If you’re interested in judging Jef Whitehead for his checkered past, this is not your forum. As I like to separate the art from the artist—and also am in no way qualified to discuss the negatives that have plagued his life—I’m going to use this space to focus on his latest work as his black metal alter-ego, Wrest, for the one-man project, Leviathan. I don’t mean to belittle women’s rights in any way, and wouldn’t even dream of stepping in that direction. Rather, I’d just like to enjoy his latest album, Scar Sighted, for what it is—a fantastic work of art.
In Leviathan, as Wrest, Whitehead does it all: writing, instrumentation, artwork, lyrics, inspiration, etc. Everything. Did I mention that each song includes its own artwork? Because they do—and it’s all beautiful. All the artwork, aside from layout design, was handled by Whitehead himself—not surprising as he is a very successful tattoo artist.
There are many one-man black metal outfits putting out brilliant music across the world. But few can match the longevity, diversity and influence that Wrest’s catalog has achieved here in the States. Since 1998, he has amassed an astounding number of demos, full-lengths (six), comps, splits, singles and EPs, all the while displaying a knack for twisted, demented, aberrant extreme music that is utterly genuine. He also has the ability to strip down his wall-of-sound approach and provide nuanced ambient music, as he has shown in the past and at points of his newest record. In 2003, for example, he released the shockingly personal The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide which allowed the listener a very personal look into his personal obstacles and depression.
So here we are—March 3, 2015—and Scar Sighted has finally been released, allowing us to glimpse into the future of black metal. It comes with the backing of Profound Lore, a label you can trust eternally for its carefully refined taste—much like certain wine importers like Rosenthal or Zev Rovine. As usual, neither artist nor label disappoints. The album is a monumental work—a cataclysmic shift in the direction of black metal not only in the sound but in the persona.
Tracks like “Dawn Vibration” and the title track reveal an almost uncanny knack for creating a mood using different writing styles. Where the former is chaotic, unnerving and downright tortured, even in the cleaner parts, the latter is expansive, spatial and mournful. It’s these balances, and Wrest’s ability to draw listeners in across an emotional spectrum, that make this album so effective. “A Veil is Lifted” is potentially the most easily categorizable track; it’s atmospheric black metal at its best, but it rides the median between the chaos of “Dawn Vibration” and the spatial epicness of “Scar Sighted.”
“Wicked Fields of Calm” is another astounding track. With the pace of a lesser genre, the listener is subdued as Wrest ever so slowly weaves more demented and maniacal vocals over what is actually a beautifully melodic piece. You may have had the pleasure of hearing “All Tongues Toward” before the release (we covered it here) but hearing it within context is utterly chilling. The way the marching snare beat fades into the sampled horror film spoken word piece is even more effective when found within the flow of the album. And the final track, “Aphōnos,” which immediately follows it, is an absolutely demented mixture of noise and melody. A beautiful, unhinged end to a twisted journey.
This is a work that I am willing to label genius. I am willing to write it into, in pen no less, my Top 10 albums of the year. It’s going to be very, very hard to displace this work in the nine months remaining and, to date, I am not sure anything comes close to the absolutely epic sprawl and emotional wasteland laid out by Wrest on Leviathan’s Scar Sighted.