Leviathan III

Leviathan III

by Niklas Göransson

After completing the Lurker of Chalice album in 2005, Jef Whitehead’s life took a perilous turn. The final chapter of the Leviathan trilogy chronicles a journey through death, incarceration, and betrayal – but also towards redemption.


JEF WHITEHEAD: I started LURKER OF CHALICE in 2001 when the brain of my digital drum set took a shit. I didn’t want to buy a new one, so I tried getting it fixed. It was completely out of service for about four months. Meanwhile, I borrowed a Dr Rhythm from my friend Tim Lehi and used that for the LURKER demos.

Dr Rhythm is a drum machine – an electronic instrument used to simulate the sounds of an analogue kit.

JEF: Then I started writing material more in the vein of the funeral doom I’d been listening to: SKEPTICISM, GALLOWS, CATACOMBS, and stuff like that. I wanted to do something that revolved around the sun, whereas most of LEVIATHAN is tied to the moon.

Jef recorded two demos with his new project – “L.O.C.” in 2001 and “Lurker of Chalice” the following year – before resuming full focus on LEVIATHAN.

During the summer of 2004, Jef took some ideas from the two demos, plus material originally written for an old project called RENFIELD, and remoulded them into the self-titled LURKER OF CHALICE debut.

JEF: I wanted LURKER to be as heavy as you’re gonna get from a four-tracker. Tim Lehi is a guitarophile, so I asked him: ‘What’s going to give me heavier tones?’ He handed me a 1969 Les Paul, ‘Here, use this.’ I put skinnier strings on it, which doesn’t really lend itself to sounding heavy but made it easier for me to play. So, all the main riffs are on that, whereas the clean guitar parts and overdubs were done with my Paul Reed Smith.

At that point, Jef recorded the drums on his four-tracker and the bass and guitar on a computer, then handed everything over to a friend for mixing.

JEF: Once I was done recording, I took a week off work and brought everything to Daniel Voss. That whole album was done in individual sections and then pieced together with a music program. Some songs consist of up to six different parts. One of the most interesting challenges was getting the samples together and then splitting up single words to match the drums. I remember doing that with the Gregory Peck speech from The Omen.

The sample comes towards the end of “Spectre as Valkerie Is” and goes, ‘When the Jews return to Zion, and a comet rips the sky, and the Holy Roman Empire rises, then you and I must die. From the eternal sea, he rises, creating armies on either shore, turning man against his brother until man exists no more.’

JEF: Out of everything I’ve made musically, the LURKER album is probably… I don’t think in terms of ‘best’, but it’s probably the one I can stand the strongest behind. Daniel had a lot to do with that record. Once we’d finished up for the day, he’d stay in the studio, listening to it all night, and then give me suggestions the next morning. Jesse, the girl I was seeing, made some art for it. Initially, I asked her to do the cover, but then we decided it should be on the back instead.


The self-titled LURKER OF CHALICE debut was released on CD by Total Holocaust Records in June 2005 and on double LP by Southern Lord later the same year.

JEF: That character Håkan from Total Holocaust… I hear he’s completely disappeared now? Nobody knows where that dude is or what happened to him. He was putting out some really great stuff at the time. Isn’t he like, a hipster? I think Neill from KRIEG showed me a photo where Håkan looked as if he was in THE REFUSED, with a black bowl haircut and striped shirt. Anyway, I hooked up with him somehow.

Are there any other old LURKER recordings besides the album and two demos?

JEF: I recorded a demo with four noise songs featuring samples from American History X. I have since used parts of those tracks as intros or segues in LEVIATHAN. For instance, the thing you hear between the first two songs on “The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide” – that’s LURKER material. As always, I mix and match and kidnap my own stuff and put it wherever I want.

The best of the two demos were touched up and then released by Nuclear War Now! as “Tellurian Slaked Furnace” in 2020.

JEF: There is also LURKER material I never recorded properly. Many of those songs sound nothing like the album, so they’re unlikely to ever see the light of day – unless I redo them completely. I should have about a full-length’s worth; I just need to find it. This kid I tattooed discovered some demos online, and I’m like, ‘I don’t even have the masters for those songs, but I want them.’ There are three tracks in particular that I’m aware of but can’t find. Admittedly, I’m not the most organised person.


In 2005, things were going reasonably well for Jef Whitehead. Besides the LURKER OF CHALICE album finally being done and plenty of momentum behind LEVIATHAN, he had a budding enterprise at Black Heart Tattoo. Not to mention a decade of sobriety after struggling with substance abuse in his teens and twenties.

