Review: Leviathan – Scar Sighted

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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.

scar sightedMuch 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.

NO FLUSH

Scar Sighted is out now on Profound Lore Records. Stream or buy it below:

  • I listened to this album a few days ago and I really enjoyed it. Excellently written review. I’ve known about Leviathan for a while but I didn’t really listen to any of his music till I read the last issue of Decibel where they had an interview with him that was really well done.

    • His discography is certainly formidable, but if you liked this album you should definitely look into Massive Conspiracy Against All Life, The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide and Tentacles of Whorror.

      • Scrimm

        I just found now. Massive Conspiracy in a drawer. didn’t even know I had it. Guess I’ll give it a listen.

      • I’ll have to track them down and absorb them.

      • Reichsmarschall Dean von Steel

        I second those recs and add the Lurker of Chalice S/T. Absolutely essential listening. Maybe the best material Jef has ever recorded.

    • Enemy Of The Free World

      Christian says what he says, but the one Leviathan album you need to hear is A Silhouette In Splinters.

    • Ferris Mueller

      Same here. Only casually listened to Leviathan prior to this release but Scar Sighted has my attention.

  • This first half has been growing on me more and more, especially Dawn Vibration. Great review, as always.

    • The first half is still classic Leviathan and great music, but every time I listen to the album it’s totally eclipsed by the stunning second half.

      • I’m with you there. He really takes it to another level once you reach Within Thrall.

        • VVayne Brady

          I’m with you both there. Beside you in time.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus

      I just pointed out the excellence of that track to you guys yesterday, lol

      • The brief section where he wails over that clean strumming gets me every time.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          He does a few tempo changes on there and plays some ridiculously catchy riffs in the process. That’s what I heard when I had it on during the… last story of the day.

  • Tyreeling In The Years

    Killer write-up Christian, I still have to listen to all of this. I thought I read some where that he was sober for this album. Must be because of his kid.

    http://www.metalsucks.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/125_dB_2015-03-cover.jpg

    • Edward/Breegrodamus

      I’m just speculating here, but dude might have also gotten sober from his arrest and subsequent huge list of criminal charges (of which he was acquitted of all but one).

      • Tyreeling In The Years

        Which one did not get acquitted?

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          If this is to be believed, aggravated domestic battery.

          http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2012/06/20/jef-whitehead-tk-tk

          • Tyreeling In The Years
          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            Tyree totally off topic but my bff just texted me to say that a TV writer said the newest Better Call Saul is the best episode of TV since Breaking Bad‘s “Ozymandias”.

          • I heard it’s Mike-heavy. Which I’m cool with.

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            I’m going to watch it at 3:30 pm CST.

          • You know, Ed, there are other ways you could talk to these guys…

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            I know, I know. I am filled with shame now.

          • Is the show any good? I heard it was going to be on TV. Is it on regular TV?

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            It’s on AMC, same channel that had Breaking Bad, has Mad Men, The Walking Dead, etc.

            The show is pretty entertaining so far. I was skeptical at first but it is winning over my all important approval.

          • Ah, gotcha. I guess I will have to wait until it hits Netflix! I am glad it comes recommended.

          • JJM

            You wood.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          I actually was just quoting music sites I read before I looked it up, so my memory serves in this case.

      • Scrimm

        Can see how that would be sobering. Can also see it causing the exact opposite.

    • that’s an adorable reason to be sober! 😀

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      It must suck giving up.

      • Tyreeling In The Years

        Dudes probably driving a fucking mini van and shit.

        • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

          Yup.

  • Scrimm

    Must.. not.. spend.. anymore.. money…

    • Enemy Of The Free World

      You know that ain’t gonna work, unless you (*gasp*) quit the Toilet for good.

      • Scrimm

        My addiction far predated the Toilet.

        • Enemy Of The Free World

          So did mine, but ToH ain’t doing anything to HELP you is what I mean.

          • Scrimm

            This is true.

      • Quit Toilet? But, that’s the best drug I have tasted! D:

      • Scrimm

        Pretty much. there’s several albums I want badly.

  • VVayne Brady

    Great review, wunderkind.

  • Edward/Breegrodamus

    Christian “Modesty” Molenaar is my hero.

    • Christian “Half an Ass” Molenaar is my rump roast supplier.

  • Tyreeling In The Years

    Dose Wrest play drums on this? Or did he pussy out and use a drum machine?

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    LISTEN TO THE OP SONG—FULL VOL
    while viewing all 3 vids—full vol
    at once—
    “there’s a light”
    http://youtu.be/zOQ_Yffh-Es

    http://youtu.be/DTWYQhTT388

    http://youtu.be/uqopU7yrcio

    • JJM

      the pretty reckless >>>>>
      king kong bug attack scene <<<<<<<<<<<
      truly horrific.

      • JVVG

        I call a “Reverse Hardwick” (Points! lost indefinitely) for choosing to open for Nickelback on their current NA tour.

        Even if it makes business sense.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwmCuIhdFgk

    This is my favorite track off of Michael Sweet and George Lynch’s new effort.

    GL

  • Reposted Avenged Sevenfold Fan

    hey pplz….. this album is pretty good. And the people who think that this album was crap so they are just gona give the band away r idiots.

    And because im a guitarist i understand and appreciate music more then other ppl hoo dont.

    -Anonymous, (October 5, 2006)

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      Cunt pics.

  • Eddie Trunk Jr., Floor Tech

    I like this so far.

  • Awesome review as usual, mr. C! You rule!

    I will try to check this just to taste this sounds when I’m a more dark mood.

  • Keegan Lavern Still

    I preordered the album as soon as I heard All Tongues Toward, and it’s living up to the hype. My only regret is accidentally having my preorder CD box shipped to my mother and having to wait until I can play it on my stereo. At least I can say with relative certainty that my mom is possibly more metal/kreig/kvlt than some of yours.

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    The dude had a fucking kid. Total breeder.

    • He is so selfish.

      • JJM

        he is a Hot Dad

    • VVayne Brady

      Birth Pig.

  • Enemy Of The Free World

    There are some really good songs on this album, but with each listen I want to listen to the whole this at once less and less.

  • U GUYZ

    Why am I just now finding out about this band: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ov_Hell

    • Tyreeling In The Years

      Some shitty people in that band.

    • Enemy Of The Free World

      Because the world wants to forget it’s existence.

    • I bet they’re pretty pissed we’re fucking up their google results.

    • Reichsmarschall Dean von Steel

      Riff, I totally flushed Ov Hell in a whiff of the week months back. Band sucks cock.

      Make like a tree, Tannen!

  • Based Tapir

    I am very interested in this album. I ordered it, but it’ll take 2 to 3 weeks to arrive.

  • Oddly enough, True Traitor/True Whore is the first Leviathan album that ever caught my interest. I thoroughly enjoy it’s rickety, ramshackle miserablism. Sounds like a palsied old hatemonger shuffling up an old flight of stairs to go die in his sleep . . .

    But does that mean I will dislike Scar Sighted? Hope not, because it’s already in the blasted mail . . .

  • Warheart

    This album is a killer beast. No flush indeed.

  • Malted Hate

    I was really surprised by some aspects of the album. Specially the industrial touches here and there.
    Really enjoyed it though, AOTY contender.