Four years after controversial turmoil in his private life resulted in a self-described "sloppy" fifth album, Jef Whitehead -- known in the black metal world as Leviathan -- returns with Scar Sighted (Profound Lore), a terrifying sonic assault of dread and brutality. On the surface, the album is an overwhelmingly dark exercise in horror, yet it's just a mask covering the immense pain at the core, the sound of a soul obliterated in an atomic blast. Guitars slash and cut and drums pummel with an almost cartoonish heft, but Whitehead's vocals provide the most goosebumps. On de facto opener "The Smoke of Their Torment," he bellows and bleats the listener into submission, emitting a most demonic growl, before a detached voice creeps from the dark recesses of the song's coda (a reading from the Book of Revelation, naturally). Album highlight "Dawn Vibration" follows, building upon the unease and doom with deeply unsettling cries of torture. Even when the pummeling stops, the moments to rest are simply opportunities for Whitehead to scream in pain ("A Veil Is Lifted" and "Scar Sighted" are great examples). The entire album pushes and pulls in such a manner, which is completely exhausting but ultimately cathartic. As the noise peaks and drops away to allow for some breathing room, the space created in the void is not comforting; rather, the listener is unprotected, alone, and eventually crushed under a wall of drums, riffs, and unnervingly ghastly howls. Over the course of this ten-song journey, there are some pretty moments, albeit well within the scope of black metal: slow-churn "Aphonos" is scary as ever, but with an utterly bittersweet melancholy, while "Wicked Fields of Calm" gets a little atmospheric and airy midway through, but of course it doesn't last long. "Within Thrall" begins with a plaintive dirge before it's chucked out the window and a furious thrashing kicks the chair right out from under the listener. Overwhelming, exhausting, cathartic: Scar Sighted is all these things, but more so, this foray into Hell is also thrilling. Within the rise and fall of each song, Whitehead transports you to another realm. Granted, not likely a place you want to be, but riding shotgun on the journey as he crawls out of his own personal Inferno and into a new light is nothing short of enthralling. With production by Billy Anderson (High on Fire, Neurosis), this is Leviathan's cleanest-sounding, best-produced vision of agony in a long tumultuous career.
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AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung