Thursday, October 6, 2011

Liturgy- Aesthetica (2011)

It is almost impossible disentangle Liturgy’s sophomore release, “Aesthetica” from vocalist/guitarist Hunter Hunt Hendrix’s “Transcendental Black Metal Manifesto.” In the manifesto, Hendrix suggests that Liturgy and their brand of “transcendental black metal” are the necessary teleological consequence of black metal. Since black metal is the teleological endpoint of all prior metal, it follows that Liturgy are some sort of dialectical culmination of everything in the history of metal up to today.

To be straight forward, the manifesto is fucking annoying. Hendrix throws around “it words” from continental philosophy and music theory, and then blends them with some goofy metaphors about the atrophied “hyperborean” realm (read: Norway) and the “transcendental apocalyptic” realm (read: America)—all of which is a longwinded way of Hendrix explaining that he thinks his band is awesome. Ultimately the manifesto comes off as a desperate attempt to place Liturgy as the “next great thing” in the history of black metal, as he presents their music as an "overcoming" of Darkthrone’s “Transylvanian Hunger”.

The sad part is that the music itself is actually quite praiseworthy—no manifesto was necessary. While the album sometimes becomes swamped in Liturgy’s uncontrolled pretentiousness, most of the album is imaginative fusion of new sounds and ideas into the black metal framework. At its core, “Aesthetica” is a black metal album; thin tremolo chords, pulsating percussion and standard high pitched screeches.   However, Liturgy does a number of things differently. First, the riffs are fluttery and melodic, swirling around the listener like the string section of an orchestra. This is highly Romantic music; at its best, it recalls the powerful melodies of Brucker and Mahler symphonies.

The band also has a strong djent influence. There are long stretches of mechanistic gyrations, but Liturgy bring life to the machine, building up to intense climaxes and that spill over, like a sprinter crossing the finish line. Liturgy’s ability to shift between these romantic and mechanic passages with such effortlessness is one of the highlights of “Aesthetica.” The band plays with such phenomenal synchronicity that they are able to split off into differing tempos and melodies and come back together without ever missing a beat.

Liturgy is also not afraid to integrate brighter, more celebratory melodies into the black metal sound. Certainly, they are not the first to do it (though they probably [i]think[/i] they are) but they are in the minority. The results are mixed. While the grandstanding opener “High Gold” is awe inspiring, “Sun of Light” sounds like an anime soundtrack. For the most part, Liturgy maintains their emotional integrity throughout—traversing the tragic “True Will”, the monumental “Veins of Gold” and the cathartic “Harmonia”.

The members of Liturgy have often been accused of not being true metal heads. I find that charge ironic; the metal on “Aesthetica” is mostly of a high quality, while all the non-metal parts are absolutely terrible. The a capella passages are literally the worst I have ever heard in my life. I kid not, these are the type of nasal vocals that incite mass violence. Hunter Hunt Hendrix strained moans like a castrated sheep being sodomized. The keyboard passages are also terrible.  The synth piece “Helix Skull” sounds like shit. Seriously, kids fucking around on a piano do a better job than this. Unfortunately these crap keyboard and a capella passages are often interspersed at the beginnings of otherwise stellar tracks, which means it’s not so easy to just skip them. These passages highlight that Liturgy are not quite “there” yet. They’re still too caught up in doing “transcendental black metal” to transcend their own inabilities, like lack of singing ability.

In the end “Aesthetica” is an impressive though sometimes frustrating album. While there are plenty of standout moments, it also has its share of absolutely terrible moments. At its core, this band has an original and exciting sound. While they’ve taken the liberty of putting themselves in conversation with Darkthrone, I would say their sound is closer to the neo-classical sounds of Emperor's swansong "Prometheus". Liturgy’s great innovation is removing the synths and creating the symphonic sound through nothing but bass, drums and guitar. Still, if this band is ever going to reach their full potential, they need to get their nauseatingly large egos under check.

Overall: 7.5/ 10