Like the darkest of chocolate smothering the creamiest of peanut butter, pairing two of death metal’s enduring icons for a dream supergroup should be a match made in heaven. With a combined resumé that reads as venerable Who’s Who of classic death metal, the musicianship of Jonny Petterson (Wombbath, Pale King, Henry Kane, a slew of other bands) blended with the throat of Dave Ingram (Down Among The Dead Men, ex-Bolt Thrower, ex-Benediction, a slew of other bands) sounds like a perfect formula on screen and paper. Stockholm-steeped riffing topped by one of England’s most recognizable death metal vocalists? Sign me the fuck up! So when word came out about the arrival of their debut, Swim With The Leviathan, I frothed at the mouth, expecting to be leveled by such a hefty, promising debut by two death metal legends.
And instead, I’m left confused and a bit frustrated. Mind you, the album starts off strongly. Opener “Devil May Care” starts off with a thick, chewy mid-paced Petterson HM-2 riff and Ingram’s unmistakable bellows over a mid-tempo drive. Not mindblowing or original, but it blends both Petterson’s and Ingram’s pasts into a cohesive whole that works quite well. So far so good. Third track (and album highlight) “Bullet Bitten” pays homage to Lemmy Kilmister, complete with a couple of samples of the late Motörhead frontman during some monstrous riffs and a thick groove. In fact, the first four songs display just how much of a Leviathan Ursinne can be if they focused their energies on leveling the fuck out of everyone within earshot. Leviathan‘s original material ranges from okay (“Something Wicked This Way Comes”) to pretty good (“Talons” and “Bullet Bitten”) when all cannons are firing at the same target.
But things take a sharper nosedive than what the Ultimate Warrior hoped Hulk Hogan would take in an airplane prior to Wrestlemania 6 immediately afterward. For reasons I can’t fathom, Ursinne saw fit to cover “Crazy Horses” by The Osmonds, a song I never want to hear in any form, as Leviathan‘s fifth track, and HOOOOO-BOY, is it bad. To put it into perspective, this is the musical equivalent of a bad in-joke between friends that absolutely nobody else can understand. I get wanting to let your hair down and be goofy (hello, Vampillia!), but when you start off an album with seriously competent death metal, you’d want to continue that theme, especially on your debut. It matters not the legendary status of the people concocting this album (though it wouldn’t honestly hurt). I’m sure you’re thinking that one single cover couldn’t ruin this album, and you’d be right…
…because there are FOUR covers on here, scattered within the tracklisting of the band’s original material. On a twelve-song album. That’s exactly one-third of Leviathan, and none of them are necessary or helpful to the album as a whole. The only one that kinda works, “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors, is only interesting in that “okay, that just happened” sense, and worse yet, it’s sandwiched between two of Ursinne‘s stronger originals (“Underworld” and “Hollow Hearse”), weakening their imprint. The less said about their covers of Queens of the Stone Age‘s “Monsters in the Parasol” (with Kam Lee!) and Siouxsie and the Banshees‘ “Spellbound,” the better. Had they left these covers off (or at least kept all of them at the end of the album proper so the rest of the album could shine), Leviathan would have left a better taste in my mouth. As it is, the back-and-forth bounce between “decent-quality death metal project” and “goofy death metal cover band” is jarring enough to pull me out of the game almost entirely. Besides, we already have Six Feet Under. We don’t need another.
And that kills me because I have nothing but the utmost of respect for both Petterson and Ingram, and what they’ve brought to metal over the years. If they can focus on their strengths, as well as work on the production side of things a bit so the melodic guitar can not sound so muffled compared to the non-stop Sunlight-inspired onslaught, Ursinne could become a monster. But you are best to let Leviathan sleep with the fishes. I would much rather have a solid and competent eight-song album that leaves me wanting more over a 45-minute album with promising songs diminished by bad covers and an iffy tracklist. Disappointing.