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Wrest is the Best (Forget The Rest) - 95%

Zanderinfal, May 9th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2005, CD, ISO666 Releases

Leviathan is a project I absolutely adore. Whether it’s the earlier, more old-school releases (ala The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide), to the more experimental releases like Scar Sighted and Massive Conspiracy Against All Life – it seems that no matter what Wrest does, it turns out absolutely amazing. That’s a particularly great feat when you have such a large discography. Beyond just the full length releases, Leviathan has had a plethora of demos, splits, compilations and so on. These releases can vary in popularity, but for the most part, these releases are infinitely more obscure and lesser-known. Yet, one of Leviathan's most obscure works, Portrait in Scars, is arguably among his best work.

This split, done with an obscure little black metal band called Blackdeath, is celebrated by the few people who know it – but never because of the Blackdeath side. Basically, their side is generic, poorly written, poorly recorded black metal with nothing unique about it. With that out of the way, let’s discuss what makes Leviathan’s side so highly praised. Right off the bat, there are some immediate things that differences about this release. While TTSLoS and Tentacles of Whorror tended to use a lot of old school black metal riffs, Portrait in Scars tends to have way less. Instead, this release rings closer to being more of a full-blown DSBM release. In place of the Darkthrone-influenced riffs like the ones in Fucking Your Ghost In Chains If Ice or Heir to the Noose of Ghoul, Leviathan’s side of this split instead has shades of Shining and Xasthur. This release is much more reliant on melancholic, depraved guitar leads than it is the rumbling fury of 2nd wave black metal. Compared to any full length Leviathan had released, this was much more divergent from traditional black metal. This sound isn't just unique to this release however - around this time, Wrest did multiple different splits, and particularly his splits with Xasthur and Iuvenes (later rereleased as The Speed of Darkness EP) are in a similar style. Something else that others have noted makes this album different from the other splits he's done, is that there are film samples on this release. Prior to Scar Sighted, this was the first (and only) time he had done that, so it’s a pretty cool little addition to the split. Not exactly a big deal or anything, but it does add a little bit of atmosphere and context to the songs.

With stylistic differences aside, the first song, Corpse Glide (Beneath Great Dragon), is definitely the closest to his earlier works – both in sound and in title. After a quick sample, Wrest goes immediately into the blasting, dissonant riffing we have all come to know, with that signature Roland drum sound. However, it doesn’t take long for the song to completely change direction towards a more melancholic riff, with some truly evil arpeggios. There is a really satisfying chorus-like moment that appears a few times in the song, which falls somewhere closer to the aforementioned old-school Darkthrone riffing. It sounds like this song could have totally come out in the early 90’s. Overall, the song is the least interesting and most traditional of the songs here, but serves as a great introduction into the release. After all, the record takes a second to ease into the atmosphere before diving headfirst into the pure DSBM side of Portrait in Scars.

The second track, Mine Portrait in Scars, plunges the listener directly into the more depressed atmosphere the rest of the release reeks of. There is much more of a sense of ambience on this track, and the guitars sound truly fucked up. The leads are highly dissonant and drip with unbridled agony. The vocals at times sound more like the Silencer approach, coming off as a genuine howl of bloodletting as opposed to the shrieks Wrest is known for. The atmospheric use of (what I assume to be) a guitar loop gives the song a huge sense of layering; every single element of the recording lends itself to the extraordinarily suicidal tone the album is going for. The songwriting here is great, and it’s clear Wrest did a great job of using it to accentuate the emotions he poured into these songs. He knows when to repeat a section, and when to do something different, or go off on a tangent. The vocal phrasings are also masterful – he comes in at just the right times, and delivers his vocals without repeating the same patterns too much. As the track goes on, the sense of dread in Wrest's vocals become clearer, equally filled with vitriol and terror. The end of the song ends on an especially bitter note – removing the layers down to just the atmospheric guitar loop, before iterating the mission statement of the song with a sample from another film; “I want no mercy.”

