Whenever Steve Swartz releases something new, I’m intrigued to see the rationale and inspiration behind it. 2010’s Nighttide was inspired by his daughter’s sleep, 2020’s “Drowning in the Light” was created using the sounds of a loved one having a mental breakdown, and last year’s Nilch’i drew inspiration from a visit to the Utah desert and Navajo culture. This brings us to the songs of Leviathan I, which, in Swartz’s own words, are an attempt to explore “the beast of grief that befalls us after difficult losses.”
Not surprisingly, Leviathan I contains what is surely Swartz’s darkest and most ominous music to date. Gone are any ethereal drones or haunting atmospherics. In their place are waves of feedback-laden guitar doing their damndest to overwhelm you and drag you down into a blackened abyss. As the album’s opening song, “F=MA” immediately sets the mood with heavy, bruising riffs that slowly grow in intensity until they threaten to shred your speakers apart. (Imagine a less pastoral and more industrial Flying Saucer Attack, if that helps you.)
According to Swartz, “F=MA” and its counterparts “came to light through the experience of sitting with grief and meditating on it with a guitar in hand… I committed to musically meditating with whatever energy was with me in the studio each day.” Although he doesn’t go into detail concerning the specifics of his grief, the album’s angry, roiling sounds make it clear that Swartz has experienced some shit. It’s to his credit as a guitarist and engineer, then, that even with all of its bleakness and darkness, there’s still something majestic and even beautiful at the core of “F=MA” and the rest of Leviathan I.