Liturgy – The Ark Work
Review by Alex McCullough
Liturgy have never been a band that do what people expect. They ruffled black metal purists’ feathers with their last two releases, Renihilation and Aesthethica, by playing their particular style of self-dubbed “transcendental black metal”. These two albums featured a lot of traditional black metal influence, but, especially on Aesthethica, they put a very non-black metal twist on their music. While black metal is typically played in a minor key with intentionally messy production (and/or musicianship) and bleak, misanthropic lyrics, Liturgy’s music is largely played in a major key with tight production and lyrics that “transcend” the typical black metal style by being very triumphant and ethereal. In the interest of brevity, I’ll keep the discussion of Liturgy’s previous style to a minimum, but it’s really something special albeit often criticized by haters.
With Liturgy’s new album, The Ark Work, they bring something extremely fresh to the table. They haven’t exactly ditched their “transcendental black metal” sound, but they’ve heavily modified it into something that’s strikingly original. The band’s vocalist/guitarist/visionary/messiah Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has completely abandoned his previous singing (screaming) style and switched to all clean vocals. We still hear a lot of the black metal influence in the percussion and guitars on this record, but we also get a lot of experimental electronic glitch-style sounds. There are several tracks that even show signs of hip-hop influence.
The album starts with “Fanfare”, a two-minute synth brass song with a very medieval, royal court-esque sound to it. This song essentially heralds the coming of the sprawling, challenging experience that is The Ark Work. This introductory track is followed by “Follow”, a song that is very reminiscent of Liturgy’s earlier work. So far, nothing crazy. Then we get “Kel Valhaal”, a song that defies conventional rhythm and is peppered with glitched out notes and synth bagpipes to create a complex, original sound. The lead single, “Quetzalcoatl”, follows a relentlessly repetitive structure with monotone vocals to create a trance-like sound that I honestly wasn’t a fan of when the single was released. However, in the context of the album, this sound fits perfectly and makes “Quetzalcoatl” one of the best tracks on the record. Later on, we have the somber synth piece “Haelegen” which leads into the centerpiece of the album, “Reign Array”. Clocking in at over 11 minutes, “Reign Array” goes from sounding like a continuation of “Haelegen” to a triumphant anthem to an intense battle cry. It’s really an amazing track to experience. Finally we have “Vitriol” and “Total War”, a terrific couple of closing tracks. “Vitriol” features Hunt-Hendrix doing a sermon-like monotone chant over some very hip-hoppy beats and wordless vocal harmony in the background, and “Total War” serves as an epic, blast beat-laden conclusion to this monumental record.
Liturgy have really created something special here. They’ve composed an incredible collection of tracks that come together to create an album unlike anything they or anyone else have created before. They don’t care what the black metal elitists think; they’re defying the genre to make something completely original and new. The Ark Work is a breath of fresh air. It’s something I didn’t expect from Liturgy, but I’m so glad that they’re expanding their sound and pushing the limits of their craft to find where black metal ceases to be black metal and becomes something else entirely. This album really is transcendental, and it will definitely have a place in my favorite albums of this year.
FCC Violations: None
Favorite Tracks: “Reign Array”, “Kel Valhaal”, “Vather Vorizen”, “Quetzalcoatl” (#8, 3, 6, 5)
RIYL: Deafheaven, Mayhem, Death Grips