The next track, The Wither Season, acts as an ambient interlude. Still, while it’s only an interlude, it plays an important part of preceding the final track, and it does that exceptionally well. This track particularly reeks with Xasthur influence – comparing this track to something like Disharmonic Convergence or the intro to Violating the Oblivious album, you can see where Wrest got the idea for this style of intro. But, that’s not to say it’s without its own charm; the track ends on a particularly “Leviathan” moment, where you can hear Wrest groaning out a call of confusion, or fear, or perhaps something else entirely. Whatever it is, it’s eerie as all hell. And before you know it, you’re thrust right back into the horrific atmosphere with Derision. This song is more of a dirge compared to the others. While the first song was a fast and rabid attack, Derision acts as a death knell to the release. While it certainly has the furious drumming and faster moments, there is an overall sense of finality. There are lots of slower moments, with simpler drumbeats that accompany some of the most desperate riffs on the release. At this point, the vocals are truly tortured, and Wrest sounds like he's moments away from a total mental breakdown. Any hope you might have felt at the beginning of Portrait in Scars is thrown out completely by the time you reach the final climax; every moment of this song screams out that "this is the end." To contrast against the ferocious intro to Corpse Glide, Derision ends not on an explosion, but a slow death. The final guitar drones sustain and ring out, as Wrest screams up a maelstrom. Just as quickly as the album began, it's snuffed out with a desperate whimper.

One of the things that I guess always appealed to me about Leviathan (and Lurker of Chalice) is that I don't find myself headbanging to Wrest's music. Instead, I sit and listen. I let the atmosphere and the raw emotions envelope me, and I think. This isn't music you'll find yourself singing along to, or windmilling to in your lounge room - it begs you to just take in every little element of the songs. Portrait in Scars is probably among the best examples of Wrest's more "sit and listen" type of tunes. Ultimately, DSBM lives or dies by it's atmosphere and the quality of the songwriting. In both of these cases, Portrait in Scars excels. The songwriting is memorable and catchy, but by no means is it easily digestible. The raw production works well to get across everything Wrest was trying to do here - it's rough, and it's imperfect, but that mirrors the music. That sense of depression isn't clean and crisp; it's soaked in a fuzzy haze, just like the feelings the music are trying to get across. Everything about this albums sounds tortured and malicious.

This is far from unique, though. While many bands do come off as tortured, it's hard to sound tortured and still have it ring with sincerity. While some bands like Draugr or Happy Days attempt to do the raw DSBM shtick, alot of their works don't feel sincere. There is a very fine line between mellow-drama and the real, honest feelings of betrayal and despair. This is the place Portrait in Scars ultimately succeeds - it's sad and wretched, but it's perfectly real for it's entire duration. That is what sets this entirely apart from Leviathan's own works, but also from alot of the DSBM scene in general.

Most mismatched pairing to be found on a split - 70%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, February 24th, 2013

At least in the realms of black metal, Americans and Russians are able to co-exist very well as demonstrated in this split album between USBM act Leviathan and the then duo Blackdeath from St Petersburg (Vladimir Putin's hometown). Each band contributes four songs to the album. Blackdeath plays a raw and ferocious style of primitive black metal with very demented singing, from what I remember of their "Saturn Sector" recording which to be honest didn't have much variety and wasn't very good. Leviathan have a more atmospheric style of black metal but there is still a strong aggressive element to the music.

On their side of the split, Blackdeath initially indulge in a lot of deranged vocal gymnastics against a background of noisy, buzzy black metal guitar shower. Track 2, "Der absolute Bose" is a bit more melodic than the first song but the croaky singing, or what passes for croaky singing, is still batshit nutty. Any differences in Blackdeath's contributions to the split are mainly in the details of the songs, analogous to fine print on legal documents which as we all know nobody ever takes notice of. The style stays the same throughout, ditto for the pace and the vocal style, and listeners can get the impression that the four songs must be linked chapters in one opus. The fourth and final track has different vocals from the other three - they're more bloodcurdling and a little deeper - but the music remains stubbornly the same.

Leviathan's side of the split begins with a sinister spoken incantation that opens the flood-gates to a genuinely aggressive and savage song "Corpse Glide (Beneath Great Dragon)" with a fierce if ragged vocal, pummelling rhythms and some bubbling tremolo lead guitar work. Each track begins with a spoken-voice sample that gets swept aside by a dramatic and often stupendous instrumental passage that introduces the main riffs and brings some aspect of Leviathan's style into very sharp focus: in "Mine Portrait in Scars", this is a sparkly guitar tone that is almost bluesy in feel. The singing here is more genuinely melancholy and anguished and the tone of guitar and the tremolo playing reinforce this sad atmosphere. Ambient space effects supply a dizzying mood that might allude to the disorienting depths of depression.

