Noisey’s excellent documentary One Man Metal dove into a captivating and worrying world. The film centered on Leviathan, Striborg and Xasthur, three black metal artists who, as the title suggests, are all one-man projects. The documentary unveiled the ideologies behind each man and why they make such isolated music. Russell Menzies, the man behind Striborg, is composed and tranquil, often going on nature hikes and enjoying his time away from people. Scott Conner’s Xasthur project seems driven by his own discomfort around humanity; he comes off as paranoid, constantly uncomfortable in his own skin. Finally, Jef Whitehead’s Leviathan is centered in ferocity, he’s quick with an F-bomb and frustrated that, as he grows older, he can’t play as fast as he once could. Each of them represents different emotions found in solitude. Striborg is peace, Xasthur finds paranoia and Leviathan boils in rage.

For Whitehead, his music reflects reality all too well. A few years ago, he was arrested for allegedly committing domestic violence and sexually assaulting his then-girlfriend. He responded to the charges by releasing one of his most brutal, and straightforward, albums True Traitor, True Whore. This should be the part of the story where Whitehead is put behind bars for a long, long time and gains burzum like levels of infamy. But something odd happened. Whitehead was cleared of all but one of the original charges, moved to Portland, opened a new label and had a kid. Scar Sighted seems to run parallel to Whitehead’s new chapter. It doesn’t let go of the rage, but it recognizes that there’s something beyond the hatred that’s dominated so much of Leviathan’s music.

If Leviathan’s had one defining trait, it’s that it still seems insane that one man can make all this noise. Just the bridge from early highlight “Dawn Vibration” swirls and howls with enough power to outshine an orchestra and the low end thumps and growls in time. As with most black metal albums, the focus is mostly on the monumental walls of guitar, but Whitehead’s drumming is the foundation for everything on Scar Sighted. He’s brutal on the classic blast beats, but he’s also just as quick to throw a monkey wrench in the formula. “Gardens of Coprolite” is the best example, as Whitehead opens with clattering, foreboding percussion that morphs wonderfully, nearly bending the song’s time signature as it rolls along. “Gardens of Coprolite” certainly isn’t a happy song, but it does hold itself with an elegant composure as it shifts from segment to segment, an interesting change from the usual straightforward brutality Leviathan often leans on.

For fans of the old punishment, there’s still plenty to go around. “Within Thrall” is easily the album’s fastest track with a few moments that could almost be mistaken for primo thrash (if it wasn’t for the drum/guitar maelstrom that quickly follows). Those looking for a sound more in line with depressive black metal need only to sink into the dark waters of the title track. Here, Whitehead’s vocals crawl out over sluggish drums and groaning guitars. It’s wonderfully massive and finishes with a breathtaking climax that shifts everything into overdrive with a mesmerizing guitar lead.

All of the tracks here feel so thriving with newfound energy that the nitpicks are small. Whitehead is so in the pocket with his growling that it feels odd when he takes a vocal detour (on one memorable occasion he tries out a Tom Waits-esque croak). A few songs also have jarring moments of inconsistency, like “Wicked Fields of Calm”’s bridge, which twitches along and sounds just a tad too conventional for Whitehead. These things are easy to forget in the face of the “holy shit!” moments that Scar Sighted readily supplies, like the shimmering, golden guitar notes that float over the top of penultimate track “All Tongues Toward.”

A major conversation in black metal is the problem proposed by Liturgy. Their frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix called his music “transcendental black metal” and dismissed much of the modern black metal community in his manifesto subtitled “A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism.” Many were quick to call Hendrix a troll and ignore him, but his idea of “transcendental black metal” strikes a chord while listening to Scar Sighted. Not in terms of redefining genres or mutating a sound, but of rising above previously strong shackles. Scar Sighted, in its title and music, suggests new perspectives gained during the healing process and, for Whitehead, a new chapter in his life and sound.

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