After seeing Leviathan
’s black metal logo top online list of most badass-looking metal logos, I became interested in listening to more than the one song I’d previously heard by them. Hey, if I liked them, that meant I’d get to put their badass logo on my battle jacket. Tenth Sublevel
, their first album, was really competent raw depressive black metal (this coming from someone who typically doesn’t like the sub-sub-genre), but nothing could have prepared me for their next black metal album, Tentacles of Whorror
I was expecting competence, which I got in spades, but based on Leviathan
’s previous studio album I was also expecting relatively straightforward songs, not hugely original. In Tentacles of Whorror
, it’s extremely apparent that Wrest, the musician behind every instrument in Leviathan
, used his piles and piles of demos and his first full-length to get a solid foundation of songwriting and competence going. Tentacles takes the standard black metal formula and twists and contorts it into what at first seems like a mess to a listener just tossed in too quickly, but after many listens the album grows and the real power of the music comes out. To sum up the feel of the album, I’d say that it’s quite psychotic. The music takes so many sharp turns and twists, structuring itself with riffs that are in and of themselves, demented and evil sounding. From the moment the album starts with the intro of What Fresh Hell
, the clean notes seem oddly timed and placed, but still counting beats logically. The music is in constant flux between face-melting tremolo riffs as cold as Darkthrone
but more aggressive, creepy, haunting melodies and licks, sections of deep dark minimalism accompanied by ambient noises of grunting, moaning, scraping, and clawing, and really catchy headbanging moments. Unlike so many other black metal bands these days in evident trend-following style, Wrest manages to twist these elements and makes them into hybrids, changing them and pushing and pulling them together and apart in ways one wouldn’t expect so that he constantly catches you off-guard. You probably won’t be able to catch on to what’s coming next. At times, the riffs come and go in a space of ten seconds, and other times stick around for the majority of a song, slowly morphing and changing note by note until you’re being led in two directions at once. Even upon the first listen when everything still sounds as if it has no rhyme or reason, one can’t help but appreciate the pure ambition here. Wrest is clearly giving every ounce of his willpower to make his music warp and twist to disorient and bewilder. It’s stuff like this that really sets Leviathan
way out from the crowd in its own genre.
The production choice is perfect for such an album. There’s plenty of crunch and sludge here, almost enough to warrant being compared to early Carcass
and a fistful of other shoestring budget goregrind bands. The white noise of the distorted guitars linger, and it seems like Wrest is switching between several shades of fuzz. At times the guitars sound muddled and dense, and at others they cut like an ice knife. This makes for some great leads that are really attention-grabbing, especially when they jump out of hardly-decipherable sludge. At the times when it’s not so easy to tell what’s going on with the guitars, the levels of the bass is boosted, and you can hear it pulling off its own melodies before rejoining the rest of the rhythm when it’s important. The clean guitars, placed finitely throughout several songs, resonate well, and float on the sea of distortion rather than sink in it. The drums are clean and thankfully not too loud in the mix, never distracting but always interesting to listen to. Then there are the vocals. Compared to everything else—which has the sound of someone in total control of their sound, knowing well how to distort it to just the right degree—sound like a record-it-in-your-basement black metal band full of fourteen-year-olds growling into a cell-phone recorder. Think Filosofem, but dirtier and harder to understand, accompanied by the rare grunting, squealing, snorting, and choking sounds of early goregrind. They still possess that pure black metal misanthropy, the howls that everyone say sound like a demon’s voice echoing over the treetops of the forest at night. They are a bizarre mix when compared to the sound of everything else, but somehow, they fit like another piece of a very complicated puzzle.
With all this talk of misanthropy and really bizarre song structuring and coldness and whatnot, the question is, are there enough treats and good moments here to keep this album from being an experimental, unfamiliar trek that one can only enjoy in the right mood? Well, while it’s definitely tough to appreciate right away, I can definitely say that I don’t listen to this the way I listen to other very ‘out there’ experimental bands like Darkspace
, Sunn O
))) and Propergol
. While that ambience and ‘lose yourself’ feel is still there, Wrest simultaneously presents a lot of quick-paced, action-oriented moments in the form of absolutely killer riffs that blow you away even after the initial novelty of the band’s sound wears off. A refrained riff in Deciphering Legend
Within the Serpent
sounds absolutely monumental, and catchy to boot. The early, shorter songs in the beginning of the album are full of memorable riffs from those injected with adrenaline to those that attempt to get across a feeling of emptiness or solitude in the listener. The ups and downs in this album, offered to you in machine gun bursts or long, drawn out abyssal dives, are heart-pounders. Wrest does a good job setting up expectation with slow, ominous riffs, just before bashing you over the head with stunning payoff. And
then there are the parts that are over-ambient and avant-garde, something only a fan of Earth
or other such bands would listen to without yawning. I love this sort of stuff—the sort of thing where you’re given a ten-minute repetitive mood-setting track that’s meant to invoke images of dark caves, unlit tunnels spanning forever, you get the idea. The Three
major instrumentals, (A Necessary Mutilation
, Blood Red
Part III, and The History of Rape), do a great job of descent amidst an album that was pretty fucking insane to begin with, along with long, quiet sections in Vexed
and Vomit Leviathan
and A Boquet of Blood
. So with Tentacles of Whorror
you’re getting the best of both worlds. There’re plenty of mood-setting moments, but they’re often caught between pounding, thrashing riffs or absolutely evil-sounding sections that rival, if not surpass, Mayhem
’s efforts on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
. The atmosphere of evil has gone past the theatrics of Satanism and instead approaches insanity—the psychological. And
there’s certainly plenty of atmosphere.
So, unfortunately I can’t find anything to criticize here to prove that I’m not just stuck in a knee-jerk love affair with this music, and I can’t prove that I’m not a hyperbolic over-the-top praiser of all things underground. I started writing with the intention of nit-picking the album’s 72-minute run time, but I honestly can’t do it anymore. Though I usually don’t have time to listen to the whole thing in one sitting (actually, despite choosing to listen to either the first or last half of the album many times, I think I’ve only really sat down to the whole thing once), I think that I’d be hard-pressed to suggest a song that could be cut out naturally. It’s definitely a massive album, but really, I think each song helps build up the album as a whole, shaping its dimension and providing it with depth to go with its maniacal atmosphere and top-notch song writing. And
with a strong amount of diversity from song to song, with long expansive tracks like the title track compared to the bombastic aggression of Heir to the Noose of Ghoul
, there’s a lot to keep the 72 minute journey from being overly monotonous. Seekers of black metal different and challenging, atmospheric and raw, horrible yet somehow strangely poetic, Leviathan
’s Tentacles of Whorror
is what you should be listening to. It’s worth the repeat listens to ‘get it’. It’s an album that will grow on you given the chance, and considering I’ve only listened to the whole thing start to finish one time myself, I’d say it has a lot more growing to do on me as well. The pure strangeness may be too much for some to swallow, but this album defenitely has all the makings of a black metal masterpiece.
Within the Serpent
Cut With the Night
Into Mine Heart
However, after I started listening to "What Fresh Hell", I knew I judged too soon. I never thought Leviathan would be of this calibre! like holy shit, it's awesome!
awesome review man, as usual ;)
@ Crinn, One of the best? I'm curious what Leviathan output was your favourite.
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