However, the summer brought tidings that upended Jef’s entire reality: his girlfriend, Jesse, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

JEF: It was extremely heavy for her – she was terrified. This tumour was as big as a man’s fist and deformed the entire top of her skull; it made her cranium pointed. You know how the surface of your brain is like a loaf of bread split down the middle? The tumour was right in the centre.

The location of the cancer growth is crucial in determining its potential effects, as different brain regions control various functions. A tumour in the centre affects areas responsible for mental processes, emotional regulation, and memory – potentially leading to mood swings, changes in personality, and cognitive impairment.

JEF:  The surgeons went in there and… it had spread into all the little folds of her brain, so they scraped out what they could. A couple of months later, she got an infection, so they had to go back in and get more of it out. Needless to say, Jesse’s mental state wasn’t the best. And while all this is going on, she’s getting strung out on Norco.

Norco contains an opioid pain reliever called hydrocodone, as well as acetaminophen which works to reduce fever. It is considered highly addictive.

JEF: It started to be, like… she just wanted to be high, constantly. It was no longer about the pain; she just wanted to numb her mind and not have to think. Now, this was back when you could still work different doctors for pills. So, Jesse did a lot of that. Apparently, it’s common for people who undergo invasive head surgery – where they cut up your skull and get in there – to take their own life. Add to that a constant sense of impending doom of the cancer coming back, even worse this time.

Even if the brain tumour is completely removed, there is still a significant chance that another meningioma will take its place.

JEF: We did what we could to keep an eye on things, but it was always hanging over us. I already told you that I’m a selfish motherfucker, but I tried to be the best boyfriend I could. A buddy of mine got married in Hawaii. I took Jesse out there because I wanted to show her, ‘There’s more to all this than what’s happening to you. And you’re gonna be okay as long as you take care of yourself.’ But Jesse was someone who already had a fucked-up childhood, with teenage years full of suicidal ideation. I thought she’d gotten through all that – or at least learned how to keep it at bay. That was actually something we connected over.

Artwork by Astral Wounds


In the early summer of 2006, Jesse and Jef agreed to take a break from their relationship.

Jef began recording a new LEVIATHAN album in June of that year. Two days later, when he’d finished tracking drums and the strings, the recording was interrupted by the worst kind of news.

JEF: On June 11, Jesse left. She shot herself. And with that kind of event, life just stops. She had a favourite spot in San Francisco called the Sutro Baths. There’s this tunnel at the beach leading to a spot with rocks in the sea. That’s where we spread her ashes. The following month or so, I kept going out there.

Did you have anyone to talk to during all of this?

JEF: Not really. I mean, after a while… what can you even say? People have already heard it all. It wasn’t getting any better. Jesse was a great girl. She was an artist. She was into really cool music. She was funny. And yeah – she’s missed. She is sorely missed, you know? But she couldn’t take it anymore. For a long time, I thought us taking that break… let’s say, I put a bit too much emphasis on it. But anytime someone you’re romantically involved with at whatever level takes themselves out, you’re gonna feel guilt. After that, I kinda lost my mind for a bit.

After eleven years of sobriety, Jef fell back into narcotics. He overdosed on heroin a month later.

JEF: I’d already been doing heroin for a week or so, and then I just decided to do a lot of it. So yeah, I guess it was intentional: I tried to leave. I just wanted to… not have that feeling. I hoped it would stop. All this seems like a lifetime ago, thinking about it now. Anyway, I laid there for about a day and a half – on my stomach, fortunately. There was puke around me, so I would’ve died if I’d passed out on my back.

An opiate overdose depresses the body’s natural responses, including the gag reflex. If the individual is unconscious and lying on their back, there is a risk that vomit might enter the airways and lungs instead of being expelled. This, in turn, can lead to choking or aspiration pneumonia.

JEF: I do remember either having a dream or actually seeing a realm of all-red, with people talking around me. That might just have been in the ambulance, at the hospital, or something like that. But for some reason, everything was red and very cold. So yeah, that happened. Then I was in a coma for a little bit and had to re-learn how to walk.

How long did that take?

JEF: Oh, only a couple of days. After being hospitalised for about a week and a half, I was back on my feet and ready to check out. But they were like, ‘Not so fast – you’re going to the cuckoo ward!’ I was sent to the loony bin for seventy-two hours because I’d just tried to kill myself. They wanted to rehabilitate me enough so I could go sit with the other cuckoo birds.

After three days in a psychiatric ward, Jef was discharged. He went straight back to doing drugs.

JEF: Come September or November, I was recording with Daniel again and doing the last guitar overdubs. But my life kind of took a shit at that point. I got fired from Black Heart, so I moved to Oakland and things became even more messed up. I was working but also doing a lot of drugs and barely making any music. I think I wrote one song during that entire episode.


