New York's trio Liturgy, fronted by transgender vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix with
guitarist Bernard Gann,
debuted with the EP Immortal Life (2008).
Expanded to a quartet, Liturgy released Renihilation (20 Buck Spin, 2009),
a collection of brief pieces that wed the sonic
stereotypes of black metal (blastbeats, buzzing instruments
and psychotic vocals) with the cultural stereotypes of progressive rock
(intellectual attitude, high-brow composition).
Pagan Dawn is typical of their excessive and relentless
screaming, strumming and pummeling.
A sort of riff and melody appears in Mysterium
before drums and vocals pulverize every human feature of it.
The wall of noise does exude emotions, particularly in
Beyond the Magic Forest, where the infernal vocals seem to beg for help
and the guitar responds with an undulating "melodic" solo.
To make sure we didn't miss the point, the album closes with two more
harrowing eruptions, Behind the Void and Renihilation, beyond
which there is indeed only a vast prairie of fire.
This manic debut was followed by a work of pure madness,
Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey, 2011),
that further blurred the line between black metal and post-rock.
Their minimalist-style repetition is served as cold as premeditated murder,
and the singer does little more than scream and shout.
They begin by unleashing the terrifying tsunami of High Gold,
a sort of square dance for epileptic androids that stands as one of their
A multi-layered monks chant launches True Will, a ritual of self-flagellation.
A martial tone imbues the implacable storm of Returner, a sinister omen
for the rest of the album.
Hard to believe, but there is actually a real riff (stubbornly repeated a` la
Glenn Branca) inside the syncopated gallop of Generation.
If you feel that these four "opening remarks" are repetitive,
the somewhat moderate whirlwind of Sun of Light introduces melodramatic
variety, with even moments of King Crimson-ian pomp.
The "break" of Glory Bronze, instead of being a melodic refrain, is a frenzied hymn-like vortex of wavering guitar tones that contrasts with the solitary agony of the vocalist.
The influence of both King Crimson and
Black Sabbath is more obvious in the
eight-minute Veins of God,
whose initial riff sounds like a tribute to
21st Century Schizoid Man,
and whose second half evolves into a majestic march-tempo melody.
Red Crown begins with a sort of bolero and then intones a spastic marionette-like ballet and then soars at the speed of light and then crushes like an exhausted horse, all the way accompanied with one of the most awful repertory of ululations ever heard in music.
The torture continues relentless all the way to the
final cannibal dance Harmonia, that makes
Amon Duul II feel lame.
This is music that reaches superhuman degrees of desperation.
Liturgy's drummer Greg Fox formed the improvisational quintet
The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey, 2015) opens with a
synth overture, appropriately titled Fanfare, which stands as an
announcement that this is a different band.
In fact, the vocalist sings a litany instead of screaming in Follow.
Another Scottish-style synth fanfare drives Kel Valhaal,
that gets more and more cacophonic along the way, with the singer entering
a spoken-word trance.
Follow II is only electronic atmosphere for the first half, before it
opens up to blastbeats, free-form noise and a bit of screaming.
Quetzalcoatl even winks at synth-pop with a drum-machine and regular
The grandiose riffing and the panzer tempo of Father Vorizen are wasted
in another lame litany.
The exotic and exoteric chant Vitriol is something one would expect from
Dead Can Dance or
The eleven-minute Haelegen is simply ridiculous.
A transitional work, this album scatters its songs in many different directions
without hitting any target worth of being hit.
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix also launched a side project called Kel Valhaal, which debuted with the electronic album New Introductory Lectures on the System of Transcendental Qabala (YLYLCYN, 2016), containing the eight-minute Tense Stage and the ten-minute Ontological Love.
Greg Fox went on to play on Colin Stetson's Ex Eye.
Gann and Hunt-Hendrix reformed Liturgy with a new rhythm section
(percussionist Leo Didkovsky and bassist Tia Vincent-Clark
instead of drummer Greg Fox and bassist Tyler Dusenbury) for
H.A.Q.Q. (YLYLCYN, 2019), an album that is both their most experimental
and their most accessible.
The sheer quantity of sonic events is overwhelming.
It is impressive how much happens in the eight minutes of
Hajj: charming dissonance, werewolf screaming, digital noise,
countercurrents of blastbeats, a mechanical guitar solo, exotic spices of harp (Marilu Donovan) and of Japanese wind instruments (a ryuteki and a hichiriki), and so on. It's an endless sensory assault.
All instruments, and notably the strings of the Tadlow Ensemble, share equally in the magniloquent chaos of Pasaqalia, with the addition of a jungle of metallic percussion buried in the mix (Leo Didkovsky on glockenspiel and Cory Bracken of the Sunwatchers on vibraphone).
The other two long pieces manage to turn this high-entropy approach into
a relatively atmospheric format.
The eight-minute single God of Love opens with maximum, almost symphonic, melodrama (strings), and then an explosive riff takes it into
a prog-rock territory with vibraphone, harp, melodic hummed vocals, emotional drumming and, in general, a theatrical dynamics reminiscent of Yes on cocaine.
The seven-minute HAQQ opens like another neoclassical piece, with keyboards intoning a neurotic pattern, but then the music explodes in a demonic merry-go-round of black metal and digital cacophony, and just, when a hypnotic melody is beginning to form, the piece is derailed by a wild ear-splitting digital distortion before returning to its demonic dance.
Sitting next to these four long, intense and complex compositions, the album features some short and relaxed instrumentals:
the supersonic piano sonata Exaco I (courtesy of classical pianist Eric Wubbels),
the piano and harp sonata (Hunt-Hendrix on piano) Exaco III,
the surreal vignette Exaco II for
bells, piano and muffled choir,
and the duet of piano and distorted guitar .....
As a vocalist, Hunt-Hendrix does little more than scream, and his screams
simply play the role of an additional instrument, an additional terrifying
timbre for the orchestra.
In 2020 the vocalist announced that she was now a woman.
For all the declarations of merging black metal and classical instrumentation,
Origin of the Alimonies (2020), featuring
trumpeter Nate Wooley, flautist Eve Essex, bassist James Ilgenfritz,
violinist Josh Modney,
viola player Carrie Frey,
cellist Caleigh Drane,
pianist Eric Wubbels and harpist
feels like seminal prog-rock of the past decades.
It is divided in a overture and three acts, although it doesn't seem to tell a story.
The fusion of chamber music, black metal and digital effects is exemplified
the overture, The Separation of HAQQ from HAEL, and the closer,
It can sound tedious and pretentious but also inspiring.
If the collusion between the rock elements and
organ, flute and strings in
mostly achieves pomp,
the transition from the chamber section to the manic metal coda is
shock-inducing in The Fall of Siheymn.
Siheymn's Lament boasts the broader spectrum of exploration:
screams, trap beat, jazz-minimalist piano, burst of guitar riffs, stately synth riff.
It takes nine minutes for the black-metal gallops of the
14-minute Apparition of the Eternal Church to make sense: that's when
the tremolo yields to the primordial screaming, beating and strumming,
and then the ascending and descending piano pattern suddenly makes sense.
It's all interesting and innovative, but at times the music feels repetitive, aimless and meandering.
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