Leviathan – True Traitor, True Whore

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Take a moment to analyze the hand pressed against the cover of Leviathan’s fifth album, True Traitor, True Whore. It’s not just any hand; it’s the left hand of lone Leviathan member Jef Whitehead. The hand he’s used to make a living as a nationally renowned tattoo artist. The hand that has forged his prolific musical output as Wrest, one of the most important figures in American black metal. The hand he allegedly used to beat and sexually assault his former girlfriend in early January. Considering the growing claims from those close to Whitehead that the plaintiff in the case has made the same allegations against previous partners, True Traitor, True Whore is about as far from subtle as a title could be. The key word at this point in the case is “alleged”, since the facts on both sides are still hearsay.

The only facts present are in the music itself. Black metal often asks us to separate the art from its creator, to contrast the known and unknown, much like the contrast of black and white of True Traitor, True Whore’s artwork. But Wrest has made the decision for us. Here, we cannot turn a blind eye to the album’s inspiration. We cannot simply listen to the music, because the music is its creator’s current condition. The haste with which it was recorded cannot be ignored. It’s a scathing response to allegations anyone, guilty or innocent, would be terrified to face.

For all of its thematic controversy, True Traitor, True Whore is the leanest record in the Leviathan oeuvre. One can feel that the album was stitched together, almost hastily handmade for fear the impetus to write could subside at any moment. “Brought Up from the Bottom” and “Shed This Skin” defy the advanced claims of this being Wrest’s least black metal effort. The latter is especially vicious, turning prototypical Leviathan ambient guitar wanderlust into broken blast beats and a raging crusty finale. Maybe it’s Wrest’s clean vocals and occasional whispers that have left some hitting rewind out of shock, but man, even those sections sound downright unsettling awash in dissonant chords and stray notes.

And while the lyrics may be buried under mounds of distortion, we can glean his contempt in song titles like “Her Circle Is the Noose” and “Every Orifice Yawning Her Price”; we feel his anger in the frantic drumming, sticks manically crossing over each other in a shockingly rushed performance considering his membership in high profile psych black metallers Nachtmystium; we hear his gratitude to those chosen few friends who have defended his name in the press in the aching melody of “Contrary Pulse”. That last aspect–the acknowledgment of those who have encircled him this past year–is a key element here. Whitehead has shed his reclusive persona in the months between the allegations and the release of what he has claimed to be his final record. He has reached out to the media for the first time in a decade, speaking not as cloistered black metal luminary Wrest, but Jef Whitehead, a man whose future as a free citizen is uncertain. Whether his reasoning is to draw attention to the music or the man behind it, or both, will likely be Whitehead’s last mystery once the case is settled.

— Greg Majewski

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HEAR TRUE TRAITOR, TRUE WHORE

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Leviathan – “Her Circle Is The Noose”

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Leviathan – “Shed This Skin”

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Amazon (MP3 download)

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