(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Renihilation (2009), 6.5/10
Aesthethica (2011), 7.5/10
The Ark Work (2015), 4.5/10
H.A.Q.Q. (2019), 7/10
Origin of the Alimonies (2020), 6/10
93696 (2023), 7/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

New York's trio Liturgy, fronted by transgender vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (Haela Ravenna after switching gender in 2020) 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 tragic manifestos. 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 Guardian Alien.

Liturgy's 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 melodic singing. 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 Lycia. 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, Haela Ravenna. Mario Miron replaced Bernard Gann on guitar.

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 Marilu Donovan, 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 by the overture, The Separation of HAQQ from HAEL, and the closer, The Armistice. It can sound tedious and pretentious but also inspiring. If the collusion between the rock elements and organ, flute and strings in Lonely Oioion 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.

93696 (2023), produced by Steve Albini, is an 82-minute album divided into four parts, presumably the four sides of a double LP, each titled after an aspect of Hunt-Hendrix's theology (Sovereignty, Hierarchy, Emancipation, Individuation) while the album's title is a numerological representation of paradise. The quartet plays the part of barbaric intellectuals in the dizzying prog-metal adventure of Djennaration (8:20), as the cacophony soars to anthemic dimensions and Hunt-Hendrix's shrieks rip it apart. After struggling to find its balance, Haelegen II (9:00) eventually emerges from an acoustic interlude to frantically flutter like a hyperkinetic raga. 93696 (14:52) begins like a gothic carillon and for a while the glockenspiel continues to surface in the mix even when the guitars and drums bury it under layers of excruciating sounds, but the ending is dominated by the romantic tremolo that feels like a religious seizure. Antigone II (14:09) is where all the elements come together to create the ultimate symphonic experience in the realm of black metal, with tremolos, blastbeats and shrieks complementing each other like clockworks. The singer doesn't even try to tell a story. The guitar stubbornly repeats minimal chords. The drums fill every corner of the music. The piece is basically a 14 minutes of an uninterrupted grandiose ending. No less impressive are shorter songs like the hypnotic Before I Knew the Truth, whose repetitive riffing sounds like another explicit tribute to Glenn Branca (a tribute in overdrive). Hunt-Hendrix has mastered the language of guttural beastly shrieks like noone else, a language of both physical and metal agony, Mario Miron is a force of nature, and Leo Didkovsky (also the drummer of Kayo Dot) is as much a virtuoso drummer as his predecessor. There is repetition in such a massive album (all riffs sound the same, all shrieks sound the same) but most of it is justified within the context of each song. However, the choral and chamber interludes are not particularly interesting.

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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