Kristin Hayter tends to put her own body through a lot for the sake of performance. Her live performances are intensely physical spectacles, and she frequently documents the bruises sustained in the interest of not half-assing it. And the Old English Caligula tattoo around her collar as seen on the cover of the album of the same name? Yep—that’s permanent. But nothing’s quite as convincing as the intensity of her uncanny vocal performances themselves—operatic, agonizing, at times bordering on exorcisms. It’s almost harder to believe that, in the act of making music as Lingua Ignota, she wouldn’t require a bit of time to restore and replenish before dusting off and doing it again.
As punishing as Lingua Ignota’s music is when Hayter removes the safety barriers, there’s a grace and delicateness to what she does that makes the more harrowing moments even more striking. While she does make more conventionally heavy music as a member of Sightless Pit, Hayter’s solo work is eerie and spectral, even hymnlike when Hayter channels something beyond corporeal—divine and profane alike—against the austere backing of pipe organ. It’s within this duality that she delivers her most powerful works, and the contrast is at its starkest on her third album, SINNER GET READY, a suite of fire-and-brimstone ballads from rural America, soaked with the blood of Biblical vengeance.
The sound of SINNER GET READY is reflective of the environment in which it was created; Hayter conceived of the album while living in central Pennsylvania, and listening to it feels like walking through a landscape of abandoned places of worship and smoldering embers. Its arrangements are less overtly bombastic than those of its predecessor, the entirety of the album played on acoustic instruments, capturing a specific Appalachian folk aesthetic as Hayter’s narrations center around locales such as the subterranean inferno of abandoned mining town Centralia and an ever-present fear of the almighty. The choice of a subtler, earth-tone motif only buttresses the album’s genuine terror with its understated beauty, and not merely because Hayter has a tendency to interrupt it with outbursts like “I don’t give a fuck! Just kill him! You have to! I’m not asking!” In removing the more stereotypically cacophonous elements from her music, Lingua Ignota more closely hones in on a feeling of quiet dread, though the cacophony isn’t entirely removed. “Many Hands” is a hellish dirge that could best be described as industrial bluegrass, while the slow pluck of banjo beneath Hayter’s fiery sermon (“he took my legs and my will to live!“) in “Repent Now Confess Now” is a harrowing death march.
Naturally, Hayter is the most explosive element here, though even her devastating weapon of a voice is used sparingly. The album’s two pre-release singles, “Pennsylvania Furnace” and “Perpetual Flame of Centralia,” are among Lingua Ignota’s most conventionally pretty pieces of music, though given such sparse arrangements, the bleakness of them comes into focus with unvarnished clarity. In particular the former, a song in which an ironworker’s dog seeks revenge on his cruel master; “I watched you alone in the home where you live with your family,” Hayter sings, “And all that I’ve learned is everything burns.” From the opening of “The Order of Spiritual Virgins,” however, Hayter makes it clear through her own layered self banshee chorus that the terrain she walks is a brutal one: “Hide your children, hide your husband.”
SINNER GET READY highlights a scarcely acknowledged truth that traditional gospel and folk/country murder ballads are far more terrifying than “Angel of Death,” because the pale-faced specter of death and the promise of the divine are far more intense with the kayfabe removed. Which isn’t to say there’s no artifice to Lingua Ignota’s methods; to the contrary, hers is a more stylized form of primal scream performance art. But in removing the most overtly crushing elements and supplanting it with a stripped-down, plainspoken vision of righteous judgment, the terror becomes that much harder to shake.
Label: Sargent House
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.