Megaton Leviathan, Water Wealth Hell on Earth: Delivering the Drone

Released by Spanish imprint Féretro Records in a limited edition CD run of 500, the full-length debut by psyched-out Portland, Oregon (where else?), doomly droners Megaton Leviathan doesn’t so much walk the fine line between hypnotic ambience and crushing aural plod as much as it demolishes it. Three songs spread over four tracks – the opening title cut is split into two parts – Water Wealth Hell on Earth takes an American shoegaze-style post-rock approach to heavy riffing and spaces it out with multiple running effects on vocals, guitar and drums, underlying psychedelic noise and drone excursions that seem to lead nowhere until you actually arrive. It’s a skillfully crafted aesthetic – surprisingly so for the trio’s first album following just a demo (they formed in 2007) – and what becomes abundantly clear in listening to Water Wealth Hell on Earth is that Megaton Leviathan know exactly what they’re doing. Even if some of the noises captured on “Water Wealth Hell on Earth” parts one and two, “Guns and LSD” and the sprawling 33-minute closer “A Slow Death in D Minor” just happened in the studio spontaneously, no doubt core duo Andrew James Costa (guitar, vocals, synth, noise) and Chris Beug (bass, violin, viola, cello; ex-Wolves in the Throne Room) had some idea of what they wanted to come out with when they went into the recording process.

For the first run of Water Wealth Hell on Earth (the band have threatened re-recordings), Costa and Beug are joined by drummer Kathryn Joy, and though they could probably just as easily have done without percussion altogether, they definitely made the right move in anchoring the material. Immediately on “Water Wealth Hell on Earth Pt. I” – arguably the most straightforward of the songs – it’s Joy tasked with keeping the ultra-heavy, ultra-spaced guitar from simply floating away. Her snare sound is caked in reverb as well, only adding to the otherworldly feel, and while that might turn some off, I think it works for what Megaton Leviathan are doing – i.e. trippring musical balls. Joy, already out of the band and replaced by Jason of No You Yes Me for the purposes at least of touring, isn’t making or breaking Water Wealth Hell on Earth as regards her drumming, but she’s adaptable to the songs and able to keep a hold on Beug and Costa’s explorations no matter how far out they get. “Water Wealth Hell on Earth Pt. II” is led into with feedback and noise and stretches out over a droning 12 minutes. I’m relatively certain that some of the drones are hyper-effected vocals from Costa, but I’d still call the track instrumental since that’s the purpose said vocals are being put to and the song has a more or less completely open structure, tempered only by periodic tom hits from Joy.

With “Water Wealth Hell on Earth Pt. II,” Megaton Leviathan – who take their name from a Judas Priest lyric – are more or less testing your endurance as a listener. The closing two minutes are inflicted with a high pitch frequency that’s literally painful at high volumes, and piercing to the point where, once I’m snapped out of the trance the prior 10 minutes put me into, I just skip ahead to “Guns and LSD,” the shortest track on Water Wealth Hell on Earth at 5:21 and a return to more direct riffing from Costa and Beug. There’s still no shortage of background noise (maybe some of those extra string elements from Beug as well, buried under the guitar), but it’s nonetheless a clear shift in modus operandi on the part of the band. Costa’s vocals still sound like Dead Meadow played at half-speed, but there are words buried in there somewhere. I’m almost sure of it. For all Megaton Leviathan’s shirking accessibility and/or willing adoption of abrasiveness, the tone of “Guns and LSD” is remarkably warm and enjoyable for its repetitive aspect and uncompromising spaciousness. In headphones, it is all the more engulfing.

The two sides vaguely meet on “A Slow Death in D Minor,” but the swirls, the drones and the untethered side definitely wins out as the track extends to its already-noted 33:33 runtime. In the opening movements, Costa provides slow running notes atop ringing out bass from Beug. Drums don’t start until well after eight minutes in, and even then, Joy keeps to cymbal touches and chimes for a stretch before some more solid riffing takes over after the halfway mark. The song more unfolds than develops, and it’s an excruciatingly slow process. Megaton Leviathan capitalize on the stillness they create, though, luring the listener into semi-consciousness with the droning and far-off sound of the drums, so that as the heaviness is ramped up (gradually, of course), there’s little choice but to follow it. Beug brings in the violin/viola/cello shortly after 24 minutes, and it’s a satisfying turn for the song to take and something I hope Megaton Leviathan both return to in the future and can maintain the not-overused feel they have here, adding more layers to the wall of noise and cutting through to welcome affect, but not dominating the doomed plod staged by Costa and Joy or standing out enough to prove obnoxious. They close Water Wealth Hell on Earth with a subversive melodicism, adding to a yellow-hued brightness that’s been present all along and enriching the psychedelia rather than detracting from it with pretentiousness.

Some of Megaton Leviathan’s best-portending moves are made in the second half of “A Slow Death in D Minor,” which feels sonically rich and bold in its execution, topping of the full-length in suitably massive form. The stylistic interplay of Water Wealth Hell on Earth might be what enables Megaton Leviathan to so readily unleash tectonic chaos, but their sound relies more on just balancing shoegaze droning and doom riffs. These songs have a distinct cohesion to them that one expects will give Costa and Beug – as well as whomever they’re working with on subsequent offerings – a solid (maybe gelatinous) basis to work from going forward. As noted above, they clearly knew what they were aiming for on this debut. It stands to reason they would be able to learn from it as they move ahead, and keeping an eye on these kinds of concepts is a skill all too many in the psych realm let slide in favor either of unhinged jamming or a general lack of structure. Provided Megaton Leviathan can hold it down as much as they let it go in terms of their development, there’s no reason they can’t accomplish something markedly their own during their time together. After multiple return visits to Water Wealth Hell on Earth, I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Megaton Leviathan on Facebook

Féretro Records

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2 Responses to “Megaton Leviathan, Water Wealth Hell on Earth: Delivering the Drone”

  1. cyberspaceship approved™

    Seriously, what the hell is with so many Portland/OR bands circling these days?

  2. […] reading: The Obelisk » Blog Archive » Megaton Leviathan, Water Wealth Hell on Earth: Delivering the Drone. (courtesy of JJ Koczan / The […]

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