It’s not unusual in black metal to be aggressive as hell, with a wonton need to destroy everything. Destructive tendencies are really no stranger to any form of heavy music. But with black metal the intentions have certain been, well, carried out. Nevertheless, it’s with bands like Leviathan that it becomes easy to remember that amid those destructive tendencies, there’s a true horror lurking underneath.
Leviathan (a.k.a.: Wrest, a.k.a.: Jef Whitehead) is one of the few musicians that can conjure real ghosts. One that tear at your throat and devour your dreams, turning them into dancing nightmares around a cold, icy pit. The guy’s created in spades what most strive so hard to grasp: a terrifying mood. If you haven’t immersed yourself, if you haven’t crawled through the rough, shard encrusted cave of The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide as the artwork illustrates, then you haven’t even begun to scrape in the darkness.
The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide is an exercise in excruciating pain. Reading the song title “Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice” should be ample enough to put the album’s line of thought into perspective: there’s no escape and no mercy. Once the album’s first declaration is made (“There’s no light for you at the end of the tunnel”) the lo-fi stomp undergoes. As far as black metal records are concerned, this is some savagely raw stuff.
What makes this such an important listen isn’t the same old, same old stuff. Leviathan manages to sound plenty shitty here (in a good way, mind you), but it’s how Wrest has such a vicious, calculated control over the album. Wrest is known for crafting some of the most bestial riffs around and there’s no exception here. The man exercises his chops on tracks like “Mine Molten Armor”, “Scenic Solitude and Leprosy”, or the more melodic, but still heavy-as-hell “Sardoniscorn”.
Despite the album’s apparent heaviness, what make The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide a great fucking album isn’t that it’s got its moments of terrifying heaviness, it’s also something that broods. Like a recluse, the album takes its time toys with mood, breaking into long moments of melodic ambience. “The Bitter Ember of Dissolve” is a slow, floating dark dream. The final track “At the Door to the Tenth Sub Level of Suicide” offers a similar feeling and as the final, distant bloodcurdling scream howls out, though with more variation throughout.
It’s also Wrest’s vocals that really lend a hand here. Later renditions of Leviathan offer up more of a growl (see: Scar Sighted), but here it’s more like a scream and a moan. It’s tormented and hungry. And it never ends. The howl of the second track kicks in with a sound that feels like it could crack ice.
The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide is a lot to take in. Clocking in an an hour and eleven-minutes, the juggernaut is a savage marriage of black metal and ambient music. Having been recorded on a four track (much like Xathur’s Nocturnal Poisoning), the rawness is what really adds to the experience. It’s unhinged, even when it’s leaving the listener some breathing room. There isn’t an iota of safety on this record but, then again, there’ shouldn’t be. This is real horror; one of the most terrifying records ever made in any genre.
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