Brooklyn-based black metal band Liturgy started out as the solo project of frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, a Manhattan native who grew up in the hardcore punk scene while gravitating towards the more experimental side of that genre—bands like Converge and Rorschach. The band expanded into a four-piece in 2008 and released their first record, Renhilation, in 2009. But it was the group’s second record, 2011’s Aesthetica, that garnered it a new level of infamy. Released on indie label Thrill Jockey, Aesthetica received generally favorable reviews from an assortment of sources: NPR and Pitchfork both loved the album, and the fact that it was accompanied by a long-winded and high-minded essay detailing the band’s music (“Transcendental Black Metal”) was critical catnip. But the black metal scene did not take kindly to Liturgy, and even more traditional rock institutions weren’t particularly enamored of the album (Kerrang wrote that “Liturgy tried to make a mathcore record, put two and two together and got three.”). Aesthetica was seen as the Brooklyn hipster’s black metal record, and that was not a good thing.
Hunt-Hendrix’s thoughts on his own music don’t really help matters: the essay “Transcendental Black Metal”, though coherent and interesting to people that enjoy over-intellectualizing music, is incredibly self-aggrandizing and occasionally patently absurd (sample text: “Transcendental Black Metal is black metal in the mode of Sacrifice . . . it is solar, hypertrophic, courageous, finite and penultimate.”). It’s an easy target for mockery, but it fails to adequately capture what makes Aesthetica so compelling.