While very little composing was going on, Jef did plenty of writing. The original lyrics for the partially recorded LEVIATHAN album were discarded in favour of the ones now found on “Massive Conspiracy Against All Life”. The words for “VI-XI-VI” – 6-11-6 – remain unpublished. However, when viewed as a date, the title offers a clue.

JEF: Yes, it’s about Jesse; she took her life on that day. “Massive…” became about death – the death of everything, but mostly all these black metal people who call for death. You will die too, so be careful what you wish for. I also realised I didn’t wanna give this one to Moribund.

US underground label Moribund Records released the first two LEVIATHAN albums, “The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide” in 2003 and “Tentacles of Whorror” in 2004.

JEF: “Massive…” had become intensely personal to me, and I didn’t think Moribund were being honest with me. I’ve never done this to make money – but at that point, I’d been paid more royalties from tUMULt for one demo compilation than I’d ever received from Moribund. I thought, ‘I’m gonna make this one a LURKER record and give it to Battle Kommand.’ I also recall that End All Life was involved.

The second LURKER OF CHALICE album, “Perverse Calculus”, was meant to be released by Battle Kommand – operated by NACHTMYSTIUM frontman Blake Judd – and End All Life, a classic French black metal label that served as preparatory ground for what we now know as NoEvDia.

JEF: I wrote to them about LURKER, and they went, ‘No, that’s not…’ Hmm, I don’t think he outright said, ‘Your stuff isn’t spiritual enough for NoEvDia’, but I was told that End All Life would be interested. I also believe The Ajna Offensive had something to do with it. Leading up to the release date, Battle Kommand premiered one of the songs online. However, prior to all this, I’d sent ‘Odin’ (Moribund) instrumental rough mixes, so he realised it was the same thing and immediately threatened lawsuits all around.

One of the many clauses in Jef’s Moribund contract stipulated that music written for LEVIATHAN could not be used elsewhere.

JEF: I honestly think his bark is worse than his bite; I doubt he’d been able to handle a global suit against End All Life. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to risk getting any of those guys in trouble. It was just me trying to get out of my contract while still releasing the album. Which, looking back, isn’t necessarily all that honourable – but it’s not as if Moribund were being straight with me either. I had to pay back a bunch of people. Money had already been put into it, and I didn’t want to shit on labels I respect. If they’ve tried to help me do something and it doesn’t happen, I need to give them a refund.

As part of their severance agreement, Jef had to give Moribund not only “Massive Conspiracy Against All Life” but also “A Silhouette in Splinters” – a 2005 album originally intended exclusively for vinyl. Lastly, Jef was prohibited from making music as LEVIATHAN for six months.

JEF: The contract I signed was pretty bananas. But of course, I didn’t quite realise this at the time. I once had someone from a big underground label – one which is also notorious for not being fair to bands – look at my contract. The guy went, ‘This is fucked up. You basically signed something which gives you nothing.’ And it’s all on my ignorance, right? It comes down to me getting all excited that someone was even interested in releasing my stuff.

Back in the fall of 2002, after LEVIATHAN’s fourteenth demo, Jef contacted a few underground metal labels. Moribund were the first to respond, and Jef signed immediately.

JEF: I thought I’d be working with someone who did what he said he was gonna do and actually compensated his bands. Who might even notify the artist, ‘Hey, I’m going to license your record; I just wanted to let you know, even though you won’t see any copies or royalties.’ I stopped at that point. I was burnt out and didn’t want to give him any more money.


With LEVIATHAN on hiatus, US black metal ‘supergroup’ TWILIGHT sprung back into action. The band’s core – Jef, Blake Judd, and KRIEG’s Neill Jameson – remained intact, but Tim Lehi of DRAUGAR and Malefic of XASTHUR were no longer part of the project.

In February and March of 2009, TWILIGHT recorded “Monument to Time End”. Unlike the 2005 debut, their second album was recorded with all members gathered in one place: Chicago’s Volume Studios.

JEF: “Monument…” was Blake’s doing, of course. He still dealt with Greg from Southern Lord back then. I remember they were trying to get Josh Homme from QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE on that record. Blake was always trying to surround himself with people who had some industry clout.

One notable guest appearance that did come to pass was Aaron Turner from ISIS.

JEF: Yeah, but most of his stuff got mixed out. Rob Lowe, or Lichens – who also does stuff with OM – performed on it as well. He came in and worked on three tracks and knocked it out in an hour or so. Very, very talented guy; not really into the whole black metal thing, though. One big plus for me was recording with Sanford Parker because he excels at what he does and has since become a good friend.

