As a music reviewer, it is so easy to forget that so much of music enjoyment, despite recommendations and comparisons, really just comes down to personal taste. And, in much the same way that I can’t find a single defining reason why a Johannes Brahms symphony moves me far more than, say, a similar offering from Gustav Mahler, I am finding it practically impossible to pin down one single reason why I find myself enjoying Leviathan, the latest album from St Petersburg-based Second to Sun, so damn much. It all just comes down to taste.
Sure, there are plenty of good reasons to recommend this record: the dynamic range of styles, for one. Here’s an album that shifts gears from downtempo grind (“Marsche der Wölfe” has all the martial drive of Marduk) to deceptively soft DSBM melodies (“I psychoanalyze my ghosts” occupies a delightful grey area between Lifelover and Psychonaut 4) to raw, unhinged battery (Enthroned-like ferocity infuses every bar of “Shaitan”) – and all without losing cohesion. Then there’s the vocal performance. While ‘mastermind’ Vladimir Lehtinen employs a fairly textbook approach to his vocal style, the delivery is genius – a percussive staccato bark that echoes the drumline and reinforces the entire rhythm section while also weaving the primary musical narrative. For those who don’t appreciate this style of vocal, however, Leviathan is the third album by Second to Sun being released as both a standard and an instrumental version; 2018’s The Walk and 2019’s follow up, Legacy, were both released in this dual format.
After that, there’s also the depth of the arrangements, with great attention given to countermelodies, texture and the consequent tension with which these infuse the music. “The Emperor in Hell” may typify this, but “The Engraving of Gustave Doré” drags it past any logical conclusion and back again. On the subject of countermelody, let’s not forget the effective use of keys in the Second to Sun arsenal. In the post-black circles this prolific Russian group moves, it’s often too easy to get lost in piano counterpoints to the guitar work, but Leviathan is a stirring example of doing this right – a supporting role executed to perfection. See “Eerie” as a case in point, chock-full of creepy Carach Angren-esque horror metal ambience.
Given all that, my utter enjoyment of the record should be no surprise but based on social listening, that excitement isn’t shared. The impact Leviathan has had on my personal tastes isn’t quite what it has on others, with impressions ranging from ‘bland’ to ‘sounds electronic’ to ‘machine-like’ souring my mood. Much to my chagrin, it really does all come down to taste. And as much as I want to imply that my taste is better, that’s not why I’m here. As much as I can recommend Leviathan, I can only hope it brings you as much joy as it does me.
Given the wide range of sounds and styles, it’s impossible to accurately offer any subset of similar artists, but these are descriptions garnered in the past by predominantly industrial black metal acts, from Aborym to Mysticum to Dodheimsgard. And this is just another characteristic that makes me enjoy the living hell out of Leviathan. I temper my disappointment in the tastes of others by telling myself Second to Sun’s fecund creativity outlives these narrow views.
A drum playthrough of the aforementioned “I psychoanalyze my ghosts.”
Leviathan Track Listing:
2. Marsche der Wölfe
3. The Emperor in Hell
4. I psychoanalyze my ghosts
6. The Engraving of Gustave Doré
8. Black death, Spirits and Werewolves
Run Time: 49:17
Release Date: September 29, 2020
Record Label: Self-Release