Music

On 'H.A.Q.Q.', Liturgy Craft a Compelling Case for Transcendent Black Metal

Photo: Ben Taylor / Courtesy of Motormouth Media

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and his comrades in Liturgy combine ambitiousness, risk-taking and sheer skill into a fresh triumph on H.A.Q.Q.

H.A.Q.Q.
Liturgy

YLYLCYN

12 November 2019

Most of the world conforms, not because they're forced to, but because it's easy and they have bigger concerns. There's a template to follow, there's the balm of acceptance if one does so, and in the end, it's exhausting and unprofitable to resist. In the case of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, most discussion of his work dwells on the annoyance his conception of "Transcendental Black Metal' arouses in purists, or on accusations of pretentiousness. By contrast, what I love about Hunt-Hendrix is his determination to create something wholly his own, to be a renaissance man. It's a refreshing stance when so many are busy miming rebelliousness and mouthing "fuck the haters", while tailoring every gesture for maximum acceptability and minimum deviation from established norms. This man is fearless, and the sense that he's going to surprise keeps my ear open.

The return of Liturgy with new album, H.A.Q.Q., rewards that attentiveness. While 2015's The Ark Work was a flawed attempt at an all-encompassing meisterwerk, H.A.Q.Q. feels like the linear successor to 2011's Aesthethica given its comparatively listener-friendly blurring of black metal, post-rock, and electronica. It's a matter of taste how much attention one pays to the quick guide to Hunt-Hendrix's philosophical interests provided as cover art. Against lazy invocations of that decades-old musical cliché Satan, Hunt-Hendrix attempts to will a new foundational vision into existence. To poorly paraphrase just a sliver of it: 01010n's vast brightness remains in this world in the form of the Genesis Caul, which leads Reign Array and Kel Valhaal toward the production of prismatic structures that might permit s/he/im into the true fullness of 01010n. I'd rather listen to this kind of glorious derangement, his "vision of apocalyptic humanism", than wallow in the philosophical blankness of uninteresting hedonists.

Liturgy have once again crafted a coherent album-length suite of music, but this time they've remembered to make actual songs too. Opener "HAJJ" sculpts what sounds like a cassette tape on fast-forward into repeatedly cresting waves before tumbling into the song's core. It's the musical equivalent of a mass cavalry charge, with only the briefest room for air when cycling through Don Caballero/Battles guitar riffs, or when a vocal chant wavers in the background like a sixties idyll of Hawaii. "Virginity" even raises a smile with a library music worthy harp glissando before plummeting straight into full black action soaked in echoing room ambience. There was a fair question to be asked whether Hunt-Hendrix was spreading himself too thinly given recent months have seen his first gallery exhibition, PERICHORESIS, the premiere of opera Apparition of the Eternal Church, now a full Liturgy album too. The answer seems to be that the guy is on an inspired tear.

Electronic glitches have been incorporated into every song, and they're irksome in the same way as disc-rot or vinyl scratches. Being generous, however, it does add something. Most extreme music in the black metal vein becomes numbing through constant pounding within relatively conventional structures. Liturgy uses these irritating jitters to set your teeth on edge before flinging you straight back into their assault. The result pauses so one can't become indifferent to the riff-rhythm-and-scream, but pauses that ratchet up the tension rather than relieving it. Of course, the glitching is still as annoying as hell. The band's use of electronic technology bears smoother fruit on interludes "Exaco I", "Exaco II", and "Exaco III". Each foregrounds an acoustic instrument then augments it, whether slurring the performance, underpinning it with samples, or blowing the sound up into something larger.

Attention has been drawn to Liturgy's lineup changes given a change in personnel can often yield freshness, or collapse previous greatness. Drummer Leo Didkovsky and bassist Tia Vincent-Clark fill spaces left by the departure of Greg Fox and Tyler Dusenbury, respectively, and do so without raising a single doubt about their impressive talents. By the same virtue, however, the questions asked of Liturgy have never been about instrumental competence, it's mostly about compositional decisions. It's a relief that H.A.Q.Q. can teeter on the brink of disaster over and again, then flip each song into a triumph. On "God of Love", there's a disappointing pastiche of orchestral soundtrack music that sounds like somber themes you've heard a dozen times but, just as you start to lose interest, the band smash into the most aggressive attack found anywhere on the album. It's breathtaking how hard they push, every motion is impossibly up-Up-UP through treble-heavy, arm-aching strumming, before finally it breaks into a freer period of off-kilter switches between alternating riffs.

A similar threat of failure is visible on the title track "HAQQ", which spends its first minute patenting the new genre of "Transylvanian sea shanty" before, thankfully, the guitars kick in. There are so many intriguing ideas at work. The loop deployed partway through is the only stand-out use of electronic effects on the main songs. A back-forth choral harmony is pitched against Hunt-Hendrix's screams though this vocal layering is mostly crushed under the instrumental howl. Bernard Gann's fingering is nimble and erudite. The piano and bell outro is a beautiful payoff delivering the listener into ". . . .", which is the culmination of the "Exaco" suite before a solo guitar burns everything to cinders.

8
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.