“If sin defines humankind, it must also define the art that humans create,” writes Joost Joustra in the art history text Sin: The Art of Transgression. That is undoubtedly true of SINNER GET READY, the latest album from Lingua Ignota — a Pennsylvania-inspired, Christ-haunted concept album that’s a far cry from the Michigan and Illinois tributes of Sufjan Stevens.
Lingua Ignota is the musical project of classically-trained performance artist and multi-instrumentalist Kristin Hayter, whose baroque work in industrial and noise music has dealt with the righteous judgment of the wronged in previous releases CALIGULA (2019) and All Bitches Die (2018). Raised Catholic, Hayter has long been preoccupied with Christian sin, making the punishment of sinners a key motif in Lingua Ignota’s reclamatory outlash against the abuse and misogyny rampant in heavy music scenes. “I have learned all men are brothers / And brothers only love each other,” she cries in CALIGULA’s “Fragrant Is My Many Flower’d Crown” — “heavy is my hammer swinging down.”
However, on SINNER GET READY, Lingua Ignota turns inward, taking inspiration from the natural landscape and religious austerity of her new home in rural Pennsylvania. Traditional Appalachian instruments, including the banjo and fiddle, are used to pay tribute to the region’s cultural history and create sonic dissonance. “Perpetual Flame of Centralia” draws symbolic inspiration from an underground mine fire that’s been raging in the western part of the state since the 1960s, eviscerating an entire town but leaving a church intact. Meanwhile, “The Solitary Brethren of Ephrata” refers to the monastic Schwarzenau Brethren community of the Ephrata Cloister. Trading her usual Gregorian-style singing for a doubled vocal effect that mimics the sounds of a Protestant congregational choir, Ignota seems to beg for simplicity and peace when she insists “paradise will be mine”.
As a descendant of both Catholics and Ephrata Brethren, I was particularly curious to see how Hayter grappled with the aesthetic differences between these Christian traditions across this new album. The lush iconography of Catholicism is decidedly different from the Anabaptist “Plain people” that she uses as a reference point on SINNER GET READY. Her preoccupation with sin creates a fascinating throughline here, suggesting a reinterpretation — or a reckoning — of Lingua Ignota’s previous experiments with glory and excess. On the album’s cover, for instance, she wears a sheer nylon mask laden with pearls that cover her neck, mouth, and eyes, choking and blinding her with worldly pleasures. In “The Sacred Linament of Judgement”, she balefully sings “my soul has been bedecked with jewels”.
This eschewing of the ornate bleeds into the production across the album, too. Despite routinely topping ten and even 15 minutes in the songs across her previous work, most of the tracks on SINNER GET READY are a paltry five or six minutes long. The organ that appears throughout CALIGULA is largely replaced by a simple backing piano, gently accompanying Hayter’s meditative vocals. Interwoven audio samples are one diversion from this norm, and drift in subtly throughout the album. These snatches of recorded dialogue comment on salvation, protection, and the evasive nature of each. One female voice questions whether a television preacher’s tears of repentance are real on “Man Is Like a Spring Flower”. Meanwhile, another insists she’s immune from disease because she’s “covered in Jesus’s blood” on “The Solitary Brethren of Ephrata”.
Hayter also went bare-bones to create the music video for lead single “Pennsylvania Furnace”, scouting locations, putting together Puritan-inspired costumes, and filming segments of rural scenery and billowing pink smoke entirely by herself. The song takes its name from a community in Ferguson Township, and its lyrical content from a Pennsylvania Dutch folktale about an ironmaster being dragged viciously to hell for abusing his pet dog. Watching Hayter beat at her chest, raise her eyes skyward, and even overturn a pitcher of water on her head creates goosebumps like the last 30 minutes of a horror movie might, or the silence left in the air after a hymn.
Thus, the Grand Guignol of Lingua Ignota’s previous work is replaced by a remote, pastoral horror in SINNER GET READY. It’s a zealous retreat to nature and godliness that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen recent film espousals like Midsommar, The VVitch, or Apostle. Defiantly, Lingua Ignota chooses on this album to reside in the world, but not of it, crafting a bone-chillingly cathartic final product that deals in righteousness and reflection in turns.