"The Wither Season" showcases the more ambient side of Leviathan: it's a deeply blues-influenced track with very dark jangly guitar chords and a charging noise-guitar blizzard, from beneath which pained synthesiser melody and guitar drone try to pass into the foreground. Banshee wails are just barely audible. "Derision" is a fairly straightforward piece with solid vibrato guitar riffs, militant drumming which might be a mixture of programmed beats and Jeff Whitehead's own efforts on the skins, and howling vocals filled with the pain of depression and other mental illness. There's also some experimentation with processed guitars and distorted voices.

Without a doubt, Leviathan put more effort into its side of the split in spite of there being only one person in that act while Blackdeath had the benefit of two in 2005. It's a pity this recording is so uneven: Blackdeath's half seems to be a continuation of that earlier album of theirs that I mentioned while Leviathan's half is practically a summation of what Whitehead is capable of in writing and playing music, and suggests that if he wanted to, he could take Leviathan into a more experimental, space-ambient, almost sound-art direction.

Another Piece of Necessary Listening - 95%

WinterBliss, January 3rd, 2009

Like the reviewer before me, I'd like to just skip the Blackdeath part of this split. It's really atrocious and frightfully bad. Awful, awful, awful recording with an uninteresting and stereotypical sound; forget it. That being said, this is a great release. Don't even think about the Blackdeath part of the album, and you'll be sure to enjoy this release a great deal. I'm not even equating them into the score of this release.

A similar low-key and on the thin side production is to be found here as it was on Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide, but as always it doesn't serve as fault or as an imperfection. There's also an oddity to be found on this release, something which I can't recall on any other Leviathan album: movie samples. They don't detract from the value of the release at all, in fact they fit fine, but it was just a big surprise for me. Beyond that it's all typical Leviathan; dense and harrowing atmospheres, distorted and tortured vocals, catchy and trance inducing riffs and a touch of ambiance.

The release starts strong with two of Wrest's better songs. "Corpse Glide" relies on a particularly catchy riff as the song carries itself at a medium to fast pace all along keeping things interesting with little breaks and changes here and there, as well as an awesome refrain. The second track brings about the more emotional and atmospheric side of Leviathan, which all starts off, and ends, with a twisted quote from Ichi The Killer (a personal favorite of mine) and acts a more ambient ridden song. "The Wither Season" serves as our expected ambient track. It's pretty neat, a bit on the creepy side, more in tune with his A Silhouette In Splinters release. Lastly the release ends with another phenomenal track, which showcases a nice mixture of a more direct black metal style song with a subtle but lethal dose of atmosphere and a calming drone ending.

This release is defiantly essential if you've enjoyed any of Leviathan's work. The first two tracks are seemingly accessible (for one who is accustomed to black metal and it's constant flirtation with analog recording in its poorest form) and should get you hooked on Leviathan. Skip over Blackdeath's stinky broccoli vibe and go straight for the meat and potatoes that is Levithan's side of this split.

Wrest Triumphs Once Again - 85%

Lord_Orgroth, July 17th, 2006

I had never heard of Black Death before purchasing this and after suffering through their half I never want to hear anything by them again. Their first three songs sound exactly the same and not in a good way. Standard new school black metal riffs and vocals are the worst I have ever heard. Black Death do not use any effects on their vocals which only makes them sound foolish. There is no real way to describe how ridiculous the vocals are and in no way is it recommended that one should buy a Black Death album to hear them. The fourth song's production is greatly improved so I'm assuming that it's not from the same recording session but it still does not make up for how god awful the first three songs were.

Wrest's half makes this split worth purchasing. Strangely each song-except for the last-starts with a horror movie sample. While this is usually a prerequisite with bad goth industrial it does not harm the songs. Whats also strange is that the samples don't return on the Sapthuran split. Wrest uses his side very well and each song demonstrates one aspect of the Leviathan sound. "Corpseglide" is the thrashier song and doesn't slow down for one moment. "Mine portrait in Scars" continues in the same way but towards the end travels into the ambient/shoegaze territory. Track 3 "The Wither Season" continues with this and is the instrumental but there are some vokills present just completely buried in the mix. "Derision" is more mid-tempo and concludes in some light droning. At this point the music drops out and the listener is left with the sound of Wrest's processed growl-the perfect way to end an album.

Bottom line: Get this for Leviathan but skip the first four tracks.