Metal fans are a bizarre lot. I should know. I am one.
Most shows I go to are fairly low-key affairs, unless you have a Converge or a Trap Them or some sort of hardcore-laced band on the bill to bring everyone to a violent frenzy. But for the most part, pure metal shows such as the Immortal performance I attended a couple of months ago, are peaceful. People have their own style of dress, wear a smattering of different band shirts, talk amongst themselves respectfully, and sometimes start pits that looks a little bit like people sleepwalking in a circle. They just want something that’ll fire them up and make them feel alive, even if that energy is more internal. It’s usually a good time. Of course, that just might be Pittsburgh. Maybe we’re all a little bit tired.
You’re probably wondering what point I’m making as this is a piece about the new album from New York City-based black metal experimentalists Liturgy, and I can understand why you maybe be puzzled. But the Hunter Hunt-Hendrix-led band that’s on full-length album two seem to get equal amount of praise and people questioning whether their metal aim is true. This same type of thing has been thrown at other bands such as Early Man and The Sword simply because, at one time, they didn’t record for metal-only labels. The horror! Clearly, and very clearly, these judgments were not based on the aforementioned bands’ music, and people saying the same about Liturgy simply are trying to start some sort of territorial pissing that isn’t necessary. Yes, Liturgy now record for Thrill Jockey, largely known as an indie rock haven, but if anyone can listen to their new record “Aesthetica” and somehow explain how this isn’t a true representation of heavy metal, then I’ll quit. Chances are, the people I described at the Immortal show probably would gobble this up and not worry about any stupid Internet spitball tossing (and let’s face it, Internet kids started this garbage). It’s metal. Why dissect and put under a microscope something that doesn’t require it?
Let’s address Thrill Jockey really quickly. Yes, they put out some stellar indie rock-style bands such as The Fiery Furnaces, Mi Ami, and the Sea and Cake, but they’re not adverse to releasing artists that push toward the metallic edge, evidenced by them working with Mountains, The Skull Defekts, and Barn Owl. So this argument holds no water anyway. Look at this another way: What if Fiery Furnaces signed with Relapse? Would they be considered grindcore indie pop? Of course not. So let’s drop this. I think it’s pretty awesome Thrill Jockey put their push behind a band such as Liturgy, one that really sticks out on their roster and proves what opens minds both the band members and label heads have. This type of thing should be celebrated, not questioned or judged negatively.
OK, but the album is what’s important, and “Aesthetica” delivers. It’s not terribly different from their 2008 effort “Renihilation” (put out by very-much-metal 20 Buck Spin), and if you’re into that record, chances are you’ll like this one. Hunt-Hendrix’s guitar playing is mind-blowing as always, and the band often plays so quickly and precisely, they sound like a fresh-from-the-package power drill. Along with guitarist Bernard Glenn, drummer Greg Fox, and bassist Tyler Dusenbury, Hunt-Hendrix adds his incredible prowess and banshee shrieking atop these 12 songs that should find favor among those who both like to be thrashed relentlessly and who geek out on top-notch musicianship. Many make a comparison to Krallice, and I understand why, but the two bands certainly sound a lot different. Same town, similar structure. It’s not a stretch.
The album starts mechanically with the opening string cranking of “High Gold,” that eventually melts into a bubbling cauldron of intensity and power. “True Will” kicks off with the band’s oddball, evil Beach Boys-like harmonizing (something that seems to annoy that pocket of people who question Liturgy’s intent … Whatever. I think it’s cool) before completely detonating into a melodic, scintillating black assault that’s as savage as it is precise, eventually bleeding out in a symphony of clock alarms; “Glory Bronze” has an emotional caterwaul of a guitar line and controlled chaos that’s intricate and devastating; where “Veins of God” opens simply, with a drum beat that reminds of ’80s Black Sabbath sort-of hit “Headless Cross” before taking on a savage lead line that should erase anyone’s doubt as to whether this metal is true. It is. Wholly. Completely. There are some cuts that push in other directions. “Generation” takes on the personality of early, “Gish”-era Smashing Pumpkins, only updated and blackened, while the opening sequence to “Tragic Laurel” sounds like something lent by guitar goddess Marnie Stern before it tears away its cloak and exposes its darkness. Instrumental “Helix Skull” makes like it would have sounded right at home on the first “Halloween” soundtrack in its slasher film eeriness.
People are going to pass judgment because that’s what they do to feel important. Too bad for them, because writing off “Aesthetica” as anything less than a stellar slab of modern, domestic black metal is foolish. If someone slapped a different record label’s name on this, I wonder if those people would judge the book by its cover differently. I feel bad for people who do that. Thrill Jockey’s a killer label, and bringing Liturgy on board is much to their credit. As for the band itself, I never doubted them for a second, and “Aesthetica” only solidified my belief they are one of the true bright hopes that black metal’s future will be uncompromising, exciting, and real.
For more on Liturgy, go here: http://www.myspace.com/liturgynybm
For more on Thrill Jockey, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/index.html