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[Thrill Jockey; 2011]

By ; July 8, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

If you travel the internet in search of opinions on things of a subjective and artful nature you might find that the people not in favor of a piece of art or an artist like their opinion to be heard – loudly and with frequency, and often in numbers. Some things incite enough disparity that the vocal detractors seem to outnumber the people quietly in favor. Liturgy happen to be one of these divisive artists – the focal point of much ire and disgruntlement. If you do a quick traversal of music blogs, last.fm comments, message boards, etc. you’ll find the words “gay” or “hipster” or “gay hipster,” along with other outrageously slanderous declarations, often crop up when describing the Brooklyn black metal band. It’s probably not too far fetched to assume that, after reading this review, someone will return to their opinion platform of choice and denounce me as a gay hipster as well, which is certainly their democratic right.

So what’s the deal with Liturgy? Any reasonable outsider might ask what makes them the butt of so many wrote descriptors. That outsider would, of course, first need to understand the genre codes and ethics that come built into many metal sub-genres, black metal being one of the most egregious employers of checklist rigidity. That Liturgy might stray in aesthetic (sometimes they don’t have vocals), attitude (sometimes they ponder the legitimacy of religion), and image (one time they wore corpse makeup for Halloween, but only for Halloween) is almost paramount to heretical loss of faith. Maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but regardless, this is serious stuff. Just read those message boards.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of Liturgy’s reputation, and one that could be a potential problem beyond simple black metal morality, is front man Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s pretension. “Black metal” isn’t only self-description, but Hunt-Hendrix unceremoniously staked “transcendental” to the front of the phrase. Sincerely creating your own genre is usually never an easy way to get people on board with what you’re doing, and it doesn’t help that Hunt-Hendrix doesn’t seem to give a fuck about what black metal thinks, even speaking at length about what the term might mean for his music. The problem for the detractors comes, of course, when the music starts playing.

“Returner,” an early standout on Liturgy’s sophomore LP, Aesthethica, careens in a storm of stabbing riffs and jaggedly timed drums before it sets off with furious snare drum sixteenths and ascending tremolo guitar waves while Hunt-Hendrix screams unintelligibly in the distance. There’s a point near the conclusion of the track where the separate elements meld into a singular cascade of sound devoid of measurable structure, transcending disparate instrumentation into a sort of blood flow of thundering… feeling (?). That sounds sort of nebulous and overwrought and it’s perhaps a denomination best left to the listener’s interpretation, but, in this case, no, it somehow does exactly that.

Most of these songs stick to black metal’s mathematical ground rules, but they have more in common with point-A-to-point-B noise experimentalists like The Psychic Paramount or precision freakout architects like Lightning Bolt. Darkened naturalistic atmospheres are mostly missing and things even find time for some anthemic riffing. There’s a visceral claustrophobic immediacy to the record that does a little to call early Swans to mind before peers Wolves In The Throne Room or Krallice. Liturgy seem concerned with a dynamic of behind-the-curtain concept on each track that sometimes counters any type of genre formula altogether, though all of it certainly qualifies as abrasive. “Generation” is a slowly-building dirge of shifting drum work and booming guitar that ends in crescendo. “Veins Of God” treads biblical sludge. And both “True Will” and “Glass Earth” are built on vocal intros that might have sounded at home on The Body’s most recent album.

Hunt-Hendrix’s predication of transcendence is at least obtained in the sense that his ends are greater than the means of his music. Most of Aesthethica seems to ascend where a lot of black metal descends. It might be a little arbitrary to continually compare and contrast genre bullet points, but the differing destinations Liturgy lands upon are striking in the way a lot of successful thematic instrumental music tends to be. Opener, “High Gold” inspires a resounding prolonged crash of triumph. “Tragic Laurel” feels like the orchestrated tragic yet hopeful climactic realization at the end of some hero’s journey. “Glory Bronze” climaxes out of misery into a rousing deluge of upward finality; a lot of descriptors straddling the line between broad and specific and that’s kind of what Aesthethica is – massive flourishes of silvery hurdling noise expressing some obscured, yet clearly solidified proclamations.

It’s really hard to know what to do when faced with Litugy’s crashing wall of sound. I mostly sat and gritted my teeth, tapping the wild drumming out along my desk, but there’s a point where the sensory overload reaches its limit and the group has abandoned any rock trappings and you’re forced to either resign with “alright, enough” or let it wash over you and marvel at the aural spectacle of it all. I found myself doing both depending on my willingness to respond. It’s fucking demanding stuff – mostly in the cerebral sense, preceding its emotional hook by a wide enough margin to be a consciously perceived distance, which is an odd (perhaps too esoteric for me to write) dynamic for rock music. Perhaps Aesthethica is too academic, too ponderous, but there’s something affecting and purposeful at work here that’s more than just unique.


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