LEVIATHAN – Massive Conspiracy Against All Life (2008)

Leviathan - Massive Conspiracy Against All Life I have a love/hate relationship with Wrest, the sole member of Leviathan, and I somehow doubt that my use of the word “love” in this review would garner approval from the man, so let me elaborate: I have not enjoyed Wrest’s solo output as much as I’ve enjoyed his collaborative work. The two previous Leviathan full-lengths did not terrorize me as much as Xasthur or Blut Aus Nord consistently did, but Wrest’s bone-rattling wails were one of the high points of Sunn O)))’s Black One, and the lone Twilight album (in which Wrest contributed guitar, bass, drums and synthesizers) delighted me with its wickedness.

I suppose the biggest thing that continually irks me about black metal as a whole is the tired insistence of using conceits to establish a cold and frightening atmosphere. Black metal, perhaps more than any other metal genre, is all about atmosphere, and seeing as how the traditional characteristics of black metal are, shall we say, rather finite, the same stagnant, unfriendly sound keeps resurfacing over and over, ad nauseum. So the bands from the genre that I tend to gravitate to are bands that, more often than not, bend or occasionally break these constraints (the act of which is typically frowned upon by the black metal underground for not being true/grim/necro enough, or any combination thereof). A summation: I don’t think it’s necessary to keep writing and recording music in the style of Transilvanian Hunger anymore (and looking back, I’m not sure it was such a great idea the first time). To me, these were what the early Leviathan albums felt like more than anything else – heirs to the (Dark)throne.

Not so with Massive Conspiracy Against All Life, an album that is both violent, raw, and – this is crucial – audible. There’s no recorded-in-a-forest-at-midnight bullshit going on here. Wrest’s demonic atmosphere sounds all the more nightmarish because there’s a certain amount of plausibility to it. This Hell could be real. The album’s opening track, Vesture Dipped in the Blood of Morning, pulls no punches in making us realize this. While black metal classicists may be cursing the pagan gods over the album’s (relatively) clean production (and its balanced mix), their cries are more than likely falling upon deaf ears. The song is devastating, particularly the middle sections, which sound like some sort of infernal coronation for the condemned. The following song, Merging With Sword, Onto Them is equally potent in its aural misanthropy, merging a hazy guitar-laden wall with Wrest’s impeccable drumming (it’s worth noting that although Leviathan is a one-man project, the drums are Wrest’s main instrument) and his ever shifting vocals (which here are a mix of cold wailing and distorted grunts and screams).

So yes, songs like Made As The Stale Wine of Wrath and Receive The World are going to be among the best the black metal genre has to offer this year – but it’s Wrest’s ability to punctuate these onslaughts with more abstract musical ideas that makes the album as grand as it is. Consider how captivating the juxtaposition of the quivering guitars against the misty synths at the end of Receive The World are, or how the ambience in the middle of VI-XI-VI sounds a lot like a murkier (and even sparser) Stars of the Lid. There’s the twitchy, jagged guitars at the beginning of Vulgar Asceticism, who struggle initially to find their footing, before the song explodes, and the pulsing guitar white noise that closes the song out (calling to mind the third movement of Agalloch’s Our Fortress Is Burning).

The album comes to a close with Noisome Ash Crown, a song which boasts some of Massive Conspiracy’s best (and most abrasive) moments. The opening, with its steady low noise and pounding war drums, sound like what Abruptum might have been, were they ever tuned fully into the human frequency. The song spends much of its time in an intricate miasma, one as sunless as it is intense. It ends after some densely layered noise piles up to nigh unbearable levels, before the song drops off abruptly into nothingness. It’s a hell of an unorthodox way to end such a nightmarish album, but it’s especially fitting.

Wrest has an undeniable ear for crafting complex and nerve-frying material, material that’s as classically devout as it is evocative, material that’s not only full of hellbound bombast, but also eerily rich atmospheres and yes, dare I say, even some occasional surprises (imagine my shock discovering that the very last instrument you hear in Made As Stale As The Wine of Wrath is – gasp! – a crystal-clear bass guitar!). Massive Conspiracy is one of the few black metal albums that might manage to convert a few those who consistently avoid the genre for one reason or another. It’s not a pleasant album, but then again, it’s hardly supposed to be; there’s no room in Wrest’s demonic vision for serenity. And if the album penetrates into your inner-being, there might not be any for you, either.

HD RATING: 8.5/10

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One Response to “LEVIATHAN – Massive Conspiracy Against All Life (2008)”

  1. […] but compare it to Leviathan (who, if you’ll recall from reading this blog, released an album last year that went beyond the confines of previous albums and succeeded wildly in doing […]

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