Since commencing his career under the moniker Wrest in the late nineties, Jef Whitehead’s diverse talents have contributed to an impressive résumé. Beyond notable offerings from his main project Leviathan, Wrest has released a one-off full length as Lurker of Chalice, collaborated with Sunn O))) and is an active member of black metal super group Twilight, whose most recent album (last year’s III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb) allowed him to work with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame. After four years of silence under the Leviathan name, Wrest has followed up the contextually controversial True Traitor, True Whore with Scar Sighted, an album that continues the cleaner production choices of its predecessor but explores a slightly questionable new direction.
It is important to note that black metal does not necessarily need to resemble a buzz saw cutting through a beehive in order to suite the genre’s sonic themes. T3W is a clear example of this: Wrest polished the raw delivery that he utilized for his previous three albums while maintaining both the songwriting and depressive, suicidal themes that his music has always exhibited. Unfortunately, Scar Sighted comes across as a much more muted and distant experience, primarily due to a somewhat indecisive choice of guitar tone and composition. One moment Wrest seems to be shooting for a mixture between Ulver’s Kveldssanger and Blut Aus Nord’s 777 trilogy and the next he is harkening back to the mournful diatribes of his past discography. The production remains as stagnant, however, causing the former approach to feel muddy and chained down from its celestial destination while the latter style arrives hollow and devoid of any raw grit.
Occasionally, Wrest will pierce through with a moment of intrigue. A solemn yet hopeful arpeggio pokes through on ‘Wicked Fields of Calm’ that feels like the musical manifestation of a doubtfully scrawled and edited suicide note. ‘All Tongues Toward‘ was truly the best lead single that could have been chosen, as it shows Wrest succeeding at straddling the two aforementioned styles with a driving pace and evocative guitar swirls that compose the album’s strongest song. The title track comes in at a close second, however, as it is the most overt synthesis of Kveldssanger’s chanting drones and 777’s expansive atmospheres that coalesces into the album’s most moving demonstration of emotion.
Yet, each other track that attempts this synthesis (which is the majority of them) comes across as an aimless landscape with a spattering of Leviathan’s signature sound. Intro ‘–‘ bleeds into ‘The Smoke of Their Torment’ without the album feeling like it has truly ventured past its chrysalis, and each subsequent track does very little to aide this notion in evolving much further. Other than the middling, traditional black metal romp of ‘Within Thrall’ and the previously highlighted tracks, the album as a whole merely informs the listener of Wrest’s intentions without entirely engulfing them within them. What exacerbates this is Wrest’s oddly diminished vocal input; his usual poignant rasps have been traded in for muddled bellows & growls and incoherent screeches. Black metal in general is not known for lyrical coherence or vocal exceptionalism, but with an album this aloof, a competent vocal delivery would have helped to focus these songs’ structures.
Despite all of these grievances, it is crucial to admit that Scar Sighted is not a terrible album, nor even a subpar one. The true problem lies with a theme hinted at throughout this review: detachment. Leviathan discography highlights such as Tenth Sub Level of Suicide do not convey Wrest’s grappling with depression and suicide – they command the listener to wallow in the bowels of his emotional torment. There is an adequate foundation present on Scar Sighted, but it is buried under marring production and a general sense of emotional apathy. Wrest undoubtedly aimed to compose a more expansive and grandiose experience, but in the process, he shed the songwriting prowess that has made Leviathan such an American black metal highlight.
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Leviathan – Scar Sighted gets…