By Lee Newman
A few years ago, Leviathan’s Jef Whitehead was ripped from his notorious reclusiveness by an accusation of domestic violence. The details of the event were unreachably vague, but the headlines spread regardless. It was a scandal so cloaked in secrecy that it evoked not feelings of outrage, but more of an inky unease in those following it. Whitehead’s response to all this was a half-baked, venomous little album titled, ominously, True Traitor, True Whore. No statements, no clarification.
In the years since, Whitehead has allowed the inconsistencies of the incident to drift into the cold storage of our collective memory. Once a poster child for black metal misanthropy, a man so unfit for society that the only capacity in which he could work was alone, Whitehead is now a proud father. He presents his chubby-cheeked daughter on the cover of Decibel, he made an Instagram account, and he generally seems to be in a much better place than he was. However, Scar Sighted is not the mellow dad-rock album we joked it would be.
Instead, it is Whitehead’s sonic redemption.
Unlike the chilling but hollow-sounding mess that was True Traitor, True Whore, Scar Sighted soars through near-transcendent emotional peaks and depths. What has always made Leviathan so compelling is that the anxiety and hatred in the music is palpable: when Whitehead howls, he does so from the pit of his stomach, through anguished swarms of guitars and unstable walls of effects. These musical elements so familiar to the Leviathan project are still present on Scar Sighted, but are masterful as opposed to disorganized.
Whitehead’s production is the fullest it has been to date, but also the most straightforward: the bass is clearly intelligible, and the vocals are not caked in nearly as much static as they notoriously have been. The guitars shred like they never have before, funereal drums and religious chants lead us into desolate valleys, and then magnificent crescendos lead us out again.
It seems as though Whitehead is not hiding himself anymore. Instead, with songwriting on par with his masterwork Massive Conspiracy Against All Life (the album which moved me so much that I have a Leviathan tattoo), it feels like Whitehead has come into his own. True Traitor, True Whore was his reckoning, but Scar Sighted is his absolution.