Liturgy, "Aesthethica"

Saturday, 07 May 2011 21:00 Stephen Bush Reviews - Albums and Singles
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cover imageLiturgy's music is a full-on sensory assault, at once controlled and chaotic, meditative and brutal, that demands you immerse yourself fully and pay attention. This is not background listening of any sort, nor easy listening—just an hour of damn good metal.

Thrill Jockey

Liturgy are a polarizing band. They play a brand of self-described "transcendental black metal," complete with an accompanying manifesto and philosophy, that may find them stuck between audiences—too self-righteous for devoted metalheads, too extreme for run-of-the-mill indie music fans. A glance around Internet forums finds that the band inspires a surprising amount of hatred (e.g., "They're a bunch of posers who just mindlessly regurgitate any philosophical bullshit they can find about black metal") for four regular guys immersed in their craft. So blindingly intense is their live presence that, when I saw them launch furiously into "High Gold" at a hole-in-the-wall bar at Austin's South by Southwest music festival a couple months ago, several folks walked out within seconds, perhaps overwhelmed by the density of sound.

All of which is to say that Aesthethica, Liturgy's second full-length, is a modern metal classic of the best sort: an album so blazingly artistic, recorded by a band so outspoken in its ideals, that it isolates many potential listeners before they've even heard a note. Aesthethica is full of contradictions: primal rock 'n' roll music that is rooted in black metal and hardcore, but isn't contained by the boundaries of either genre. Originally a solo project of cherub-faced frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Liturgy's membership now runs four deep—the antithesis of some depressed bum in corpsepaint—and Aesthethica sounds like a collaborative project that couldn't have been made by fewer people. Its songs are complex, sweeping, elaborately arranged, played by technically gifted musicians, energetic but never flashy.

So, Aesthethica draws from black metal: there are howling vocals, blastbeats and blindingly fast tremolo picking all over the album. The influence of hardcore music is also apparent in the intensity of these songs. Compositionally, though, Liturgy take a left turn into minimalist, avant-garde territory reminiscent of Glenn Branca's '70s experiments with droning repetition. The drumming flirts with cascading, jazzy fills that bounce off the walls of guitars, like a prism dispersing light. All sorts of interludes are present, too; the ritualistic, a capella chanting of "True Will" and "Glass Earth" are standouts. Most abrasive is "Helix Skull," a barrage of dissonant harmonics that opens the album's second half, serving as a break from the trance-inducing assault that dominates the album. At its best, Aesthethica is beautifully uplifting, a tidal wave of energy and repetition that, played at length, becomes hypnotic, romantic... even transcendental.

Great musicians know to end great albums on a strong note, and Liturgy save their best tune for last. After parting the heavens with "Glass Earth," dropping the listener's guard, "Harmonia" rains down a final, concentrated blast of ecstatic self-exorcism. Heard as a unified whole, Aesthethica is shockingly good, among my favorite albums this year. If it doesn't connect with every person that gives it a spin, it is perhaps all the sweeter for it—consider me converted.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 14:59