I cannot take credit for discovering Second to Sun all on my lonesome. That distinction goes to our very own Zyklonius, the donut devourer himself, and his hyper specific talent of posting snippets of exactly what I’m currently into in the staff group chat. When I first caught wind of the initial singles from Leviathan, I was pretty instantly blown away by what I heard, and I knew this would be an album for me to keep my eyes on. Now that it’s finally here, I can very definitively say that, holy shit, this one bangs.
Second to Sun hail from the great white north of St. Petersburg, Russia, and boy do you feel it when they play. The music is about as cold, stark and desolate as you would stereotypically expect from a Russian band, but Second to Sun almost take it to the next level. Guitarist/principle songwriter/producer/engineer Vladimir Lehtinen has been perfecting the balance between an uncanny level of aggression and old-school worship with outside-the-box melodies and ethereal synth work in his music since Second to Sun began as a purely instrumental outfit with drummer Theodor Borovski assisting in conducting duties. While the band maintains that the instrumentals have always been the primary vehicle for telling stories, they quickly picked up Gleb Sysoev of Ultar as their vocalist and his brother Max as a bassist and from then on, things just seemed to pick up. Leviathan marks the band’s fifth full-length release, and their trajectory seems to only continue upwards on this, the follow-up to 2019’s critically lauded Legacy. Leviathan seems to take everything that was great about Legacy, the synths, the second-wave fury, the riffs, the howling vocals, and turn it up way beyond eleven.
Leviathan gets in your face with a bite and intensity that I have not felt in black metal in a long time, and it does it almost literally from the first second that it comes on. “Eerie” begins with a little bit of ambience to set the tone, but wastes no time getting straight into the meat and potatoes of throat-searing, wretched vocals, pummeling riffs and wild drumming. There’s a break about a third of the way in, possibly only to let Gleb take a break for a hot second, but it’s here that the small details of what sets Leviathan apart from the other legions of pretenders to the throne of old-school black metal. The guitars lay down a sickening melody that is repeated continually as the song changes and evolves, and the synth work that adds so much depth and clever originality to these songs really stands out. Similarly, “I Psychoanalyze My Ghosts” drives hard in the beginning of the song, with the drums pounding out a steady attack, but the almost vintage sound of the synths used to lighten things up is really what stands out the most to me. That, and the way the song ends in an almost blackgaze cacophony of swirling atmosphere. “Emperor in Hell” features a lot of inherently Russian touches to the melody lines that Lehtinen lays down that are so interesting to me. For all the subtlety snuck in the layers, most of what this album does is erupt with a wild, violent fury that legitimately startled me on first listen, especially when you get to “Shaitan.” I haven’t had a song grab me by the throat like that in I don’t know how long, but it opens at such a blistering pace I almost had the wind knocked out of me just sitting there listening to it.
I don’t think I’m the kind of person who needs a lot from music to get it to knock me on my ass (apparently all it takes is the barest mention of dinosaurs), but Leviathan certainly accomplished that in spades. It’s almost a workout to just sit there and listen to everything, but it’s well worth the effort you put in. There’s plenty of the typical abandon you would hope to find in this kind of black metal, but there’s also a lot of little nuances here and there that warrant repeated listens and deeper dives. But mostly, you’re gonna wanna come back because it bangs. Really hard.