Liturgy – Aesthetica Review

Jordan Campbell’s take:

I’ll spare you the rehash of the battle. You know, the imaginary tussle between those that hoist Liturgy as a vanguard of new-school artfuck coolness and the bloodthirsty cabal that wish painful death upon them. Dismiss this war of attrition entirely. Giving fuel to those that champion the former stance is counterproductive, and the latter stance is woefully inarticulate and misguided. The cries of bullshit from the denim-and-leather contingent should not be fueled by outrage over Liturgy‘s embarrassing public appearance, but by the flaccid nature of their meandering and punchless compositions.

The band, admittedly, exhibits flashes. “Veins of God” is a reedy homage to Matt Pike (and the only section of Aesthethica that can rightly be deemed “heavy.”) Closer “Harmonia” is respectably cacophonous. And “True Will” is a soild, passable slab until it reaches critical mass at about 3:45, when it disintegrates into a bleating morass of Mick Barr worship before doubling back into the brittle reptition that the band has staked their reputation upon.

It’s on songs like “Sun of Light,” “Returner,” and the kick-drum-crutched “Generation” where the band’s lofty claims of metallic innovation reveal themselves to be utterly fallacious. While that palpable Krallice influence persistently lurks (instant cred, correct?), Liturgy‘s glaring lack of heft is their death sentence. With each repititous sqawk, it becomes obvious that the band isn’t drawing from the context of heavy metal’s history; Aesthethica is void of the bloodied roots, battle scars, and charred remains of our past struggles. This isn’t due to a conscious rejection of the tenets laid by their forebears. It’s due to an complete lack of conceptual knowledge. There’s no grit, no fire, no power; Aesthethica is hollow, dessicated, and almost translucent.

This dilution is common amongst those too enamoured with certain subgenres and subsects, as they decend into self-congratulatory masturbation at the cost of vitality. (This is commonplace in brutal death metal circles, where everyone’s main influence is the dude to their left. As a result, faceless mush becomes the primary export.) It’s quite obvious that Liturgy culls from a shallow pool of context that begins with Weakling, ends with Orthrelm, and hitched a ride in a railcar from Wolves in the Throne Room‘s commune.

All of this would be perfectly fine, if sufficiently self-contained and left to its own devices. But frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix precariously places himself in a perpetual, cartwheeling state of self-immolation, proclaiming his brand of “transcendental black metal” to be a countercultural revelation of sorts.

Trouble is, Aesthethica isn’t black, and it’s only tangentially metal. Simple as that. Again, this would be of little consequence if not for the grandstanding. Unfortunately, said grandstanding effectively delegitimizes the entire enterprise.

The central tenet of heavy metal has always been rebellion: Black Sabbath‘s patent rejection of peace and love; Judas Priest‘s nightlife lawlessness; Hellhammer‘s punkfilth primalism; Death‘s gauntlet-throwing at thrash metal’s feet. The ultimate act of rebellion–and the last, great gasp of unadulterated originality that the metal world has seen–was Varg Vikernes’ introverted, early 90s fuck-you to all that was theretofore considered extreme.

Today, when an increasingly-cagey Varg proclaims that black metal died after the Second Wave’s first crest, we let him get away with it, because he helped lay the blueprint for the genre as we know it. That doesn’t mean we take him seriously. We just blast some Aosoth, Blut aus Nord, or Inquistion and have a chuckle at our favorite cantankerous black metal uncle.

When Hunter Hunt-Hendrix says, “I think that black metal is dead. What I call Hyperborean black metal is over,” it rings hollow, and Liturgy is exposed as a spurious entity. Their rebellion isn’t tangible. They’re attempting to rise against a concept of their own design–one that doesn’t hold up to even modest scrutiny–and failing spectacularly. Regardless of the quality of their material (which is consistently lacking in structure, nuance, and any remarkable quirk), their aspirations towards transcendentalism are crippled from the outset. They’re searching for a battle where none exists. And for all the bluster and pseudo-intellectual bravado, there’s a glaring, glaring weakness in Liturgy‘s makeup:


Oh, and “Glass Earth,” guys? Fuck off.

Jim Brandon’s take:

Sometimes all of this gets a little too serious for comfort, and while I don’t believe the hype, I also don’t totally buy into the hate. Aside from Hunter Hunt-Hendrix easily being one of the most pretentious musicians I’ve ever known within the metal realm, I get a huge kick out of the fact that he can utter five simple words — “We play transcendental black metal”– and instantly become the target of death threats. Although the thought of watching that stick get his ass handed to him by a gaggle of corpsepainted miscreants might be satisfying for some, that’s throwing more energy his way than he’s worth. The fact of the matter is Triple H can banter on all he likes about having “invented” an entirely new fucking subgenre with Liturgy, but he’s about as much of a visionary as I’m a gynecologist. I can go walk around downtown Chicago wearing a lab coat and stethoscope and kick back as the magnificent miles of thighs yawn wide in wait for my tender investigation, but anyone with a lick of sense knows that’s a tall pile of bullshit, as is this so-called reimagining of a genre that still has yet to reach its creative end.

