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Not a single step missed. - 95%

Pratl1971, December 22nd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Ascension Monuments Media (Limited edition, Digipak, Misprint)

No self-respecting USBM fan would be worth his or her salt of he or she wasn't both familiar with and beholden to Leviathan. Simply put, if Norway has its Mayhem, the United States has Leviathan, as main-man Wrest has solidified his position in the bleak musical genre quite effectively over the years.

After a tumultuous few years of label dissension that saw Wrest shelving Leviathan for a time with no real hope of returning, he did return in 2011 and now surprises us all by issuing The First Sublevel of Suicide, the demo tracks for the horrifyingly brilliant full-length The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide, which was initially released in 2003 on Moribund Records. With a veritable sea of releases (demos, EPs and full-lengths abound) Leviathan has carved a blood-red niche in the black metal movement that has seen its fair share of pale imitators and outright charlatans since the dark, albeit innovative Scandinavian days of the early 90's.

What you hear in Leviathan's music is a truly majestic journey into the lawless and malevolent recesses of the mind. You are not able to simply meander through these offerings Wrest puts out; rather, you are sucked into the chasm that his music hauntingly provides, and you end up a different being when the sojourn ends. Hearing these raw, and in some spots better, versions of an already stellar album really drives home just how accurately Wrest has his finger on the pulse of a criminally watered-down medium. While mall kids fall all over themselves to engage a slew of mediocre bands, the real black metal lay in wait for the right people to find it and welcome it in.

The five tracks herein are not what I might call “typical” black metal, but there is a definitive style associated with this music that is both undeniable and wholly organic in design and delivery. At times we're treated to a fast-paced jaunt through snow-laced winds whipping at our bodies, almost feeling the cold atmosphere stinging our skin into submission as the ethereal vocals snap forth in a reckless abandon unfit for all ears. Wrest knows exactly how to drag you into his vision, and you go willingly just to see where his vision leads and what horrors he has in store for you.

In the opening track, “Scenic Solitude and Leprosy,” the aforementioned organic musical nuances are employed perfectly, and when the middle of the song showcases the otherworldly howling that only a dark and empty soul could emit, you know what you're in for with this release. It is one of the most satisfying tracks in Wrest's long and brilliant career. He manages to make full, encompassing stories out of personal insight and inner solemnity that translates so perfectly into music that his genius is often overlooked by his genre of choice, which I'm sure he loses no sleep over. In that regard, the true black metal fan base that understands the vision the music is supposed to employ relates to Leviathan on a very personal level.

You are treated to everything on this release: there is the black metal speed and atmosphere that is so closely scrutinized these days (and rightfully so), the dank overtones of slow, methodical evil that seem to cascade downward as if in some contrived trance-like state, and the moody, almost sardonic tone that seems to both elevate you and slam you down to earth in one fell swoop. It truly is a magical ride if you're so inclined to grasp the vehicle within. Additionally, the demo tracks are beautifully remastered and sound just as viable (and in many cases better) than your average black metal demo. Hell, this demo sounds better than a good portion of commercially released BM full-lengths, all the while retaining the classic nature associated with and indicative of the genre.

Black metal? Ah, such a once-proud title! Today it's largely a pale silhouette of its past glories (and that would be from 1991 to about August 10, 1993 with some room for expansion with already-solidified bands putting out good material), but there are exceptions to be found while sifting through the ruins. Leviathan is that gleaming artifact waiting to be discovered by a new group of not-so-casual observers. I know many people consider Venom, Hellhammer, early Sodom, Celtic Frost, etc to be the birth of black metal, and while I take a different view of said timeline I won't quibble over consistencies and subjection. I'll only offer that black metal has the inherent ability to survive the mire of trivial blandness, and Wrest is the man to help that along; the genre can still find an intelligent audience within the masses of metal fans if quality overcomes quantity and lackadaisical effort. Wrest and Leviathan prove that time and again, even when it's dug out of the earthly ruins some decade old.

(Originally written for www.metalbite.com)