First out as a vinyl-only release on Profound Lore Records (and long since sold out), this monumental split between two genre-leading U.S. black metal bands has now been released on compact disc with bonus tracks on Azentrius' (NACHMYSTIUM, TWILIGHT) Battle Kommand label. The CD may not surpass the quality standards set on the milestone efforts of XASTHUR's "Telepathic with the Deceased" and LEVIATHAN's "Tentacles of Whorror", but it does serve as an excellent introduction to the work of Malefic and Wrest, respectively.
Beginning with XASTHUR's half of the split, "The Eerie Bliss and Torture (of Solitude)" is representative of Malefic's atmospheric swirls and distortion whirrs. A cold wind whips around, as sadness is created through a repeating riff and basic drum beat, all the while Malefic heard faintly in the background crying out in anguish. As "Keeper of Sharpened Blades (and Ominous Fates)" begins I think of a worn-out cassette tape, the winding rhythm moving uneasily in and out, Malefic's growls floating along with a mesmerizing dread that morphs into a razorblade vortex. Moments of oddly serene clean picking and distant grumbling follows spiked with harrowing shrieks. "Conjuration of Terror" explodes (as much as a XASTHUR song can) into a furious drum fusillade, as the usual ethereal elements waft through the air, the feeling one of tension and anxiety, belied only by the overpowering solemnity. The force of the drums disappears as quickly as they surfaced, leaving fear to hang in the air like a wet mist.
After that three stage act of XASTHUR madness runs its course, the next two tracks ease one out of the bewilderment, the aptly titled "Instrumental" rolling along almost pleasantly, the keys in harmony with the guitar, the drums nicely accenting. The "church" organ and spooky keys of bonus track "Achieve Emptiness" continues down the same road. The bonus rehearsal version of "Telepathic with the Deceased" is classic XASTHUR scathe 'n' chill, the melody quite pronounced. Ending the XASTHUR portion of the CD, KATATONIA's "Palace of Frost" works as wonderful closer. Surprisingly well done, the track is given a crackling black metal treatment, yet never loses that all-important KATATONIA melancholia (well, this IS XASTHUR). The main marching riff gives it the edge, the forays into doom riffage and despondent guitar leads the pall of hopelessness.
While LEVIATHAN offers up only three tracks, the selections range from eight to 12 minutes in length. Though also riding the experimental/ambient edge, the LEVIATHAN cuts boast a heavier black metal spikiness. "Unfailing Fall into Naught" features a mid-paced, distorted roll that takes little time in sucking the listening into the nefarious groove. Only keys are heard for the final three and a half minutes, here again giving one those conflicting feelings of serenity and palpable fear. Moving into more of the spacey and distorted stuff, a steady riff and piano can be heard throughout "The Remotest Cipher (Beside the Last Breath Vanished)", the feeling unsurprisingly one of somberness. The disc wraps up with the bonus cover of JUDAS ISCARIOT's "Where the Winter Beals Incessant", its monolithic ugliness and fearful groove somehow entrancing. The 12-minute song is about as close to "traditional" and primitive black metal as you're going to get on this release. A fantastic doomy riff break and the myriad subtle changes throughout create visions of one enduring an agonizing march through a blizzard.
I think we've sufficiently beaten this one to death. If you've made it this far, you're probably either a devoted fan that's got the vinyl release and will snag the CD version for its bonus tracks, or you're a glutton for punishment.