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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...