Leviathan – True Traitor, True Whore

By Kyle Harcott

I won’t recount here the charges and accusations leveled at Jef Whitehead. If you’re reading this, chances are you already know the story, and the man’s upcoming trial will sort out the truth of his innocence or guilt. Whitehead, aka Wrest, the one-man force behind Leviathan, in the wake of/in answer to such heinous charges, has released True Traitor, True Whore, a soundscape of venomous, mordant spite. The main controversy surrounding the record lies in its unapologetic wrath, as it hammers home a vengeful ugliness shrouded in mystery, enigmatic as it is vitriolic.

There’s an unflinching smear of Whitehead’s rancid acrimony all over the album, granting an uneasy verity to the malevolence and disgust contained in the music – this is not playacting at being ‘evil’. I sense that there is much hatred spilled across the eight tracks here, nowhere more prevalent than the cryptic vocals. Intentionally guttural, garbled, and buried in effects – at times, Whitehead wrestles sounds from his voice akin to a trapped animal trying to gnaw off its own wounded limb; at others, it’s the sound of a man possessed of such a black and bilious hatred he is incapable of containing it and has no choice but to vomit it forth until there is nothing left to retch up. Though few lyrics have been published (and only those most obtuse lines at that), little assumption is required to glean the sentiments in tracks with titles like “Her Circle is the Noose” and “Every Orifice Yawning Her Price”.

Musically, while True Traitor, True Whore is rooted in black metal -as dragged through a mire of nightmarish black psychedelia- it’s too experimental to be labeled as anything so straight-ahead. The record runs the gamut as it incorporates avant-psychedelic passages, as well as experimental progression within its bleak and damnable structure. There’s the chaos-nightmare blasting of “True Whorror”, while “Her Circle Is the Noose” ascends to otherworldly pitch-black space-psych. “Brought Up to the Bottom” incorporates howling noise-rock fury with guitar lines that recall ‘90s no-wave; “Shed This Skin” writhes, descending a downward spiral that explodes into blastbeat fury at the halfway mark. “Harlot Rises” invokes stomach-churning psychedelic acoustic guitar and vague Floyd-isms between its frothing black passages, and album closer “Blood Red and True” sets itself apart from the rest of the record, lurching straight forward with a thunderous, monolithic stomp.

In light of its history and also its eclecticism, True Traitor, True Whore is not an easy, straight-ahead listen – careening wildly down forked paths of experimentation as it does. But the things I found most challenging about it at first, are also the things I eventually came to regard as most rewarding about it. Without question, 2011’s most controversial metal record is also one of its finest.

(Profound Lore)

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.