Though Beholden To Nothing, Braver Since Then was probably destined to ebb and flow in success due to personal demands and wants from a progressive metal encounter, it has to be said that the new album from US metallers Leviathan emerges as one of the most compelling and riveting genre releases to come along this year so far. Its imagination sparking blend of classic heavy metal and progressive adventure with an additional wealth of diverse and expressive styles is a masterful canvas to lose thoughts and emotions within. Combining provocative samples and inciting instrumentals amongst melodically and narratively absorbing songs, the Denver band has created an adventure very difficult to ignore or turn away from.
Formed in 1989 by guitarist/leader Ronnie Skeen, guitarist Steve Fugate, and vocalist Tom Braden, soon joined by drummer Ty Tammeus and bassist James Escobedo, Leviathan proceeded to earn a fine reputation and fanbase through the release of a self-titled debut EP in 1991 and first album Deepest Secrets Beneath two years later. Before the release of the EP guitarist John Lutzow joined to replace Fugate, whilst after the album the band almost destructed with the departure of most of its line-up. It survived though enlisting new recruits including vocalist Jeff Ward and bassist Derek Blake, who along with Lutzow make up the core of the current line-up. 1996 saw second album Riddles, Questions, Poetry, and Outrage unveiled to great acclaim, leading to a deal with Century Media. As their stock, reputation, and equally live presence ascended, Leviathan unleashed third album Scoring the Chapters, but again a self-released encounter after the band left their label due to internal conflicts. It also was acclaimed and eagerly received but from here the band seemed to have taken a hiatus before it returning in 2010 with live album Leviathan Resurrected – Reunion Show and the Deepest Secrets Beneath & Leviathan EP. Following its predecessor At Long Last, Progress Stopped to Follow of 201, Beholden to Nothing, Braver Since Then easily sets Leviathan down as a fresh wind and experience for current progressive metal. Whether it is the band’s finest moment we have to leave to fans to announce but certainly it is easy to assume it is on the frontline of their creative heights to date.
The Stonefellowship Recordings released album opens with the atmospheric instrumental Ephemeral Cathexis, samples and evocative sounds merging to cast the first chapter of the album’s provocative theme and presence before guitars wind comfortably and inventively around ears. Its brief lead makes way for A Shepherds Work where again guitars steal a march on attention with skilled enterprise. It is a song which struggles to maintain its grip though, certainly initially. Its opening verse and suasion feels a touch lightweight, minimalistic in its impression on the senses though it is more down to the production we suggest than song weight to be fair. The vocals equally at first make an indecisive convincing though there is a great Billy Mackenzie like touch to their presence which certainly demands interest. The track continues to expand, employing stronger guitar craft and throaty basslines as it increases its lure for thoughts if not emotions whilst providing a strong start for the release.
The following Intrinsic Contentment instantly raises the enticement with a tempting casting of guitar and emotive melodies around the ever expressive vocals. A rich snarl to the bass and riffs aligned to a grumpier rhythmic touch adds a depth and force to the song which was lacking in its predecessor, engaging ears and imagination in a darker premise and intimidating coaxing within the tight flaming of guitar and sonic endeavour. Again the song does not erupt as expected or hoped but does provide a sinewed sculpted waltz easy to be enticed by before the classically honed evocation of the instrumental Overture of Exasperation opens a grander epic doorway into the heart of the release. Keys and strings envelop with beauty and eventually a Sicilian like beckoning as the piece enthrals and delights a continually hungrier appetite for the album.
Creatures of Habit holds a stronger rapacious attitude and presence to those songs before next, its challenging intent a forceful web of melodies and sonic tenacity before settling into a glorious melodic breeze of plucked strings and vocal reflection within a brewing ambience of strings and keys. It is transfixing musically and emotionally, continuing the increasingly potent and impressive emergence of the album. Each member and aspect of the song bewitches resourcefully before moving away for the haunting electronically bred instrumental Solitude Begets Ignorance. Merely fifty seconds it is another fascinating twist to light thoughts ready for the entrance of the heavy metal bred A Testament for Non-Believers. It is another track which is undeniably impressively created and presented with rich essences of enterprise but fails to spark the fuse to anything greater than satisfaction, something If the Devil Doesn’t Exist… has no problem achieving. With immediate drama and portentous air to riffs and tempting grooves before torturous cries, the track is an epic stride through a hellacious climate and melodic seducing. As with many songs, there are delicious swerves into gentle caresses and muscular provocation which are as unpredictable as they are rewarding, its nine minutes a constantly growing and expressive emprise.
The glorious Magical Pills Provided brings the first pinnacle of the album, the instrumental a breath-taking avant-garde experiment of progressive ingenuity. It roars and shimmers as it seduce and infest the imagination from first note to last; a plethora of styles and startling ideation consuming mind and passions with psyche twisting alchemy. Its glory is swiftly followed and matched by the outstanding Thumbing Your Nose at Those Who Oppose, its folkish beauty and melodic elegance superbly aligned to a sultry and irresistible sonic mystique.
From here on in the album again wins some loses some with personal tastes but with the carnivorously honed and cored Empty Vessel of Faith, the Eastern dub blessed Bettering Darklighter, and the exceptional enterprise drenched Misanthrope Exhumed, band and album still holds full command of attention and that increasingly eager appetite spawned early on. Closing with its increasingly potent and persuasive title track, Beholden to Nothing, Braver Since Then is an album for which only recommendations can be offered. Investigating and attacking the heart of religion and more, Leviathan has provided progressive metal with a powerful protagonist to devour greedily. As we finish up and let the album seep into the body once again, I think that earlier suggestion that this is Leviathan’s greatest moment is a given.
Beholden to Nothing, Braver Since Then is available via Stonefellowship Recordings now!
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