Leviathan was the original "one-man band" (Jeff Whitehead) of San Francisco's black metal that later inspired many more individuals.
Inspired in turn by the sound of
Burzum, Leviathan released 13 cassettes starting
in 1998, partially compiled on the double-disc Verrater (2001) and on
Howl Mockery At The Cross (2005).
The official debut, The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide (2003), bridged the gap between the classic, "heroic" style of black metal and the progressive,
dischordant, unstable style of the 2000s.
The evil but catchy black-metal anthem Fucking Your Ghost In Chains Of Ice sets the pace, but only the 15-minute
At The Door To The Tenth Sub Level Of Suicide
delivers the expected dose of blast-beats and psychotic vocals, and even
this one stops and restarts a couple of times before ending in disintegrating
Leviathan's theatrical skills fully bloom in the ten-minute
Sardoniscorn, that even features an intermezzo of piano and horror
The black-metal frenzy is repeatedly tamed, even in
Scenic Solitude And Leprosy, augmented with thrash riffs and cannibal intensity, and certainly in
Mine Molten Armor, that descends into a doom-drenched atmosphere.
The slow magniloquent and hyper-distorted The Bitter Emblem Of Dissolve
(whose second half consists of abstract post-psychedelic sounds) and
The Idiot Sun, that plods along laboriously through a wall of distortion,
add new meaning to word "black".
The unsettling ocean of drones of the three-minute Submersed
is more revealing than shocking.
Twilight (Southern Lord, 2005) was a black-metal supergroup consisting of
Wrest (Leviathan), Blake Judd (Nachtmystium), N Imperial (Krieg), Hildolf (Draugar) and Malefic (Xasthur), and excelling at the most truculent ambience
(Woe Is The Contagion).
The experiment was continued on the more varied
Monument To Time End (Southern Lord, 2010) without Hildolf and Malefic
but with the addition of several guests:
Sanford Parker (Minsk), Aaron Turner (Isis), Robert Lowe (Lichens) and Stavros Giannopoulos. The multilayered collaboration achieved a new zenith of grandeur
(The Cryptic Ascension).
A Silhouette In Splinters (Profound Lore, 2005) was the "ambient" record from Leviathan, a failed experiment.
Lurker Of Chalice (Southern Lord, 2005), credited to Lurker Of Chalice but actually the same Jeff Whitehead, was the post-rock version of Leviathan.
At that point
Leviathan morphed surprisingly from the ferocious black-metal psycho of
Tentacles Of Whorror (2004)
into the brooding philosopher of
Massive Conspiracy Against All Life (Moribund, 2008), whose longer, malleable
pieces allowed for a whole new spectrum of ideas to materialize.
The eleven-minute Merging With Sword Onto Them, possibly Whitehead's
masterpiece, opens with an eerie cascade of vibratoes,
reverbed vocals and cosmic glissandoes. It proceeds with an
alternating current of sudden epileptic electroshocks and
warbled otherworldly vocals at slow majestic tempos. It ends with
a coda of extreme manic tension and quasi-raga pathos.
The stereotyped (and childish) growls and blastbeats of the past are distant
A close second is the shorter Receive The World, whose anthemic attack
lays the foundations for a demented square dance as rarely heard in the annals
of heavy metal, and in fact rather displaying the acid infernal punk brio of
the Butthole Surfers, before fading into a
lugubrious drum-less soundscape.
Even the breathless, gutturally vomiting Made As The Stale Wine Of Wrath
stages an impressive acceleration after three minutes, which is in turn further
amplified after two minutes, and then the vocal refrain sounds almost melodic
despite the panzer riffs that still rain on it.
The nine-minute Vulgar Asceticism manages to juxtapose
quasi-industrial discordance with painful, agonizing anxiety, the contrast
nonetheless leading to a bombastic triumphal ending.
The 13-minute Noisome Ash Crown is the least "metal" of all these songs.
It is driven by a lengthy Indian-esque guitar theme that sounds more like
something out of a Led Zeppelin power-ballad than something from a black-metal
act. Eventually the guitar wanders alone in empty galactic space,
before some kind of demonic force briefly erupts out of the spacetime grid.
However, it is only a brief reminder of Whitehead's firepower, and the music
is soon back to a calmer grieving tone.
True Traitor True Whore (Profound Lore, 2011) was, however,
a hodge-podge of styles (including reworked versions of old songs).
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