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Megaton Leviathan - Magick Helmet review

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Band: Megaton Leviathan
Album: Magick Helmet
Release date: December 2023

01. The Final Form Of Nothing Is Final
02. The Final Form Of Nothing Is Final (A Slight Return)
03. The Belly Of The Beast
04. Helios Creeds Magick Helmet

The warm, gazy drone doom of Megaton Leviathan’s Mage in 2018 was one of the albums that ignited a greater interest in ambient/drone-related metal on my part. In the five years since, Megaton Leviathan have changed substantially, and so has their music.

Perhaps ironically given their name, but Megaton Leviathan aren’t a band that has ever focused on heaviness above all else. The project, founded in 2007 by Andrew James ‘Reuscher’ Costa, had a more doom metal slant on early releases such as the 2009 demo or Past 21 Beyond The Arctic Cell, but even those releases conjured up brighter, dreamier droning soundscapes as contrast to the heavier riffs, and 2018’s Mage moved even further towards lush, psychedelic soundscapes, incorporating aspects of shoegaze, darkwave and other sounds.

Mage (which unfortunately is no longer streaming anywhere online) was produced with contributions from a range of musicians, including Andrea Morgan (whose band Exulansis has just dropped a couple of albums of their own) and Jon Reid (ex-Lord Dying). However, Megaton Leviathan in 2023 has had a major overhaul; moving from Blood Music onto Reuscher’s Volatile Rock Recordings label, a (from what I can see, otherwise unnamed) trio featuring Reuscher has recorded an instrumental-only record that takes Megaton Leviathan’s sound in a very different direction.

In terms of overlap with Mage, about the most I can point towards is that both records incorporate elements of drone and noise. However, the warm, angelic doom of Mage is otherwise pretty much absent; above anything, Magick Helmet is a psychedelic rock album. It has a jam core to the writing, and a mellow chilled vibe. What distinguishes it from a lot of similar jam psych rock albums is how much of the focus is on soundscaping through effects and distortion, to the extent that it descends in multiple instances (particularly during “The Belly Of The Beast”) into borderline drone rock.

Compared with other long-form instrumental psych rockers, such as somebody like Earthless, there’s less of a focus on technicality and pyrotechnics; opening track “The Final Form Of Nothing Is Final” has some lively, groovy bass, but the guitar largely eschews riffs or distinct solo in favour of effects-laden psychedelic swirling, which smothers the sound of this muted song. The subsequent track “The Final Form Of Nothing Is Final (A Slight Return)” places an even greater emphasis on ambient texturing, the rhythm section glitching and warping as the swirling guitar gradually collapses in on itself.

After an initial half-hour that prioritizes exploration of unusual soundscapes, Magick Helmet then undergoes a major change for the colossal closing song, the 27-minute chill jam “Helios Creeds Magick Helmet”. There’s moments of brash distortion scattered throughout, but with a slick, groovy rhythm section and a slightly greater degree of clarity and tonality on the part of the still effects-heavy guitar, the music becomes a lot more easily digestible for psych rock fans who may struggle with the experimentation in the album’s first half.

Magick Helmet is described by Reuscher as a return-to-roots album, in which he embraces gritty, mind-altering sounds, resulting in an album that one doesn’t ‘just listen to in enjoyment but also endure’. From the viewpoint of achieving this objective, I would say that Magick Helmet accomplishes its goals. In terms of being a satisfying next step for Megaton Leviathan, I’m not so convinced. The ‘deconstructed psych rock’ concept is an intriguing one, but in actuality, I can’t say that I find Magick Helmet to be that interesting to listen to. “Helios Creeds Magick Helmet” makes for decent background listening, but there’s similar psych rock that manages to accomplish more in less time (San Leo's recent release comes to mind); as far as the dronier first half goes, “The Final Form Of Nothing Is Final” has a fairly compelling vibe, but “The Belly Of The Beast” can become grating.

It's a bold new sound, and may charm some existing fans who are most drawn towards Megaton Leviathan for their manipulation of sound, but I do feel like the band have lost quite a lot of what made them noteworthy on prior albums while not offering that much of interest to compensate.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 7
Songwriting: 6
Originality: 6
Production: 7

Written on 07.12.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not

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