Unless you’re a polar bear, six straight weeks of below average temperatures will destroy your spirit. Rather than hunting for fun, uplifting, Record o’ the Month-caliber albums, you will find yourself dredging the promo bin for anything bitter and morose. Thus I stumbled across Megaton Leviathan, a band specializing in all things doom, drone, and shoegaze. Mage is mastermind Andrew James Costa Reuscher and his ever-changing band’s third album, and if the promo blurb is remotely accurate, its “borderline narcotic compositions” should be just what I need to push me even further into early winter doldrums. Or will the album simply collapse under its own pretentious weight?
“Wave” opens with, um, waves of subsonic droning, setting the tone for Mage in doomy fashion. The subsonic kick drum is featured throughout the album, almost making Mage an album you can feel more than hear. The song is lethargically hypnotic, as are the next couple of tracks as well. “Take the Fire” has a bit more of an electronic/industrial vibe going on, while “Mage” is the most guitar-dominant song. “The Belldog” carries on with the doom/drone/electronic soundscapes, but rather than the surreal interweaving of male/female vocals the other songs feature, here we are presented with a loud, dominant, and embarrassingly jarring clean vocal that brings a certain awkwardness with it. While none of these songs are bad, neither do any of them really hit the mark.
The standout song is the finale “Within the Threshold,” a sixteen-minute track that fades in with anticipation, waves of shimmering ambiance rising and falling, building and collapsing before an hypnotic electronic pulse takes over. Five minutes in the guitars enter, bringing a sense of menace to the song before a beautiful melancholy settles in for the final minutes. It’s too bad all the tracks didn’t possess this level of magic, because “Within the Threshold” is a magnificent cut, showing what Megaton Leviathan are truly capable of. Reuscher and his primary writing partner, Mort Subite, have it in them to create soundscapes of psychedelic beauty, but I’m left wondering if the other newer members of the band were timid in their contributions. Andrea Morgan brings some eerie violin work to the songs, as well as vocals, but I find it hard to single out any other performances.
Lack of variety is what ultimately leads to Mage’s downfall. The first four songs are mild variations of the same template—they’re all about the same length, the same tempo, with slight changeups. For example, “Mage” is a bit more guitar-heavy, while “The Belldog” features large synth waves and clean vocals high atop the mix, and “Take the Fire” has a decidedly industrial bent to it. “But Huckster, this is droning shoegaze, it’s supposed to all sound the same.” Okay, but I disagree. Wilder fluctuations in arrangement and instrumentation are highly sought after here. At the beginning of the review I noted the possibility of narcotic compositions: too often a shot of morphine would enhance the music.
It’s clear that Reuscher and company have talent, and a vision of what they want Megaton Leviathan to convey to the listener. Unfortunately, aside from the excellent “Within the Threshold,” the songwriting on Mage just doesn’t keep us fully engaged, anxious to replay the album and dig deeper into the psychedelic expanses laid out. Yes, it’s drone, it’s shoegaze, but even such lethargic sub-genres can and should draw the listener into The Serpent and the Rainbow-like depths. I wanted to like this album a lot more than this. Luckily, the cold snap is over and with the sun shining again, albeit briefly in these shortening days, I can turn my attention back to lighter fare for a few weeks.