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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.