Hunter Hunt-Hendrix started Liturgy as himself a guitar and a drum machine and in 2008, forming a four piece band. Throughout the evolution of Liturgy, Hunter maintained his ideals and philosophies of music, lyrical content and beyond; including his ever so controversial notion of “Transcendental Black Metal” described more in depth in his manifesto titled, A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism, which had black metal fans all over the world slamming their bedroom doors, crying into their pillows and drying the tears under their Mayhem and Burzum posters. The argument here is, according to some hardcore black metal fans, Liturgy is, “not real black metal”. Whether it is or isn’t, music like all art is subjective, and Hunter has handled the ridiculous criticisms quite eloquently, here is an interview with him addressing the haters.
I first saw and heard Liturgy at the same time, making my introduction to them the equivalent of stepping on your first landmine. The music was so blistering fast, that as the swarming, wall-of-sound guitars melded with the deluge of blast beats and delayed vocal howlings; an avalanche of sound buried the audience. The music was as soothing as Slowdive yet as ferocious as Discordance Axis. I was so enthralled by the performance, I didn’t even move to the music, just watched in awe as parts that you thought couldn’t get any faster, repeatedly broke their own records. (Watching Greg Fox play drums is also a show in itself and I am not entirely convinced he is human.)
The last couple Liturgy full lengths, Renihilation and Aesthethica, are both excellent albums similar in sound to what I described above and their live sound is definitely captured in the recordings. Call it shoegaze, call it black metal, call it whatever- they satisfy both cravings.
This brings me to Liturgy’s latest album Ark Work, which is a well-crafted and audacious departure from their previous works containing original line-up with Hunter Hunt-Hendrix on guitar / vocals / programming, Greg Fox on drums, guitarist Bernard Gann, and bassist Tyler Dusenbury. Ark Work opens up with a triumphant symphony of trumpets before bleeding into the next track of Liturgy’s usual hyper-sonic onslaught of tranquil ataxia; this time, covered in a layer of digital sounding bells that seem to spasm and squirm into electronic bleeps and micro-beats. The screaming is now sung, similar to Hunter’s vocals in his other band Survival (check them out).
Ark Work’s third and seven minute long track “Kel Valhall” is a dizzying and angular, spattering of guitars and drums with snaking layers of the previous trumpets and bells with additional bagpipes. As the song tramples onward, things start to take shape and discernable melodies begin to materialize with occasional breaks in the patterns via the track sounding like it’s skipping and/or the other slivers of electronics. Amidst the pandemonium, Hunter’s chants create a sub-rhythm all their own.
The tracks on Ark Work, range from the above mentioned “Kel Valhall”, to tracks like “Vitriol” which is another longer track layered with throbbing bass, layers of vocal chants, and bells, below Hunter’s incantation- reminiscent of They Were Wrong, So Drowned era Liars. To Liturgy’s trademark sound, “Follow,” “Reign Array,” to combing the jagged, epics with the “black metal”; “Quetzalcoatl,” to more ethereal tracks, “Total War” and “Haelegen”
My favorite thing about Ark Work is the amount of sound exploration and experimentation; I have listened to it four times now and discovered new things with each listen. This is a groundbreaking record and proof that there is still so much left to be done with music.
My band had the pleasure of touring with Liturgy and White Mice a few years ago and to clear the air, Liturgy are kind, funny, humble and extremely talented. Their music comes from the heart and they love what they do; and isn’t that all you can ask for from a band?
Rating: 6 out of 6 Doves Prince loved Ark Work so much, that he missed his name being called for his 11th Grammy of the night because he was playing it over and over again in his head. The doves knew to stay out of his way when he got back home. Scariest game of hide and seek at the Prince Mansion ever.
Here’s an interview with Hunter Hunt-Hendrix
What are the philosophies, influences and lyrics about on Ark Work? Does the trailer for the album reflect any of these?
I am in the process of developing an ethical / philosophical system that shares its name with the album, The Ark Work, though the process always seems to be failing – the failure is inherent to it, in a way. I pull from German idealism, French materialism, Christian mysticism, psychoanalysis and a little bit of hermeticism, kabbalah, and kundalini yoga.
I think of this record as a more complete expression of the music I’ve had in my head all along. It took time and patience to see it through. The idea is to use black metal as a node connecting different musical styles across history and different scenes in the present in a coherent, synergistic way; sort of to make something that doesn’t make sense from any perspective other than the one from which the album itself emanates.
How are you guy’s doing this stuff live? What is the instrumentation?
It’s the same four piece group, but I use a MIDI guitar pickup and a computer to play sample packs along with my guitar parts. I wanted to sustain the hybrid/cyber feel that the album has during live performances. I love playing live with Bernard, Tyler, and Greg; it’s important to allow our band energy to breathe and at the same time give the music a dematerialized aspect.
The recording sounds phenomenal and I think sound wise is my favorite to date. Who did you record and master with?
Jason Ward mastered the record; Jonathan Schenke recorded most of it and mixed it. Yeah he really did a fantastic job and was really great to work with; he was very patient and organized with a really sprawling project. I really wanted all of the elements in the mix to have an equal voice, and it took a lot of tweaking to get the right balance between hugeness of sound and delicacy of detail.
Tell us about upcoming tour plans and any other projects you are working on.
We are touring the US throughout April and May, and in Europe during June, mostly. I’m trying to put together the materials for something more like an opera; I’ve been working on that for a long time, but it takes time for these things to gestate.
Any music videos being made from the new tracks?
A music video for “Quetzalcoatl” is coming out soon, and one for “Reign Array” should be due later this year.
What have you been listening to lately? Any recommendations?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Oneohtrix Point Never, Tim Hecker, and Vessel.
One of my favorite things about you is that you have kept your cool throughout the onslaught of the online homophobic, ignorant, and mind numbing threats, schoolyard name-callings, and assumptions. Any band that tackles new territory in metal generally gets this sort of backlashing; I remember back in the day the same thing happening to the Locust and when Converge released Jane Doe, so in my eyes, I would chalk this up to an accomplishment. What is Liturgy’s next step in mutating metal?
The backlash has been pretty painful, to be honest. I’m very sincere about Liturgy, and I really don’t appreciate all the ad hominem attacks. I do my best to think about it from a more removed perspective, to consider the backlash a part of the total work of art, a collaboration with audiences over the internet, etc., but to be honest it is hard for me to understand and accept how closed minded and vitriolic some listeners and jouralists are. I can’t quite say what the next step is, still pretty engaged in the current one, but hope that with this album the discourse will be more appropriate to the music.
I love the music video for “Returner”, but was a little taken back when at 2:35, you guys decided to re-create the ending to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, why do that to me? I still have nightmares of large Somoan men morphing into blonde women.
Ha I never really thought of it that way. You’d have to ask Zev Deans, the director of the video.
How has it been working with Thrill Jockey? They are on a roll these days.
Thrill Jockey is doing and has done a lot of great stuff! It is a major feat to keep an independent record label going for as long as they have.