distortion.
Wrest completely carries this release. Long, powerful, and atmospheric as hell is the best way to describe each song. Each song speaks a multitude, more than some of his other whole releases.
Along with the three full lengths, the Speed of Darkness, the Crebin split, Portrait in Scars, and The Blind Wound, the Xasthur split is essential listening and should not be missed.
Though always wondrous curiosities, split releases tend to be frustratingly sketchy affairs. Almost invariably, at least one of the artists involved isn't quite up to scratch. Of course, with the unholy union of these two leading lights from the NWOABM, there is no such disparity. Both bands are veterans of the split release circuit, with a slew of such emissions to their credit as well as their own burgeoning back catalogues of staggering one-man art. Despite their prolific nature, Malefic and Wrest exercise very stringent quality control and, on this amalgam, both maniacs bring something exceptional to the altar.
This release originally saw the light of day in painfully limited vinyl format and those were quickly gobbled up. I never managed to acquire said gem, but listening to the tracks now it is clear that my loss was profound. Leviathan and Xasthur is a marriage made in Hell, just as we like it. The CD re-release should not be interpreted in any way as an attempt to cash in on the rising popularity of the two projects. Indeed, as if second-guessing such a reaction, four bonus tracks have been added (three from Xasthur) to the six contained on the original, effectively bumping it up from EP to LP status.
These bonuses are not mere token gestures, either. From Malefic, we get the sprawling, creepy Achieve Emptiness as well as a valid rehearsal version of Telepathic With the Deceased from November 2004 and a stupendous cover of Katatonia's Palace of Frost. Wrest joins in the spirit of worship with a magical reworking of Judas Iscariot's Where the Winter Beals Incessant.
What we have on our hands is trademark Xasthur/Leviathan fare. It's harsh, grim and ugly chamber BM, yet moody and somehow beautiful in its own special way. You know the way funerals are beautiful? The vibe of both bands is similar as we encounter a Burzumesque melancholy with wrist-slitting razorblade riffs that culminate in a bloody yet glorious end-of-life release. This is suicide music. But, if you do opt to kill yourself, you won't ever hear it again - therein lies the rub!
I cannot recommend this album enough. If you are already familiar with the bands concerned, then you know you must buy this. If you still haven't discovered the American Nightmare, then right here is as good a place to start as any.
Seven of the ten tracks are from Xasthur, but Leviathan's numerically more modest contributions are lengthier, so we have a good balance. Clocking in at five minutes over the hour, this is an essential release both in terms of quality music and value for money. Personally, I wouldn't necessarily regard this as the best work that either demon has produced (see Nocturnal Poisoning and Verrater) but that was never the point. As a treat for the fans, it's still incredibly good and constitutes a thoroughly relevant slice of prime evil wizardry.
Buy this immediately and all hail the New Wave Of American Black Metal.
Note: This review is for the CD version of the Xasthur/Leviathan split released in 2005 by Battle Kommand Records that features 4 bonus tracks not available on the LP. Leviathan is reviewed first since this appears on the Leviathan page.
California has certainly been a hotbed of activity as of late within the USBM scene, with a number of quality bands making names for themselves both domestically and abroad, something this native has been most pleased with! These include Draugar, Crebain, and the subjects of this review; the prolific Xasthur from the Los Angeles area and Leviathan, representing the Bay Area scene. They’ve teamed up to produce this excellent, though not exactly groundbreaking split of suicidal black metal.
Wrest of Leviathan is probably my favorite artist within the California black metal scene and has shown the most promise in terms of musical progression and ability. His half of the disc continues this trend, focusing more on atmosphere than the more straightforward style of The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide. Case in point: the 10+ minute long “Unfailing Fall Into Naught”, a sublime exercise in despair and hopelessness that ends with a brilliant and emotionally-charged ambient section that brings to mind Wrest’s Lurker of Chalice project. “The Remotest Cipher (Beside the Last Breath Vanished)” is absolutely beautiful, the kind of song best enjoyed on a rainy night with the lights dimmed. The guitar melodies in this song drip with melancholy and are completely engulfing - this is easily one of Leviathan’s finest compositions. A cover of Judas Iscariot’s “Where the Winter Beals Incessant” comprises the entirety of the bonus material and is, like the original, not especially interesting to these ears.
If you’re familiar with Xasthur, you know exactly what to expect from Malefic’s half of the album. Cold, depressing black metal dealing with suicidal themes, somewhat reminiscent (musically, not lyrically) of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss-era Burzum. “The Eerie Bliss and Torture (of Solitude)” leads things off, a slow tempo affair with some genuinely haunting keyboards and some of the most tortured vocals I’ve heard from Xasthur. “Keeper of Sharpen Blades (and Ominous Fates)” is surprising both for it’s production, which is completely different from the previous track, and for the awesome acoustic bit about two minutes into the song. This is probably my favorite song on the Xasthur side of the split not counting the bonus material. “Conjuration of Terror” starts off with an unusually (for Malefic, anyway) up-tempo pace that slows down about midway through as those creepy keyboards take over. This is followed by an instrumental that surprised me upon first listen, as I was expecting the usual keyboard-only outro that can be found on any other Xasthur release. Instead, I got a kick-ass guitar driven piece with plenty of blasting and some inspired riffs, a refreshing change of pace from previous efforts. The first of the bonus tracks, “Achieve Emptiness”, is a keyboard instrumental that, while atmospheric, isn’t particularly interesting. The same cannot be said, however, about “Telepathic with the Deceased”, a shorter but better realized version of the title track of Xasthur’s 2004 full-length of the same name. The production and vocals on this version absolutely destroy the earlier attempt, making it the highlight of the split. A faithful and unexpected cover of Katatonia’s “Palace of Frost” from the Jhva Elohim Meth demo wraps things up nicely.
