“NPR metal” has been one way of describing Brooklyn thrashers Liturgy derisively in the metal community, and now the phrase carries more credence than ever. Today, Aesthethica, the band’s new album, streams at NPR.
There’s a reason metal fanatics don’t always dig this band: Liturgy admittedly emerged out of a void, and were not a part of a metal community to speak of in New York City. Accusations of hipsterism latching on to black metal as a style were only bolstered by the overwrought waxings of lead man Hunter Hunt-Hendrix – he calls his music transcendental black metal in an attempt to move what he sees as a visceral genre into something more cerebral.
In interviews, the rest of the band seems to take Hunt-Hendrix’s philosophies with a grain of salt and a smile – very little of it actually has to do with music. But the problem is, if Hunt-Hendrix never sat down to type his Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism (this is a real manifesto that rationalizes his genre) there would be little backlash.
Because there’s no denying it: the band has an amazing sense of cohesion. The music is thrilling, for fans of metal and the underground as a whole. Really, for all of Hunt-Hendrix’s Romantic screechings, the lightning speed guitar, the blistering drums, and the sludgy bass, the music is more transformative than abrasive. Throughout Aesthethica there’s an undeniable harmony that moves beyond black metal.
The conflict heads seem to have with calling Liturgy black metal comes from progressive ideals in a steadfast genre. Black metal is referred to critically as somewhat comical for taking evil so seriously (see: Watain, Mayhem, et al). Over-serious musicians using stage theatrics and costumes grant the tunes material superficiality. Ties to fading subversive political movements give a degree of credibility to the genre, but ultimately, in this day, the performance aspect feels campy – which is what makes it so much fun, but frustrating in its difficulty to take seriously.
What Liturgy is trying to accomplish – in distilling the manifesto – is the same degree of primalism black metal achieves through camp, but with intellectual acumen.
But through all that thought, there’s little to cling to throughout the hour of Aesthethica, and not in a bad way. The brief sludge passages aside, most of the album moves quickly despite songs towering over five minutes long. Hunt-Hendrix’s treatise on the “burst beat” – which amounts to a controlled rhythmic accelerando – somewhat contradicts his assertion that transcendental black metal is finite: “And yet the burst beat never arrives anywhere, eternally “not yet” at its destination, eternally “almost” at the target tempo. Like a nomad, the burst beat knows it will never arrive.”
Sounds like a literary brain fart of an asymptote, a description of musical infinity. Drummer Greg Fox (who is a monster behind the kit) displays this concept on “True Will” and “Returner” with his precise kickdrum skills. But a lot of the rest of Aesthethica is pure blast beats, which seem to be more finite in practice anyway.
Still, a lot of this just can’t be called black metal. From the enigmatic percussion intro of “High Gold” to the looping vocals of “Glass Earth,” there’s an experimental side to Liturgy that lets the band show its Brooklyn roots. These tracks take cues from the recent obsession with minimalist composition - the instrumental “Generation” which amounts to a series of ostinatos on a single riff with changing drum patterns, is another example. Passages like this sound as much like a beefed up Trans Am as it does Lightning Bolt or Russian Circles – noise and math derived from the indiesphere.
Hunt-Hendrix’s main argument is that the transcendentalism of his music rejects the nihilism wrung from the solitude of the original conventions of black metal to achieve a greater plane of understanding.
So when a band actually takes the initiative to strip itself of the superficiality that made it such fun in the first place, in favor of a more intellectual approach and explorations of that genre, it loses its credibility? Aesthethica is more art school interpretation of black metal. All the lofty thoughts end up as something equally fascinating as black metal can be superficially frustrating. Aesthetica's best enjoyed res ipsa loquiter - the thing speaks for itself.