In 2017, most metal listeners know American black metal (or USBM) as a living and growing entity, with several scenes and micro-genres catering to every shade of dark fascination. But things were different in 2003. Among American fans, even dedicated metalheads, black metal was still only emerging as a recognized and well-known force. Yes, there was a scene that included names like Absu, Profanatica, Krieg, Demoncy and a few others, but it hadn’t captured attention like the death metal scene did in the early 1990s. In the dying days of the monoculture, Nu-Metal was on its last legs and the New Wave of American Heavy Metal was just getting audiences ready for screaming, blastbeats and real riffs again. It was a perfect time for a record to emerge in the underground to propel the American black metal scene forward.
Leviathan’s The Tenth Sublevel of Suicide was one of those records. Aggressive, bleak and almost horrifying in its self-loathing and rage, the record is a nightmare set to music. Its focus on deeply personal internal terrors shows the characteristically American turn away from European black metal’s focus on mystical and fantastical subjects. This has been one of the distinguishing factors in American black metal, and one of the sources of derision against it (European suicidal/depressive black metal like Strid notwithstanding). I don’t mean to say it was some sort of cross-cultural mainstream smash, but through word of mouth, the internet and loud rock DJs at college radio (like myself), the next few years saw the record and Leviathan gain a reputation and prove very influential. While Jef Whitehead, also known as Wrest, has made several records since then, The Tenth Sublevel of Suicide is a straightforward statement of purpose (or lack of purpose…since…you know, the whole thing is about wanting to die).
Now you get to hear the beginnings of this black metal classic with The First Sublevel of Suicide (heh, I like how descriptive the title is). Wrest has given Ascension Monuments Media access to some of his personal demo tapes, which include demo versions of songs that would later make up the full length album. Check out “Mine Molten Armor” below and revel in its grim ferocity!