by Louie Johnson
New York metal band Liturgy are more known for the controversy they’ve created than the music they write. With the debut of their sophomore LP, “Aesthethica,” came a manifesto from front man Hunter Hunt-Hendrix that sent metal fans into a fit of fury all over the Internet. Hendrix, a former composition student at Columbia University, titled his manifesto “transcendental black metal” and proclaims it is the genre his music belongs to.
The philosophy of the manifesto is to change Black Metal from something that is depressive and negative to something uplifting and positive. Hence the “transcendental” aspect of their self-proclaimed genre. This rejection of black metal, and the implication of traditional black metal as inferior has led to Liturgy, and specifically Hendrix, becoming a lightning rod of hate amongst metal fans.
While I liked “Aesthethica” and didn’t have a problem with the words of Hendrix, it didn’t necessarily feel like transcendence. It was a great black metal-influenced album, but transcendental? A little bit of a stretch.
Now with “The Ark Work,” the group’s third album, Hendrix’s manifesto is much more realized. The interesting thing is, its realized due to this album almost completely stepping away from the band’s black metal roots. Instead we have an album hard to categorize. “The Ark Work” is a mix of choral music, alternative rock and electronic tunes.
Elements of black metal are still retained in this album, those mainly being the tremolo picking and blast beats, but there are many other influences that make calling it a metal album seem inappropriate. One of the big changes in the sound is the vocals. Gone are Hendrix’s wretched screams from his previous two LPs, instead replaced with monotonous, repetitive moans. It’s an odd change, and it took me a while to get used to it. The other big change is the inclusion of horns. “The Ark Work” draws heavy influence from choral music. The best way I can describe this sound is if God were into black metal, this is the music you would hear at the pearly gates.
I didn’t like “The Ark Work” on first listen. The shift in Liturgy’s sound was confusing. At first it seems like a garbled mess of horns, bored vocals and tremolo picking. It didn’t seem to match. However I sat on the album for a few days, did a bit of research on the band’s manifesto, and came back with a better understanding of their ethos. Upon second listen, the album made sense. It clicked, and now I love it. This is the closest Hendrix has come to creating the transcendental sound he described. While I wouldn’t say it’s anything like a pinnacle for black metal, it is a creation that takes black metal and makes it into something else, where Liturgy’s previous albums were black metal albums at heart.
However, I don’t like everything about the album. The mix can come off as being strange at times and the horns sound really off from the rest of the music. After the eighth track, “Reign Array,” the last two tracks feel a bit unnecessary. Even so, the ninth track, “Vitriol,” best described as a rap song, is possibly my favorite song on the album.
Liturgy is really challenging its listeners on this one. “The Ark Work” doesn’t have the same furiosity and fluidity as their previous LPs, but in terms of creating something new and putting their money where their mouth is, this is the closest Liturgy has come.