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Swirling expression of negativity. - 84%

ConorFynes, March 5th, 2015

Accursed, deaf and blind are those who continue to deny the new wave of black metal! As I'm aware anyone with at least a cursory interest in Leviathan's latest opus needs no proselytizing in this regard, I will keep my comment on genre brief; isn't it amazing where black metal (specifically USBM) has gone in the past decade? Granted, there remain a cabal of acts who (successfully, or otherwise) still create art as if the scene had never extended a few city blocks beyond Helvete or Ross Bay Cemetery, but it's the sense that I can hear a black metal album today that may not have been possible to make even ten years ago that keeps me excited. Scar Sighted is one such record, an ambitious 'something old, something new' statement, the likes of which critics and genre-elitists tend to speak of as were it the stuff of legend. Indeed, the album would be well-deserving of praise from both. Wrest's latest monument is a swirling expression of negativity, channelling a life of misanthropy through an impressive frame of ambition and technical precision. I have no doubts about it; Scar Sighted is the first truly great black metal output of the year.

Falling back on my first point a bit, it is quite impressive how much Leviathan has evolved as years have passed. I remember being introduced to the work of Wrest in the late '00s (either with Tentacles of Whorror or his split with Xasthur- I'm unclear which) and hearing music revelling in its own misery and self-imposed limitations. Jef Whitehead's talent (and, even more importantly, his sincerity) were clear early on, but it didn't quite sound like Leviathan were distinguishing themselves from their atmospheric predecessors across the Atlantic, much less establishing a new and vital scene.

Fast-forward to Scar Sighted, and I am hearing a smorgasbord of modern techniques and inventiveness I've come to associate with the best in 'current' black metal, particularly in the United States. Atop Leviathan's longstanding depressive essence, I'm hearing the disharmonic experimentation of a band like Deathspell Omega, the oppressive toneshapes of Blut aus Nord, even some of the quasi-Wagnerian pomp of The Ruins of Beverast. I'm sure other listeners will draw their own varying comparisons; individual perspectives may point a certain technique as the innovation of one band or another, but no single influence is strong enough to say Wrest has reinvented his modern incarnation based on that of someone else. Yes, most of the tricks on Scar Sighted probably aren't original to the album or Leviathan specifically, but the way in which all of the pieces have fallen together is passionate and uncompromising. If ever you wanted to hear what ambitious (but not outlandish) black metal should sound like in 2015, this is your ticket.

The biggest initial indicator as to Scar Sighted's quality only occurred to me after I'd heard it at least once. From the first experience, each song felt fully-fleshed and distinct from the others; it was only after listening - when I took a look at the formal track listing - that I realized it was over an hour long. Regardless of era or genre, an album that manages to stay engaging and fresh for so long is an impressive feat, indicative of mastery and inspiration. This is arguably doubly so in black metal, which often limits itself to the malefic corner of human expression. There are no entirely unexpected turns on Scar Sighted, but Wrest keeps the music on its toes nonetheless. "The Smoke of Their Torment" is a howling murk of variety and weird Deathspellisms. Compare that to the 'death metal meets atmospheric black metal' "Dawn Vibration", the depressive "Wicked Fields of Calm", the despondent pace of Scar Sighted's dirge-like title track, or the ambient ruin its closer "Aph┼Źnos". Wrest's inspirations may come in varying shades of darkness-- misanthropy, hatred (of others and self), human filth and biblical orthodoxy-- but with that limited range he's still managed to create the impression of an emotional roller coaster.

I also couldn't go without paying respects to the album's production, helmed by the legendary Billy Anderson, who delivered one of the best-sounding metal productions I've ever heard last year with Agalloch's The Serpent & the Sphere. Scar Sighted is a punishing, treacherous album, and while it remains thoughtfully mired at times in the lo-fi aesthetic, there's the unyielding sense that every note, every sonic frame has been attentively looked after. I think that, regardless what genre of music we're talking about, that's just as well a definition of a masterpiece as any other. Scar Sighted may very well be the most powerful thing Wrest has crafted, with Leviathan or otherwise. It is at once cathartic and challenging, and regardless whether your tastes veer towards the traditional or experimental, the depth and substance it offers boldly demands acknowledgement.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical