USBM (United States Black Metal) as a term encompasses such varying sounds as the primal war chants of Von, the uncompromisingly precise assault of Averse Sefira, and the operatic mewling of Weakling. Scar Sighted, Leviathan’s newest release, is still USBM but typically is categorized by fans as “depressive suicidal black metal,” along the stylistic lines of Sweden’s Shining and fellow American Xasthur.
Unlike the epic and powerful surge of teeth-clenching energy that one feels from black metal ne plus ultra like Sacramentum, Immortal, or Darkthrone, Leviathan’s music is more about… who knows? Something relatively vague but generally negative, self-loathing, and frankly boring. Take this line of lyric; “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” This line seems assertive and confident; you may wonder what meaning this cryptic passage may hold. And wonder you shall, forever, because placing it in the context of the rest of the song does not reveal any clearer meaning. There is no point other than the expression of narrow-sighted negativity. This is the unifying theme of Scar Sighted; a gross misdirection of self-contempt projected toward any and all things outside the self, with uninformed “occultic” references mixed in for good measure.
My contention with Scar Sighted is not just with the lyrics, though. The composition of each song reflects the fragmentation apparent in the lyrics, throwing out one cool-sounding line after another, but leaving the observant listener with a stark sense of having witnessed a slide show of barely-related images. Melodies come and go with nary a whimper as the listener gets deeper into each song. Certainly, a lot of blustery riffs throughout the album got me excited and interested in hearing where the music would lead me next. But that makes the album all the more disappointing, as one song can throw a series of two or three engaging riffs at you and then switch tracks completely and strand you amidst a wash of dissonant non-melody that, rather than moving the song forward, just wallows within its own two-or-three chord cycle that doesn’t relate to any other part of the song.
To Wrest’s credit, a lot of the riffs are very cool, and he has a refined sense of how long a riff can be exploited before it becomes too boring for repetition. Sometimes, he makes the right choice and heads into a complimentary riff to accentuate the previous one. However, more often than not, the last riff is shrugged off and a whole new feeling is admitted, complete with a disparate drum beat, a new scale, and, too often, a new vocal style. Wrest has a very intense low-end growl that synergizes with the grimy, slimy, bass-heavy sound that is wonderfully mixed on this album. Wrest is clearly a craftsman that takes his work seriously and not a lazy writer. However, the result of his work is an incoherent collection of songs, some of which sound like they could come from a post-hardcore band on Level Plane in the early 2000s. With that in mind, Scar Sighted wouldn’t be a bad album by any means if it weren’t marketed as black metal. But when contrasted with the standards of black metal and the techniques employed by the best bands, we find that the intensely personally-focused introspective meanderings of Leviathan fall apart.