Y’know what’s an edgy film? The Grapes of Wrath, “Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there” I mean, that’s awesome stuff. You know what film isn’t edgy and just fucking trite? Human Centipede. That isn’t tough, it isn’t clever and it has no edge. Splattering the screen in blood isn’t how you make a film edgy; a film shouldn’t mess with your guts, it should mess with your head. Y’know who are an edgy black metal band? Liturgy, because they really embrace the musical form. Y’know who isn’t edgy at all and is just fucking trite? All the racist ear-rapists masquerading as black metal. That shit is just clogging the airwaves. It isn’t even good. Liturgy are good though, their latest offering, Aesthetica really is something. Daring to tear the genre apart; these are dudes who know and who deeply care about black metal and metal music, and are trying to make something of it more than it is. Leading man Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (I know, right?) has even written a manifesto on ‘transcendental black metal’. See, I read a lot of Marx and the like when I was sixteen (and a pretentious little shit, the difference now? I’m not so little) so I really like the idea of a music manifesto. As it is, Transcendental Black Metal works as a kind of generic state-of-the-union mixed with a statement of intent. Here’s what’s wrong with black metal, here’s how Liturgy are going to make everything okay.
Black metal: Anybody who was at all interested in metal in the 80s must have noticed the rise of bands like Venom, the original black metal. You probably heard about Norwegian black metal which is the real heart of the genre. I’ve had discussions with my metal-y friends about Norwegian black metal, we all love the music (Just check out Blaze in the Northern Sky - Darkthrone and Deathcrush – Mayhem for the two most concise cuts from this particular cloth) but the actual scene, and the fans especially are a bit too prickish for us to consider actually wearing black metal shirts or going to gigs. The genre that is paradoxically the most extreme and most ridiculously theatrical. Corpse paint? Making it look like you’re a Kiss fan who just broke up with his girlfriend (or boyfriend, not judging), goats heads and mock crucifixions on stage, buckets of real blood thrown over the audience and the way black metal has almost become a parody of those early releases. Having said all that, members of the community have proved that they are quite serious by their actions; self harm on stage and in the studio, shotgun suicides, murder, jail time, church arson, openly racist beliefs and don’t even get me started on half the shit Nattramn is supposed to have got up to (For those not in the know – supposedly attacking a child with an axe, begging the police to shoot him, cutting off his hands and replacing them with pig’s trotters, creating a vinyl limited to ten copies and sending them at random to children’s hospitals around the world; the list goes on). It is definitely hard for an outsider to square the one with t’other. Musicians being theatrical, great, I give you Bowie and Alice Cooper; musicians taking seriousness into the music, even more superb, I give you Sunn O))) and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. The real interesting black metal comes out of America now anyway; you’ve got Cobalt, Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and now these guys, Liturgy. Liturgy attempt to marry the two warring factions of theatrical silliness and po-faced seriousness, by throttling back on both. You won’t find racist liner notes or vinyl for sale that people have ejaculated on, the shows consist of some dudes playing instruments in tees with nary a painted face in sight. Instrumentation is key for these guys, and playing as a single organism to reach math rock-like levels of speed; like an engine running, these guys change gear and tone, but they never stop. Key to Hunt-Hendrix’s ‘transcendental black metal’ is the burst-beat; the anglo-American cousin of the blast beat. For Hunt-Hendrix, the blast beat is fine, but it is eternal and at the same time eternally not satisfying. The difference with the burst beat is that it increases and decreases in tempo like the heartbeat of a man switching between sprinting and walking.
What follows is probably going to feature in my much anticipated (shutupitis!) end-of-year-interesting-records-a-thon; a truly stunning example of the black metal genre and at the same time a totally refreshing experience. Liturgy take all the things that are interesting about black metal and gets rid of all the stupidity (musically speaking) while also adding some fascinating nods to other movements; so gone is ‘necrosound’ otherwise known as ‘we totally couldn’t be arsed to get decent recording equipment so we’ll pretend it was deliberate’ syndrome; in goes the inclusion of electronic sounds and more elaborate and obvious production to craft the soundscape (YouTube Helix Skull if you don’t believe me); The shrieked vocals are still present, but the real move forward is in the drumming. The drummer really does lead the parade on Aesthetica, reaching Meshuggah-Bleed levels of mouth-gaping rapidity, and the guitars go with them the whole way. I have always been a huge fan of black metal tremolo picking, and the almost orchestral highs it is able to reach. With tremolo picking on a heavily distorted guitar, one man can reach the sound of a entire orchestra of string, it is quite a sound to behear. While this isn’t Pure Reason Revolution’s Dark Third, the production is excellent, enough to ensure everything sounds crisp without letting you forget that you are listening to black metal.
Aesthetically (ha) things have received a bit of a spiritual kick to the head. It is often speculated that black metal is so unpopular even among metal fans because of its relentlessly nihilistic and misanthropic aesthetic. I can’t comment on whether that really is the case (I’m not plugged into the tiny local black metal scene, as explained above, I’m allergic to pricks) but Liturgy seek to overturn that. In his own words, frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is “sickened by negativity” and claims “we don’t play grim music” and gives voice to the ideas I’ve been professing about metal ever since I got into it; the darkness and the evil and the chaos of that distorted music is a way of exploring the darkness and evil and chaos in ourselves and those around us. Metal is a tool for understanding ourselves. Sadly they do get quite a lot of abuse from ‘mainstream black metal’ fans, as anyone who tries to change things often does. The idea of writing a manifesto about how shit black metal is, and rejecting some of its central ideas is not endearing to a lot of the fanbase. Just like anything, there will always be a majority of idiots who are quite happy to listen to the same music, watch the same films and order the same pizza every night, because people don’t actually like new things, they like things they like already. Liturgy try to change things by playing different music and telling pretentious fucks just how pretentious they are. You can call it ‘hipster black metal’, and write YouTube comments concerning how Hunt-Hendrix read too much Nietzsche at his Ivy League school, go right on ahead; and you can continue buying the same tedious black metal that is coming up for twenty years of repetition if you want, I’ll even admit some of it is really good; but I want you to listen to Liturgy just once, properly, and don’t tell me that isn’t pushing black metal into different places.
Written under duress by Steven