Album: Scar Sighted
Record Label: Profound Lore
Release Date: 3rd March 2015
Jef Whitehead's controversial one man Black Metal project comes through with its most diverse, unpleasant and life-affirming album to date
As is nearly always the way with any controversial figure in modern music, the reaction to Jef Whitehead's (aka 'Wrest') new album as Leviathan, "Scar Sighted", has been saturated by references to his somewhat contemptuous personal past. It always seems like a record is handed a bit of a short straw when the judgement of its music, as a force of its own, is weighted by moral condemnation. Whilst Whitehead's personal life and world view certainly inform his output (most infamously on his gruesomely divisive 2011 effort "True Traitor, True Whore"), on "Scar Sighted" it seems almost entirely irrelevant in the context of the album itself which is, by the way, a work of breath taking magnitude.
It begins with '-', a 2 minute long bout of depth-ridden, reflective synth atmosphere that pans out in eerily colourful style the range of influences that coalesce here. It leads into the thoroughly unpleasant 'The Smoke of their Torment''; "Every fuckin' thing that crawls is gonna pay... Rejoice" intones Whitehead as the first audible gambit of the album over a disgustingly thick and sludgy hybrid of Black and Death metal nastiness. Between vicious bouts of ugliness and spoken-word nihilism, it sets the precedent for the record's epic scale.
'Dawn Vibration' re-tracks a more traditional BM blueprint, flitting between a myriad of rollicking tremolo picked riffs and melodies. Whitehead's vocals reach perhaps their most feverish on the album, and all of it sounds absolutely massive.
Whitehead's understanding of the multitude of musical styles he endorses here comes through at some point on every track. There's a slight post-rock inflection on the spaciousness of 'Wicked Fields of Calm'; 'A Veil is Lifted' begins in slightly stripped back form. Mystical, Eastern-tinged effects on the plucked guitar interventions add ethereal ghostliness to the lumbering dirge before the cascading force and rhythmic pummeling charge the foray into full-throttle territory. Just like 'Dawn Vibration', it feels almost triumphant in its harrowing but soaring climax, Wrest sounding like he's transmitting his vocals from the descent into the nine circles of Hell as though it's a sort of homecoming.
The agonisingly slow slither of the 10-minute title track is the most "fuck me, this is bleak" musical moment you're likely to have this year. It's as though its layered, cold and eventually vast oeuvre is the soundtrack to Whitehead crawling out of the grave. 'Within Thrall' is a barn-storming slice of BM punk aggression, complete with otherworldly clean vocal harmonies and the album's most rock 'n' roll indebted groove towards its close. The celestial heights reached by the fusion of marching drums, the same heartfelt synth overture from the intro and glorious tremolo picking on 'All Tongues Toward' recall a more nihilistic slant on the sort of transcendentalism endorsed by much modern US black metal.
It's a shame that a record which is so obviously a considered piece of art will be forever marred by moral indignation. But for those of us who believe that music should be received on its own merits, "Scar Sighted" is absolutely the whipping boy that fans of black metal and extreme music in general have been tearing at the carcass of modern American metal for. That's less to say that unique modern metal albums are hard to come by and more to say that this is Whitehead's most life-affirming offering yet.
Key Tracks: 'Scar Sighted', 'A Veil is Lifted', 'Wicked Fields of Calm', 'Dawn Vibration'
For Fans of: Altar of Plagues, Lurker of Chalice