In truth, I find all this mess to be quite fascinating up to a very short point, and if you take the “black metal” hyperbole completely out of the equation, Aesthethica is a pretty cool little slice o’ plastic. To say this quartet sounds like no one else out there is inaccurate, since folks have already made many comparisons to their Brooklyn neighbors, Krallice, and they also share similarities with countless French black metal bands, as well as with Sweden’s Silencer. If nothing else, they take only the most basic bare-bones trademarks of the genre, meaning blastbeats, tremolo picking, and screeched vocals, and simply turn everything inside-out, winding up closer to alt-metal than real BM. There IS a twist to their myth though, because they have a knack for wacky assembly you don’t hear often in the scene, and a keen sense of keeping things tight when launching into odd time signatures. Liturdjent, perhaps? Yeah, this is not the band I feel the need to be uptight about anymore, despite what others might like to think.

From their unusual song structures to their quirky way of executing them, there’s a lot of frantic forward motion that comes off as genuinely sincere. Of course, the remarkable velocities they reach are mainly due to Greg Fox’s absolutely jaw-dropping percussive prowess, and listening to him on record indicates to me that he and he alone is the variable that prevents Hunter’s compositions from flying completely off the tracks. I really can’t say enough good things about him, but his fellow band members also hold their own, although it would have been great to be able to actually hear bassist Tyler Dusenbury tear his strings to shreds a little more vividly. HHH’s piercing caterwauls are a little difficult to digest upon the first exposure to them, but after a while it becomes clear that his screeches suit the music better than a more mid-ranged croak or growl. But what strikes me hardest while listening to Aesthethica is how it feels as though these wonderfully educated musicians are just now beginning to fully understand how to effectively put their years of learned theories into practice when it comes to effective songwriting.

So, what are these songs like? They’re about as sparklingly bright as an albino’s ass. Riffs that sound like someone is murdering the high keys of a xylophone are all over “High Gold” to start with, but things drop down into relatively “normal” pitch levels as the rest of the album progresses. Some of it is painfully repetitious (“Veins Of God”, “Generation”), and a little bit of it is grating (“Helix Skull” is awful), but the bread and butter lies with the radiantly-formed “Tragic Laurel”, “True Will” and “Glory Bronze” much to my surprise. After the purely annoying chanting of “Glass Earth” blessedly passes and is left in the dust, closer “Harmonia” takes everything the previous eleven tracks explore and throws it all into a fan to see how it sprays, but smack dab in the middle of all, “Sun Of Light” shows itself in Liturgy’s best hue. Harkening back to the debut Reinihilation, this centerpiece displays the sturdiest arrangement to be found on this entire album, with just enough repetition used to dynamically lead into the closest that they come to honoring the music they simultaneously reject with tremolo-heavy, blastbeaten tension. It’s an addictive moment, and the best part of this whole experience. Unfortunately, Greg’s admirable speed also sometimes gets lost in translation from a production standpoint when he really floors the gas pedal, and though his technique is solid, it doesn’t always sound great due to the thin mix over the course of this entire CD.

But if I were to sum up the entirety of the Aesthethica experience, I would compare it to sitting down to your favorite, delicious meal, and as you heartily dig in, you chomp down hard on the side of your cheek. The pain is excruciating, but once it slighly begins to fade, you start chewing again, and the yum factor of the food is all you recall. The next mouthful goes off without a hitch, but as you sop up some sauce and go for another bite, you crunch your tongue to the point where it bleeds, but again, as soon as it stops hurting you continue to grind away. As soon as Liturgy hits the sweet spot, they do something that almost ruins everything, and then the next song later hits that same cool spot again, and it all balances out to a jarring, exhausting experience.

And what an experience this was. Although I don’t jive with all this convoluted talk about how supposed romanticism, ecstasy, and momentum are all overlooked aspects of proper black metal, I really don’t need to agree with it either. Those claims just aren’t accurate, and Liturgy has merely brought a few odd aspects to the forefront of an already well established and continually maturing medium. But when separating all sugar from the shit, Aesthethica is an often challenging and ultimately rewarding endeavor. I find the calls of violence against HHH to be utterly uncalled for, but a few lessons in unprivileged humility might serve him well if he ever hopes to be viewed as more than just a laughable twat who sees himself as being above a style of music that has provided him with an artistic inspiration that wouldn’t otherwise exist without it.

Posted by Old Guard

The retired elite of LastRites/MetalReview.

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