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Leviathan achieves maturity (for better or worse.) - 81%

ConorFynes, July 22nd, 2015

Leviathan's developmental shift from depressive (albeit sophisticated) bedroom murk to angular prog-black metal in the vein of Deathspell Omega was not wholly intentional, but that's not to say it was a mistake. Between Wrest's two primary projects, Lurker of Chalice was the one that better-suited the experimental approach. Massive Conspiracy Against All Life was originally intended as a Lurker of Chalice album, and it was only through label meddling that it became the third full-length under the Leviathan banner. With that kind of preface, it's easier to connect the dots between this and the first two albums. MCAAL is clearly torn from the same despondent outlook as Tentacles of Whorror and The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide, but the distinctly polished means of expression sets it apart from all its predecessors. In a broad sense, MCAAL was both the rebirth and maturation of Leviathan. This was an artist no longer content to linger on in the shadows. It could be said that adding more conventionally sound musicianship and full-bodied production standards actually worked against the alienating vibe of Leviathan's early material, but in doing so, Wrest solidified the evolution his career had led towards.

While the controversy surrounding its release helps to explain the anomaly a bit, there's still no album of Wrest's that sounds like Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. The two full-lengths and myriad demos previously released under the Leviathan moniker were far murkier affairs, and despite its original intended context, it sounds even a further step away from the experimental ambient-doom of Lurker of Chalice. Even Leviathan's future work sounds different; True Traitor, True Whore was a much more primitive surge more in line with the early stuff, and the most recent LP Scar Sighted was complex and varied.

From where I stand, Massive Conspiracy Against All Life seems to rest at the apex of Leviathan's career. Beyond even as it now stands as the chronological 'mid-point' in the band's evolution, this is the album where all of Wrest's motives-- past and present-- came together to inform his style. Though the dissonant, technically-inclined riffs justify its common comparison with DSO, there is far more at work in its style. Wrest may have given his work a fresh, 'modern' sheen with its production, but it's very much the same disturbing, dissociative atmosphere I'd have come to expect from his music. To date, Wrest stands as one of the very few artists in black metal with an inimitable atmosphere all his own; even his mellower sections (hell; especially his mellower sections) are weaponized to create a musical undertone that sounds and feels like the aural equivalent of nausea. Other bands have accomplished this as well, but none quite like Wrest; fans of his work will know what I'm talking about. Even with its modern bells and whistles, MCAAL carries that disturbing aura about it. With that essence intact, it feels like garden-variety kvltist gripes about Wrest losing touch on this album are that much more irrelevant.

Despite Leviathan's push towards a greater sense of controlled chaos by means of the swirling riffs and wall-of-sound production, I'd actually call MCAAL the most consistent and straightforward of Leviathan's full-lengths. At his most primitive, Wrest's material is still replete with uncomfortable twists and changes. One of my favourite things about experiencing The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide is the sense that I never know at what point he's going to switch from grimy black metal to ambiance, and vice-versa. Although MCAAL has a few examples of his best songwriting (most notably "Merging With Sword, Onto Them") I don't quite get the same sense of spontaneity with these songs, and that arguably is the most disappointing part of the album.

"Vesture Dipped in the Blood of Morning" introduces most of the album's threads, but it doesn't congeal in time to make a great song of its own; I tend to see it better as an extended overture for the incredible second track. "Receive the World" is some of the most energetic riff-centrism I've ever heard from Leviathan. "VI-XI-VI" and "Noisome Ash Crown" generally stick to his ambient side, and their black metal exploits are moderate and controlled. "Made as the Stale Wine of Wrath" and "Vulgar Asceticism" are solid indicators for the atmosphere-infused-with-technique style Wrest was working with at the point, but don't serve to justify their lengths. For all the progress made in its style and execution, the songwriting on MCAAL doesn't feel as organic nor exciting as I would have hoped to hear from a guy whose debut impressed me with virtually every riff he penned, almost without exception.

Massive Conspiracy Against All Life was not a step forward in every way for Leviathan, and I wouldn't call it my favourite of his albums, but it is Wrest at his boldest. As much as The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide deserves its own shade of legend, MCAAL is sharp and ambitious enough to have placed Leviathan in the big leagues. This bottomless pit calculated chaos can be a hard beast to tame, and if Leviathan's core songwriting was less vibrant this time around, I think it's excused on the merit that he was pushing himself hard in other ways. As the album with the dubious honour of being caught between eras, MCAAL is a perfect introduction to Leviathan, both old and new. It cannot justly be compared directly with the weirder stuff he was doing earlier; one cannot stay in the cradle forever, despite all of the primitive charms that come with youth. This album brought Wrest's execution to a level on par with the best modern black metal has to offer, and the leap forward opened new doors of possibility for the band as a whole. WithScar Sighted seven years later in 2015, and we're seeing the dismal buds of this album come full bloom at last.