Since forming in 2014 in the seaside town of Brighton, King Leviathan have gone from strength to strength, releasing a string of EPs and storming venues and festivals, all the while beavering away on new material, culminating in debut album Paean Heretica; and what a debut it is.
Right from the outset (bar fifteen seconds spent wondering if the speakers were actually working), King Leviathan make their intent clear; worship speed, violence and the Old Gods and flatten all those in their way. The intro to ‘Primitive Baptism’ reeks of Gojira in its irregular, lurching rhythm before bursting forth into savage growls and thrashing. Seemingly disparate elements are brought together throughout not just the opener but also the album as a whole – symphonic singing, death metal barks and blackened thrash swirl together in the cauldron to form the whole.
As made obvious by the band name and track titles, King Leviathan are no strangers to the occult; indeed the band refer to their shows as Black Masses in dedication to the Old Gods, and happily take on the task of spreading the madness at the heart of such Lovecraftian themes.
The opening of fourth track ‘Agony’ sidles in before erupting into a lurching behemoth, the angular yet oddly melodic riffing reminiscent of Skeletonwitch, before the verse settles into a melancholic, haunting cleanly sung passage, before once again bursting forth in a hail of blastbeats and growls. ‘Coffin Swallower’ screeches into existence with all the swagger of a blackened Decapitated all jagged edges and blastbeats, clean vocals employed sparingly to accentuate rather than carry melody, a change that works well and sounds fresh rather than having the two vocalists at counterpoint.
The interplay throughout the album between the clean vocals and screams work wonders; the ethereal, haunting cleans balanced against the vicious snarls that lend a decidedly demented edge to the sonic assault conjured. Closer ‘The Grand Congregation’ also bears mentioning; at over 7 and a half minutes it’s easily the longest track on the album and also one of the most varied. Here the sung parts work in the vein of Anaal Nathrakh to elevate the track and actually make it sound somehow more demented and urgent. Whilst clearly comfortable at speed, it’s when things slow a little that King Leviathan really lock into a groove and sound utterly monstrous with riffs heavy enough to crack a planet – fortunately these moments are sprinkled sparsely enough to ensure they maintain their sheer heft.
If there is criticism to be levelled at the band, it is only that speed can every so often cause songs to blur somewhat, and that the slower passages can also occasionally outshine the breakneck pace they are designed to break up and provide some slight reprieve from. But this feels like nitpicking for a band’s debut album; some bands barely sound this coherent several albums into their career, but King Leviathan have managed to sound effortless, fully-formed having used their EP releases to cut their teeth first.
Paean Heretica utterly fails to outstay its welcome, managing to pack impressively varied songwriting into its roughly 45 minute run-time and the production is slick, modern, and never loses too much of the darkness of the music; no surprise given the band brought renowned producer Alan Douches (Mastodon, Baroness, Converge) on board. The album rips and snarls across its duration, never losing focus or becoming bogged down despite the intricacies of the guitar work nor becoming repetitive despite the excessive use of blastbeats. If you want blackened thrash with a side helping of Lovecraft, you can’t put a foot wrong with King Leviathan.
Review by Will Marshall