Music Reviews

Liturgy Aesthethica

(Thrill Jockey) Rating - 9/10

Liturgy’s Renihilation sounds like its title.  The album overall is a very quick and relentless assault carried out cyclically, “annihilating” over and over and over again till its closure.  I listened to this album once a couple years ago and put it down, rather indifferent to its barrage of blast beats and nonsensical vocals.  Liturgy meets the requirements of the quintessential black metal band, but there wasn’t much to Renihilation I felt compelled to experience again.  Despite being in love with sonic extremes and powerful onslaughts and arrangements, I wanted more from Liturgy, like a hardcore beat or maybe some other loud and obnoxious device to vary the album a bit. 

With Aesthethica, though, Liturgy is trying.

I suppose it could be said that black metal is undergoing the same sort of transformation and creative evolution that hardcore experienced in the mid-80s: a creative awakening of sorts or need to rebel against itself in order to grow or challenge the genre’s constraints.  The best and more recent example I can think of is Nachtmystium’s Addicts: Black Meddle, Part II, which incorporated enough psychedelia and industrialized rock music into their sound to incite dismay from black metal’s most loyal.

Liturgy has found themselves in the same position.  NPR is calling Aesthethica “a disorienting yet exhilarating listen through and through.”  Pitchfork dubbed them “the world’s best hipster black metal band.”  Some might call the success of Liturgy’s pseudo-breach a hard-won accomplishment.  Others?  Well…

Just as hardcore fans proved resistant to the genre’s inability to stand still, black metal fans are likely to react similarly, which is expected and somewhat closed-minded but understandable.  It’s not easy to be an early appreciator of a musical genre so outside of any mainstream radar only to find it later adopted by outsiders.  On the other hand, black metal potentially stands to gain something from a group like Liturgy breaking through.  It’s not as if hardcore’s growth didn’t churn out some of the greatest bands you’ve come to know and some of the most challenging albums you’ve come love, (you don’t really need to go any further than Fugazi to confirm that certainty).

But, as Liturgy’s future as a “transcendental metal band” will win both respect and disgust, Aesthethica is remarkable in that you can get around Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s true-to-genre growl, you can get around its relentless energy and abrasiveness, you can get around how loud and noisy it could be taken.  There’s some great playing going on, masterful guitar work, King Crimson level time shifts and interesting decision-making.  It’s black metal for prog fans or math rockers, Liturgy’s attention to arrangement and speed the sort of maddeningly precise output nerds like that eat up.  Within the first two minutes of High Gold, Liturgy break into high frequency guitars and exciting drum section, setting somewhat of a precedent.  The dynamics continue and get more complicated and ridiculous as Aesthethica continues, songs like True Will and especially Returner reveling in arrhythmic excellence. 

Granted, their musicianship at times wears itself a little too proud, (there’s a section toward the end of True Will that gets to a little up its own ass), but it’s difficult to really put them down.  They achieve some fascinating loops with Tragic Laurel and pull off some odd squealing guitar sounds in Sun Of Light.  The two instrumentals they come up with, Generation and Veins Of God, lay off the progressions to some extent, the band concerning itself with stride.

The vocal-only Glass Earth transitions into the album’s closer, Harmonia.  Liturgy ends the album churning some anthemic riff-borne sludge and come up with what might be Aesthethica’s most accessible moment.  Some tears may flow.  Get over it.