Album Review: Liturgy – Origin of the Alimonies

[YLYLCYN; 2020]

This is how Liturgy were always destined to end up – producing a work of such complete and utter, bewildering wonderment. But nobody expected it to be this good.

Those who have been along for the ride with the band since 2009’s Renihilation know that this is a band not confined by generic boundaries. Their transcendental black metal, punctuated with ‘burst beats’ and explorations into minimalism and neo-classical terrain, make Liturgy hard to define, which is exactly the point. Existing between the margins, within liminal genre and semiotic specifications, it’s no wonder they hack off the purist trve kvlt lot. 

The song writing of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has always placed Liturgy as an amorphous amalgam of black metal, ritual music and sonic art, and on Origin of the Alimonies she shifts the band into cosmic opera territory that focuses on concepts few can pretend to fully comprehend. Their signature transcendental black metal sound is present and correct, but swept up in a range of tonal leitmotifs and refrains, accompanied by flutes, strings, brass instruments and a harp to sumptuous effect.

Opener “The Separation of HAQQ and HAEL” refers back to the band’s previous album, and the concept of the HAQQ (Haelegen above Quality and Quantity), Hunt-Hendrix’s psychoanalytic concept of god. HAEL, according to the taxonomically presented labelling system on H.A.Q.Q.’s album cover, is an aspect of cosmogony, the branch of science that deals with the origins of the universe, and herein lies the narrative framing of Origin of the Alimonies. The tragic aura of unfulfilled love seeps through the flute and strings of “The Separation”, its floating refrains layer and juxtapose one another, creating a schematic of melancholic restraint and tempered despair, before a cacophony of guitars and Leo Didkovsky’s spluttering drums crash in. Then, just when you think the foregrounding intro has been concluded and thunderous noise is on the way, the album slips back to the classical stillness, the black metal intervention being nothing more than an intrusion in the relative tranquillity of somnambulistic sorrow.

“OIOION’s Birth” continues the plaintive and pensive mood with swelling orchestration that brings to mind late period Scott Walker and Sunn O)))’s “Why Dost Thy Hide Thyself in Clouds?” from their live masterpiece Domkirke. This is the calm before the maelstrom of “Lonely OIOIONO” – the point at which the Liturgy we know and love is fully unleashed, with searing guitars and guttural vocals to the fore. Orchestral breaks stem the flow of black metal anguish, freeing the song from the restrictions of fixed identity and expectation. It’s a dry slap in the face to your understanding of musical boundaries and progression. It has very little chance of working, yet is does magnificently.

Returning to calmness once more, briefly, “The Fall of SIHEYMN” begins with sorrowful wind instruments, before a torrent of free improvisation guitar work knocks us into a new musical orbit. The spiritual dissonance of Derek Bailey and Yoshihide Otomo come to mind; the atonality and discordant playing is captivating, delicately and elegantly predicating the shifting, restless nature of the album as a whole.

There is an unavoidable dynamic energy to Origin of the Alimonies which is best exemplified by the pulsating epic “Apparition of the Eternal Church”, which acts as the work’s climactic resolution. It’s entirely preposterous in many ways, not least in its sheer abandoned hedonism in the face of the restraint that precedes it. The squall of noise, minimalist Steve Reich-style pulsing interludes, 70s rock opera flashes and exquisite-corpse style musical arrangement combine to create a beautiful mess of ordered chaos, of seemingly random structure and righteous profanity. Even at 14 minutes, it’s way too short.

Album closer “The Armistice” redefines the subgenre of cinematic black metal. Violins soar over the band in full flow, building to a triumphant crescendo that seems eternal and rapturous. A harp appears from the noise, serenading a valediction to the listener and ushering them back into the real world to breathe again, thankful for the experience but also exhausted, undone and exhilarated from the journey.

Leaning on the work of Glenn Branca and Kyle Gann’s ideas of totalism, Origin of the Alimonies is an astonishing piece of work that leaves the listener breathless and euphoric. It is haunting, stunning in its ambition and scope, and a rapturous piece of art. It is beautiful, brutal and bruising. It is challenging, pretentious and uncompromisingly complex. It’s ace.