World Premiere: Leviathan – “Contrary Pulse”

This is the world premiere of “Contrary Pulse,” from Leviathan’s new album, True Traitor, True Whore (out Nov. 8 on Profound Lore).

Leviathan – “Contrary Pulse”

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You can’t really talk about the new Leviathan album without talking about the personal travails of Jef Whitehead—its title alone sort of puts those themes at the center of any conversation—but even without the controversy, True Traitor, True Whore would be one of the most noteworthy albums of the year. After all, Wrest is one of American black metal’s great innovators and truly unique composers, and he allegedly intended for 2008’s now-classic Massive Conspiracy Against All Life to be the final release under his Leviathan alias. Thus, the fact that he dragged Leviathan back to the light and recorded a new LP with Sanford Parker—the first Leviathan album to be produced in an actual studio—for release on Profound Lore…well, that would be a pretty big deal under any circumstances. And you know what? It is a pretty big deal.

So we’ll save the discussion of Whitehead’s personal life for another time, and for the moment, we’ll leave the focus where it should be: on the music.

Perhaps surprisingly, that’s not particularly difficult: Wrest’s music has always felt distinctly and intensely personal, but not especially confessional. Even amid a genre of growlers, his vocals are unusually incomprehensible (to my ear, at least); I sometimes wonder if there are words at all at the core of his tormented howling and violent orc grunts.

The first track to surface from True Traitor was the swirling and hypnotic “Her Circle Is the Noose” (which was featured on Pitchfork alongside a decidedly uncomfortable interview with Whitehead), followed by a premiere of the album’s majestic closing cut, “Blood Red and True.” Now, Profound Lore and Invisible Oranges are premiering “Contrary Pulse,” whose title is not nearly so accusatory as that of “Circle” but certainly seems to imply a deep and unsettling irresolution.

The song itself is one of TTTW’s highlights: Like much of Wrest’s music—both Leviathan and Lurker of Chalice—it has a uniquely dreamlike quality (though these are bad dreams, to be sure): The structure is shape-shifting, mazelike. It is built on bizarre instrumentation; it twists in odd and unexpected directions. The mood here is claustrophobic, paranoid, airless. At the song’s apex (you wouldn’t quite call it a “chorus”), the guitars soar to Everest-level peaks, a moment of blinding sunlight above the clouds—it feels, palpably, like a release—only to come crashing back down into a swamp of twisted guitars and marching, militaristic drums.

In its final minute, Wrest steers the track into something else entirely: a calming, rippling ambient pool, with streaks and shadows of…synth, I think. Clarinet, maybe. It is a moment of true peace. But it is just a moment. And then it is gone.

Mike Nelson