Liturgy’s name rarely appears next to the phrase “black metal” without some degree of qualification, be it “experimental,” “noise rock” or (my personal favorite) “transcendental.” Something about the fact that the band hails from Brooklyn, don’t cake on the corpse paint and their affiliation with Thrill Jockey, a Chicago label known more for indie and post-rock than metal, seems to throw people off the USBM scent. And as black metal goes, Liturgy occupy their own unique space within or adjacent to the genre, blending their blast beat onslaught with vocal chants, melodic noise rock passages, mathematically deft rhythmic progressions and dynamic arrangements. To call them a black metal band would be a fine start, but it only begins to tell Liturgy’s story.
Where the Brooklyn quartet took black metal’s stylistic tropes to interesting and unexpected places on 2009’s Renihilator, their Thrill Jockey debut, Aesthethica, broadens their scope further with simultaneously more massive and nuanced sonic excursions. As the listener straps in for the intense, ecstatic sensory experience of first track “High Gold,” he is, almost immediately, thrown into the contradictorily harrowing euphoria that the band so expertly conjures. It is a composition of overwhelming power, a surge of awe-inspiring majesty driven by Greg Fox’s inhumanly precise and lightning speed drumming, paired with the abrasively heroic dual lightning of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and Bernard Gann’s guitars. With this five-minute track, the idea of Liturgy as a “transcendental black metal” band makes perfect sense, their dense structures swallowing the listener whole and sending him on an eye-opening journey of sonic enlightenment.
Repetition plays a large part in Aesthethica‘s, erm, aesthetic, almost as much as unexpected and dramatic musical shifts do. “Tragic Laurel” and “Generation” both employ rhythmically complex riff structures, the latter even doing so over the course of more than seven minutes. Its progression is minimal, Gann and Hunt-Hendrix chugging away with mathematical precision as Fox gradually changes up the rhythmic backing, concluding with a mighty, gut-punching math-sludge descent. And “Sun of Light” temporarily allows the bass and drums to drop away while an eerie, harmonized instrumental guitar passage assumes the song’s focus.
Though it’s the rare moment on Aesthethica in which Liturgy’s songs are anything but entrancing and impressive, when they launch into their most unrelenting, uncompromising bursts of laser-focused noise metal, they become a force of cleansing and cathartic release. The nearly seven minute ascent of “Glory Bronze” is exhausting and, at times, almost too much, Hunt-Hendrix’s impenetrable shriek competing with the band’s wall of guitars for piercing supremacy before everything appears as if it’s about to collapse. The shorter, melodically brilliant “Returner” is one of the more approachable pieces, as much as that can be said about the band’s music. The band offers an unexpected sojourn to thrash/sludge power chord depths on “Veins of God,” while the a cappella vocal chants of “Glass Earth” merge into the jaw-dropping album closer “Harmonia.” While it begins with another high-speed black metal explosion, soon enough the band flexes their instrumental muscle, traversing between a deeper, sludgier churn and a contrasting, high-pitched dust storm of harmonized guitar leads. It’s melodic and mesmerizing. Hell, it’s beautiful.
As much a product of black metal’s darkened surge as Glenn Branca or The Boredoms’ avant garde creations, Liturgy presents an invigorating and unique future of extreme metal on Aesthethica. It’s a work of vision and inspiration, and at its most incredible moments, something intangible, and almost spiritual in nature. Debating over something as pedestrian as the rigid architecture of genre seems trivial when discussing an album this exciting; the visceral, euphoric feeling it transmits is what resonates the deepest.
Krallice – Diotima
Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow
Boredoms – Super ae
Video: Liturgy – “Returner”
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.