Review: Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Jef Whitehead’s last album was an oddity. Like many, I was disappointed in True Traitor, True Whore. As a testament to Wrest’s rage against his criminal charges, it succeeded, creating an air of palpable spite in its dark, punkish ferocity; as a Leviathan album, though, it fell flat. The riffs and arrangements had been grossly simplified. The deep complexity that had made Wrest’s previous albums like Massive Conspiracy Against All Life so richly compelling had been sacrificed for pure primal rage.
All wrongs are righted with the release of Scar Sighted, Leviathan’s newest full-length release and first since True Traitor, True Whore. In fact, Scar Sighted puts forth some of the most consistent yet diverse material in all of Whitehead’s considerable discography.
The release of a new Leviathan album post-2011 is an occasion for critics to wet themselves with glee as they analyze not just the music contained therein but all the extra-musical circumstances that may have factored in to the album’s songwriting. The conversation of separating art from its creator is one that has long been discussed even just in the tiny sphere of the metal world. I have nothing to add that has not already been said a million times before, so for this review I’d like to focus solely on the music (what a concept).
As a musician, Whitehead exists in the pantheon of Great Artists willing to reinvent themselves over and over in pursuit of perfection. With Scar Sighted, he is one step closer. This album proves Whitehead is unafraid to draw from his own unique, immediately identifiable style and recreate it in a way unlike any of his past works.
After a brief introductory track, the album proper begins with “The Smoke of Their Torment,” a roaring black metal mini-epic reminiscent at times of The Ruins of Beverast at their darkest. “Dawn Vibration” follows with a flurry of metallic hammer-on riffs and a soaring tremolo picked coda, and the album is on its way.
Much of Scar Sighted feels slower and perhaps even groovier than any of Wrest’s past material, other than perhaps his work in Twilight. But this is far from a problem: the serpentine guitars weave uroboric tapestries of putrefaction, lending a sense of claustrophobic frenzy to the album’s downbeat riffs. This review would be remiss were it not to make mention of Billy Anderson’s absolutely stellar production. The recording is crystal clear and each element of the mix is given ample room while still maintaining an overwhelmingly powerful atmosphere. The drum sound in particular is fantastic, full of body with ample room for splashing cymbals.
“Within Thrall” signals the start of the second half of the album, and this is where things pick up. The song opens with nylon string guitars and Wrest mourning “the death of the gloaming” before being overtaken by a storm of tremolo riffs that segue into a ringing, seasick bridge. Where the first five tracks do in their own ways expand on the core Leviathan sound, it’s the choirs, ropey guitar parts and mechanical ambiance so present on the next five that make the album shine. Songs like “A Veil is Lifted” are more in line with Whitehead’s work in Lurker of Chalice, with vocals vomited forth over a simple drum beat and layers of dark noise.
The title track opens with layered chanting dominated shortly thereafter by doomy riffage and haunting clean guitar melodies before transitioning into the martial drums and volume swells of “All Tongues Toward,” a tack which offers the listener a brief reprieve before breaking into the curious brand of perplexingly raging yet somber black metal one has come to expect from Leviathan.
Unfortunately, the one-two punch of these tracks (undoubtedly two of the strongest on the album) is supplanted by “Aphōnos,” a meandering seven minutes of directionless rock riffs and shouting. It is its lopsidedness that prevents Scar Sighted from being the perfect album it could be; the album’s most memorable songs are relegated to the back half, but even their most powerful moments are cut short by a weak closer.
This is not enough to ruin the album, though. While its structure may be odd and still requiring of fine tuning, Wrest has long demonstrated his willingness to continue doing just that. Scar Sighted may be Leviathan’s finest outing in years and represents Whitehead’s latest middle finger to convention.
Scar Sighted is out now on Profound Lore Records. Stream or buy it below: