Release Date: Mar 24, 2015
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
If you follow the world of black metal at all, you probably have an opinion on Liturgy. Before Deafheaven (although not that much before Deafheaven) Liturgy were the band that the internet black metal community loved to argue about. The groupâ€™s strange and intense blend of Transilvanian Hunger-style black metal with Lightning Bolt-style noise rock would have ruffled a few feathers even if frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix werenâ€™t writing pretentious manifestos on â€œTranscendental Black Metalâ€ and hanging out with members of Vampire Weekend.
With 2011’s Aesthethica, Liturgy frontman and philosophical agent provocateur Hunter Hunt-Hendrix sought a new way of doing black metal. What he got instead was a really good album that, although undoubtedly bolstered by his quasi-theological provocations, didn’t really need a manifesto to be the the compelling recording that it is. After making a small splash with Liturgy’s debut Renihilation (2009), Hunt-Hendrix, along with many other scholars in the young but fertile field of black metal theory, looked to discover ways to move beyond the formulaic conception of black metal, i.e.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Apart from a handful of hardcore punk bands and the occasional Mastodon craze in my repertoire, I'm not the ideal guy to comment on Liturgy or what they mean to the metal scene. I do know that they seem to be pretty important whether they're being enjoyed or not. I also know the basic constructs of black metal: blast beats, fast tempos, and an emphasis on overall atmosphere as opposed to distinct licks.
Liturgy takes underground metal's confounded expectations, along with their own progressive black metal vision, to the nth degree on The Ark Work. Heavy guitars and blast beats trade out for shrill high register filigrees and danceable beats. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix speak/raps his way through this modern mystical exegesis. The result is often challenging, occasionally rapturous, and always without peer.
Imagine black metal heaven, as oxymoronic as that might be. This isn’t Alighieri’s vision of hell or the old Scandinavian paradise of Valhalla. No, here’s a place where shimmering golden gates tower high above and reach infinitely across a cotton white and idyllic cloud paradise. Only it’s completely empty.
The first way to experience Liturgy’s The Ark Work is as a confounding mass of sound. The band seems to have designed it that way: Along with the guitars and percussion, there are horns, strings, constantly hammering glockenspiel, even bagpipes, all blaring at once, like 11 open browser tabs autoplaying or a block of car alarms set off by a passing motorcycle. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the band’s leading force and The Ark Work’s primary arranger, has talked in interviews about realizing the sound in his head; The Ark Work, he claims, is the closest he’s come to sharing it with us.
Brooklyn four-piece liturgy are arguably the most controversial band to label themselves black metal, this due in large part to an academic manifesto written by mainman Hunter Hunt- Hendrix in 2010. In it he proposed a new form of black metal labeled Transcendental Black Metal, which would be based on affirmation and courage and an accelerating and fluctuating “burst beat”. Having gone to such trouble, the results on this, the band’s third record, are puzzling.
With the artful strategies Liturgy implemented on 2011's wonderfully excessive, brainy Aesthethica, they simultaneously alienated the purist black metal audience and attracted new fans whose tastes ran more to indie rock than extreme music. When guitarist/songwriter/conceptualist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix delivered his manifesto on "transcendental black metal," it became obvious that Liturgy's philosophical ideas (some emanating from Georges Bataille's notion of ecstatic spiritual nihilism) were as important as their sound. The Ark Work liberates the band from most of black metal's confines while retaining a few key elements -- the blastbeat drumming of Greg Fox and Hunt-Hendrix's own lightning-fast tremolo picking -- but to what end? The Ark Work utilizes an impressive if often questionable array of different instruments and sound techniques in a musical mess that interweaves metal, prog, indie, gothic rock, and even IDM.
Black metal is driven by a singular vision, and any kind of variations to the formula are generally looked upon with scorn by faithful zealots. Liturgy frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix was instantly treated with venomous contempt the moment he opened a dialogue about reshaping its very core, going as far as calling it “transcendental” in a protracted essay that, though canny and passionate, reeked of self-aggrandizement. However, the accomplishments of the album that accompanied it, Aesthetica, didn’t reach any concordance with some kind of sublime experience beyond the physical level.
With 2011’s 'Aesthetica'—and vocalist-guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s accompanying manifesto—Brooklyn black metal experimentalists Liturgy instantly became the most polarizing band in the genre. While the kvlt diehards dismissed Liturgy as pretentious poseurs, the indie crowd embraced them as artistic whiz kids. 'The Ark Work' will do absolutely nothing to change the situation.
Guys, Liturgy is fully trolling us.I've been on the internet long enough to know when I am being fucked with, and this is an exquisite example of it: the fervent insistence that transcendental black metal is a thing; the burst beat vs. the blast beat; the manifestos; the glockenspiel.Initially, I was torn, wondering if what Liturgy were trying to make with The Ark Work was a parody of a postmodern black metal record. Life-affirming and celebratory instead of grim and frostbitten! Abundant and clarion-clear instead of lean, starved and distorted! "Fanfare" hints at this possibility, with the swelling ambience and windswept sounds, but the artifice of it emerges quickly.
Liturgy mastermind/whipping boy Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has attracted acclaim from critics and disdain from metal purists ever since his “transcendental black metal” band first crawled out of the gentrified hamlet of Brooklyn in 2008. Now, after releasing two albums that toyed with the parameters of black metal, Liturgy obliterates any remaining loyalty to that genre, or any genre, with its third full-length The Ark Work. In just under an hour, the band traverses a black hole of overblown regal rock, MIDI-meltdowns, and Castlevania rap, creating a strange universe with even stranger bedfellows: medieval chants adopt Southern hip-hop flows, twinkling percussion oozes into digital glitches, horns parry with guitars.
Liturgy are outliers in their own domain. Shunned by the black metal community for the preposterous behaviour of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, they’ve made it clear that they hold no truck with the noises of distaste that normally follow mentions of their name. From the very beginning of The Ark Work, one thing is certain: they aren’t shy about their dramatic pretensions.
About six years ago, Liturgy, a young band from Brooklyn, figured out a good counterintuitive response to black metal, a restricted, cultish kind of music that isn’t traditionally open to responses of any kind. It did so first through music alone. Liturgy used that subgenre’s basic musical identifying marks — its hyperactive, unsyncopated blast-beat drumming and its staccato guitar lines — but opened up the rhythms and harmonies to let in what black metal generally disallowed: tempo-warping improvisation, major keys, occasionally some nonscreamed singing.
As an album, The Ark Work has certainly polarised the public. While some praise it for its triumphant, innovatively rounded sound, others despise the fact that it we're supposed to brand iron on it: "BLACK METAL". As a response to the turmoil surrounding The Ark Work lately, I had initially planned to write exclusively about the musical qualities of the album alone, without paying too much heed to the choleric beefs that seem to be flying around.
Liturgy — The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey)Black metal fans can be a prickly bunch. I was once verbally taken to task by a BM-er(can I use that?) for professing an admiration for SUNN O))). This chap, who is otherwise the nicest person you could meet, was almost apoplectic with rage at the mere thought. I don’t quite remember all the details, but the words “fucking posers” were used frequently, which I found odd from someone who admires people who smear their faces with fake-looking “corpse-paint”.