Music Reviews
The Ark Work

Liturgy The Ark Work

(Thrill Jockey) Buy it from Insound Rating - 4/10

Black metal is driven by a singular vision, and any kind of variations to the formula are generally looked upon with scorn by faithful zealots. Liturgy frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix was instantly treated with venomous contempt the moment he opened a dialogue about reshaping its very core, going as far as calling it “transcendental” in a protracted essay that, though canny and passionate, reeked of self-aggrandizement. However, the accomplishments of the album that accompanied it, Aesthetica, didn’t reach any concordance with some kind of sublime experience beyond the physical level. Aesthetica wasn’t questioned for traversing any unexplored musical terrain. It was heavily cross-examined because of Hunt-Hendrix’s Ivy League background, an angel-faced Brooklynite who doesn’t have the license, or the straggly appearance of your everyday metalhead, to question black metal’s three decades of existence.

Aesthetica treated black metal with reverence in its own unique way, and though calling it such is something of a stretch, it’s still one of the most exhilarating metal releases of this current decade. Hunt-Hendrix fancied elevating its purist constraints into a classical realm, and failed spectacularly in doing so. Which is actually the best that could’ve happened to Liturgy - the Gregorian moans and church bells of Aesthetica border on comical, but they create a sense of place, a transportive journey that handled its irregular time shifts and incendiary guitar work with fearless abandon. Aware of its limitations, or perhaps an awareness of not wanting to repeat himself, Hunt-Hendrix proposed the idea of a follow-up that, once again, wants to alter the course of black metal with a complete disregard to others.

There’s an abundance of ersatz trumpets in Fanfare, a grand, majestic entrance that chiefly confounds in how it wraps itself with a synthetic ambiance. It’s fraught with importance, a trait that permeates all phases of their body of work. A dense bed of circulating guitars and fiery blast beats are laid bare with merciless release in Follow, not a drastic departure from Aesthetica’s grinding, tremolo-picked outbreaks, but there’s something different about Hunt-Hendrix’s emotive purpose. Screeching wails are substituted with risible brisk rapping in monotone, which might as well play out as a no-nonsense ruse for those who can’t bear to tolerate their tangled principles of metal in academic form. The scrupulous Kal Valhalla is so tortuously complex that many will quickly dismiss it, looked upon as musicians who sow discord for the pleasure of it, its tacked-on wind chimes and clipped samples crested with funereal bagpipes and spit out, acrimonious verses for a full seven minutes. Suddenly, Aesthetica comes across as, well, conventional.

The harrowing shifts and turns The Ark Work takes are sweeping and defiant, and always pompous, its main frame fixated on electronic scrims and bleak, dramatic stretches. There’s also a technology-as-progress doctrine that’s ingrained to the album’s continual use of digital soundbytes, like the oddly compelling Quetzalcoatl, a MIDI baroque symphony fit for a soundtrack to some SNES RPG that desperately wants to achieve towering levity by utilizing throbbing, colossal samples and arrhythmic drum patterns, apparently chopped off during post-production. Here, the tension is almost overbearing, anguished and automatic, using repetition as a vehicle to achieve an absorbing experience that stimulates a reaction. Liturgy paints an alien and unearthly setting throughout, but there are still human moments of frantic unease - Father Vorizen, for instance, is one of their most delectable slow burners yet, a seasoned, masterful exchange of massive riffage and dissonant time signatures surrounded with sludgy harmonic passages.

The Ark Work does lessen on impact as it reaches its final stretch, and with the exception of Reign Array’s blistering but patchy twelve minutes, the lowbrow, faux-orchestral effects and rehashed sound motifs become intolerably grating. There’s something commendable about the way Liturgy wish to silence those who refute them by willfully making things as abstruse as can be. It doesn’t excuse their turgid confidence, however, as if overly conceptualizing every aspect of their mission statement through defensive projection. There are times in which The Ark Work sounds aimless in spite of its slight technical achievements, yielding a sensory overload of strobing compositions channeled with unrestrained imagination. Bold, outrageous statements like these seldom happen, and when they do it’s a cause for celebration, but what’s a good challenge when contrivance is principally motivated by a desire for bragging or one-upmanship.