Sanford Parker is both a musician and a studio engineer. Besides acting as producer on “Monument to Time End”, he also played keyboards.

JEF: Sanford did all the Moog stuff. Those weird spaceship sounds you hear – that’s him. And then Blake added Stavros Giannopoulos from ATLAS MOTH, his little homie who drove him around and got him stoned all the time. But Stavros isn’t a black metal guy at all. Not my favourite record, I must say – it was drifting away from what I felt TWILIGHT should’ve been. Blake had been touring a lot and was getting tired of black metal. Just listen to “Addicts”: he’s clearly trying to do something that reaches a broader crowd.


In January 2010, Jef returned to Volume Studios to play drums on NACHTMYSTIUM’s fifth album, “Addicts – Black Meddle Pt. II”.

JEF: That was the first time I worked with Will Lindsay from Indiana – an amazing musician who used to be in WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM and ANATOMY OF HABIT. They call him The Ringer. He’s like a first-rate Jake: very, very good. He and I made one of the songs on there because Blake could no longer write full records at that point. Other people composed his material and then Blake got paid for it. The time around “Addicts” was also the beginning of him and the heroin.

Despite LEVIATHAN’s continued inactivity, Jef stayed busy as a musician. The following month, he performed bass, percussion, and keyboards on KRIEG’s “The Isolationist”, which was also recorded at Volume Studios.

JEF: I was going through some shit in Oakland, so I missed the first day. We finished the bass pretty fast, but it took a day and a half altogether because I had to play drums on a couple of parts. I remember that some of the material was Neill and Sanford trying to recreate Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible soundtrack… visually, audibly – everything. Have you heard it?

Only in the motion picture – and that film remains a lifelong trauma.

JEF: I have that soundtrack on my phone; it’s very cooked and unsettling. I think one of the tracks is called “Stress” – it has that boom-boom noise from when they’re in Club Rectum. And then it’s got kind of a keyboard run that sounds like a computer processing something.


2010 remained turbulent, but nothing compared to what lay in store. The fall of that year saw the start of what must have been an utter nightmare.

JEF: The witch – is that who we’re talking about? Well, she’s not really a witch; I shouldn’t give her that much. Anyway, I met a girl. At the time, she was dating some big-deal tattooer but wanted me to tattoo her. She came to Oakland, and we… yeah, whatever happened, happened. But as it turns out, this young lady is quite the drinker, right? She likes her tequila. And next thing I know, I’m drinking right along with her. I have alcoholism in my family, and that’s when I truly got started with the liquor. It was also the beginning of a very tumultuous relationship.

In the coming November, Jef was heading to Europe to do a series of guest tattoo spots in different countries. He invited his new girlfriend along with him.

JEF: When we made plans to go, I was told she’d pay for herself. But once we arrived in Europe, she had no money at all, which meant I covered everything. My only pleasant memory from that entire trip is of Aachen, Germany. I found out that VERDUNKELN – the new band of Gnarl, who used to be in NAGELFAR – were playing.

NAGELFAR – not to be confused with Swedish NAGLFAR – was a German black metal band founded in 1993. They released three albums before disbanding in 2002.

JEF: NAGELFAR are a huge fucking deal to me. I went to the show and discovered that Alexander from THE RUINS OF BEVERAST, who was also in NAGELFAR, played second guitar. Then I met Sven from Ván Records, who used to be their bassist. Great night. I’m still friends with many of the people I met in Europe, but there were some incidents. We’d constantly get into these crazy arguments. It’s alcohol, right?

By late November, the pair arrived in Barcelona, Spain, where Jef had several tattoo appointments waiting.

JEF: I was so over it by then. I’d already tried to get rid of her a couple of times, but she’s a good talker and knows how to throw the juice at you. And she won her way back into my audience several times – until I was just like, ‘Get the fuck away!’ I brought her to a cab and said, ‘Go home now. Have your daddy fly you back; I no longer care. I can’t do this anymore.’ But she freaked out, grabbed a cop, and claimed I was doing this and that to her.

As a result, Jef spent his first three days in Barcelona locked up in jail before the matter was resolved. One would think that this little performance sealed the deal, so to speak.

JEF: Mm. I returned to America and went to Chicago and… she met me there. Don’t ask me how, but she kept talking her way back into the fold. I’d already been warned about her because at every job she had before – at various tattoo shops – her hand was always in the till. And sure enough, she stole from me too. She’s a prolific pathological liar and would make up shit that didn’t even matter. Sometimes, she’d lie just to be talking; it was crazy.