Overall this is decent effort that will appeal to fans of either band or the style in general. A shroud of darkness hangs over the Golden State...
*Note: Im reviewing the release with no bonus tracks*
Ok so i'm a Xasthur fanboy, really i am, i own everything the guy has put out, except 3 splits i'm missing (with Orosius, Acid Enema, and Nachtmystium). I really can see the whole vibe expressed on every album, and in all honesty i dont know what attracts me so much to Maleficus's creations. The truth is, this is my favorite band actually, not of black metal, i mean in all genres.
I also possessed, like 8 releases of Leviathan, mostly demo after demo, my favorite being Shadow Of No Light and Howl Mockery At The Cross. Wrest is a solid creator, I enjoy Lurker Of Chalice for example (his other band), but Leviathan, has such an enormous catalog that is easy for me to see, all the wrong steps, and the over releasing of albums. I mean, is this Burzum inspired releasing? He has average 4 releases in more than 3 years. That is actually either having no life, or just being abusive creative with your time. In any case, im not such a Leviathan freak, unlike with Xasthur.
As i really have a hard time finding great split albums, merely because always one band slashes the other into pieces, i do think this is the best split i have ever heard, with the like of that obscure Gorgoroth/Burzum split or the infamous Immortal/Ulver split. Now on to the song description:
Leviathan | Unfailling Fall Into Naught | - The main riff of this song, gives you a sense of melancholic, its the best riff in the whole album. The drumming is mid tempo, this song is quite long and dronning, you really have to try it over and over till it consumes you. At the 7 minute mark, we get the ambient outro, is it me, or this is what you must do lately with all depressive black metal releases? Meh, in any case, its quite good and really gives the song the desolate description, pretty much needed to totally feel "there".
Leviathan | The Remotest Cipher (Beside The Last Breath Banished) | - This is another mid tempoish song, what its quite interesting about this song, its how at the beggining the main riff is played in guitar, and then, little by little, switches into a beautiful piano lead, it is quite captivating, then it sort of switches back to guitar after a while, truly magnificent, out of the 2 songs from Leviathan, this has to be the best of them. The outro is simply a riff repeated over and over, but it works very well. I dont remember hearing such great songs from Leviathan, the drumming is very simplistic but it fits, and very different from other Wrest releases were the drumming is more complicated or trashy.
Xasthur | The Eerie Bliss And Torture (Of Solitude) | - What a fucking creepy keyboard we get starting this song, it is slow tempo the song, and those fucking vocals, they truly reflect only one word: Terror. My only complain of this song, its the fact that the cymbals are used non stop except like at the 4 minute, and maybe i believe they should have been stopped for a bit more, since it seems overused, but hey, its an artistic feel to do whatever the hell you feel like doing with some drum machine, so i'll take it as it is, and shut the fuck up. The eerie (pun intended) keyboard, continues, changing from rhythm like twice during the song, until it reaches a guitar plus vocals part, and thus the song ends.
Xasthur | Keeper of Sharpen Blades (And Ominous Fates) | - This song has quite a different production from the previous track of Xasthur. It really does sound like A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors, the song, with some different keyboards here and there. And quite a different tempo, but the comparison, its just unavoidable, once you hear it. At the 2 minute mark we get the kick ass, semi acoustic guitar with vocals and drumming. I love thoses weird guitar parts like the 3:50 moment of this song, where it all kind of goes even creepier, for Xasthur standards nowadays.
Xasthur | Conjuration Of Terror | - Finally some blasting, we get the fastest track of the bunch, ironically, the last "track" since the next one its an instrumental. Its blasting, then a mid tempo sort of breather part. Then more blasting, the production of the drum, is sort of annoying if you have a lot of treble, but oh well. At the 5 minute mark, it gets more calm, like the songs before. Its like the start of the outro of the song, i really do enjoy it.
Xasthur | Instrumental | - What?! an outro thats not only keyboards from Xasthur?! this is totally unexpected, in all seriousness, it was for me, this is simply some kick ass riff, on top of some decent drumming parts and the treble tv distortion we always love, that its present troughout the whole album obviously. It is not what i expected for an outro, considering Xasthur's past work. But it is quite good, its a more calmer feeling towards the end, even though the drumming is blasting.
Leviathan's side really inspired me to look for more of his releases, since this is truly a great side. Xasthur's side, its simply quite good and not sounding that rehash. It is quite difficult to rate, but i must say if we split the album in a 50/50
for each band, Leviathan gets the perfect score, and Xasthur gets a minus 7 for some slight details like the unexpected outro, the change of production between songs, so on, so forth. In conclusion, this is honestly just more material for those freaks of the bands and a perfect starting place for any Black Metal curious.