Jef was in town for a guest spot at a local tattoo parlour. By then, Blake Judd had moved to Chicago from nearby St Charles.

JEF: We were at Blake’s house one night and got into an argument. She shouted, ‘I’m calling the cops!’ and started banging her head against the wall, right in front of everyone. I looked at Blake. ‘See, dude? I don’t know what to do.’ He just told her, ‘Get out of my house!’ I guess Stavros took her in or whatever.

This incident is mentioned in an interview with Blake Judd and Sanford Parker, conducted by No Clean Singing when NACHTMYSTIUM played Detroit in May 2011.

JEF: Another night, we were staying in a Chicago tattoo shop owned by two people I’d just met. This couple, who are now dear friends of mine, were right upstairs. I was passed out in the back at four o’clock in the morning when she woke me up to start a fight. And I’m like, ‘I’m done with you, for real this time. Get outta here!’ Then she pulled up… there was a pistol in one of the drawers and she started waving this Beretta around, so I got it out of her hands and threw it in the garbage can. Then she grabbed a pair of scissors, yelling, ‘I’m gonna kill myself!’ She’d pulled some of this fake suicidal shit before. I came from behind and got the scissors out of her hand, but she’d already cut herself a couple of times.

Had you started realising the gravity of the situation by then?

JEF: We’d been drinking that day, but I still had enough clarity to be, like, ‘What are you doing, man? We are guests right now. We’re not at your house. We’re not at my house. You’re yelling, and this is not fucking cool. You already did this all throughout Europe.’ After I got the scissors away from her, she pretended to faint. I just muttered, ‘Fuck you’, left her on the floor, and went into the back room. I could see her, sorta, from the couch.

Jef started falling asleep again but woke up from the sound of someone rumbling around.

JEF: After a while, she came in and started yelling at me, ‘Get up!’ I grabbed her bag – ‘You have to go now’ – and put it outside. And then I put her outside. This was in January, and the snow was falling, but I didn’t care. Fifteen minutes later, three cops burst into the shop. Suddenly, I had automatic weapons pointed at me. And I’m hammered. Like, ‘What the fuck?’ Literally.

At 4:45 am on January 9, 2011, Jef was arrested and hauled into a holding cell to sleep it off. A few hours later, he woke up to the news that he was under arrest for criminal sexual assault and kidnapping.

JEF: Two detectives were asking me all kinds of shit – if our sex was kinky and so on. ‘You assaulted that girl!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Eh, no?’ They’re like, ‘Well, we found some of your tattoo stuff inside her.’ She had inserted ink caps, which are about the size of your thumbnail, into her vagina and then told them I did it. They also blew up some DNA findings. And it’s like, ‘She was my girlfriend; we were having sex, so it’s not unthinkable that my DNA would be on her.’

Jef’s arrest resulted in a fair bit of regrettable news coverage. The Chicago Sun-Times published a widely circulated story stating that ‘a tattoo artist raped his girlfriend using tattoo tools’.

One also learns that Jef attacked the victim with a pair of scissors before rendering her unconscious by ‘banging her head against a wall’. Upon waking up, she barely had time to discover that she’d been sexually assaulted before being knocked out again and then unceremoniously dumped outside on the street.

While similar reports were causing a huge stir in both the metal scene and the tattoo world, Jef was held on a $350,000 bail.

JEF: I had to spend six months in jail. Thankfully, Stavros hooked me up with really good legal representation. I mean, I paid for it, but he got me the contact. It took a while for them to reduce my bail enough for me to afford it.

The US bail system allows individuals accused of crimes to be released from jail while awaiting trial – in exchange for a monetary guarantee that they will return for their court dates.

JEF: I had to sell a lot of my personal belongings – I sold the bass I used for all the LEVIATHAN demos, along with a bunch of other shit I didn’t want to get rid of. Some people even donated money to help get me out. Once I was released, I had a really hard time staying sober. Everyone drinks in Chicago; there are lots of substances and stuff like that. I just could not stay sober. They were gonna give me sixty years, man, so I would’ve died in prison.


Incredibly, somewhere in this haze, Jef gathered his bearings enough to not only write but also record a new LEVIATHAN album.

JEF: I had to find something to occupy my mind other than just getting loaded. That track I wrote during my drug-addled psychosis in Oakland a few years earlier turned into “Her Circle Is the Noose”. I’d already intended to redo “Shed This Skin” and “Blood Red and True”, but neither of them came out as good as the originals. Just listen to the record yourself! It’s garbage. Those songs aren’t good. Nor are they really ‘black metal’ besides “Shed This Skin” and part of the second track.

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