. .Liturgy:
. .on Transcendental Black Metal

. .and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix

(The New York Times | June 5, 2011) — Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the frontman and dogma director of Liturgy, the Brooklyn black-metal band, has a lot to say about the genre. He says it with his boyish mien, reminiscent of Shannon Hoon: soft, long hair; baby face; ever-present faint smile. He says it with his vocals, which are notionally the growls that predominate the music, though he delivers them gently, like a cat lapping up water. Mostly what he’s saying to purists is: Kiss off.

He’s also laid out a manifesto, “Transcendental Black Metal,” first delivered at a quasiacademic 2009 conference called “Hideous Gnosis” and later published in an anthology derived from same. In it he made an argument for a hybridized black metal, typically one of the most dogmatic sounds and scenes in popular music. The new sound is an “act of renihilation,” but “Spiritually, it transforms Nihilism into Affirmation.”

— Link to the complete article, By Jon Caramanica



There’s a lot to learn about Transcendental Black Metal. So much so that Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, lead singer of the Brooklyn-based Liturgy, authored a manifesto on the topic. I purchased the book after the show and read the whole thing on the bus ride home from their transcendent show at The Empty Bottle. Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism — just…imagine if Deleuze was really into Mayhem, or Thoreau instead waxed philosophical about his drum kit. This short script is far and away the most ambitious piece of original musical literature I’ve ever come across, especially one about metal. In sum, its narrative champions a new paradigm for black metal, one that mutilates the morbid and atrophic trends of the past which are then “transformed into the basis for something new and unprecedented.”

Liturgy were about to take the kvlt to fuckin’ school.

This manifesto is only a context, but its an important context to understand why Liturgy can unearth the most primal feelings — ones that have been shrouded in irony, counterculture, post-modernist thought. The power that came from the band felt ancient, like some force that has moved throughout the world for millennia. It was Hunt-Hendrix and these prophets of “Affirmation” that played some of the most emotionally uncompromising and joyful music I’ve ever heard, and reignited a long-dormant flame that burns for the love of something real. Yes, even cliche tropes are validated by Liturgy. Transcendental Black Metal — live it, son.

If you go to a Liturgy show without an understanding the ethos of TBM, you needn’t worry because their ur-metal performance will sell it wholesale. At the opening song, the band sent an overwhelming explosion of noise into the club, activating all sorts of heretofore unactivated areas of my palate. But once the realization came that there was nothing corrosive about the music, it became kind of… light. Light, airy, sublime, ethereal — words not often associated with their metal contemporaries. The furious tremolo guitar picking and “Burst Beat” drumming proved buoyant, enough to raise myself above my stigmas of black metal and be a listener existing on top of their music.

Atop the sound, it became clear that Liturgy’s main aesthetic is connection, as the band rallied around the athlete drummer Greg Fox for anchoring and then reflected that connection to the crowd. The crowd obliged and stood affixed on the band throughout the show while Liturgy extensively previewed their forthcoming album aptly and philosophically titled Aesthetics. Metallic trance-states collided with post-rock swells, intricate polyrhythms, and speed that eluded even the fastest of shutter speeds. “Sun Of Light”, one of the more partitioned songs off the new album, was performed with with white knuckle tension and the unintelligible caterwauls of Hunt-Hendrix provided another textured layer of noise over a stop-and-go artillery track. The down-tempo “Veins of God” had a very Black Album-era Metallica vibe to it, and showcased the technical skills each member comfortably possessed.

But their new instrumental ”Generation” garnered the most smiles and banged heads of the night with it’s seven minutes of a one-note guitar riff under a chugging drum beat. It was magnetic. The raised stakes of the trance state locked me in my place and the combination of urgency and repetition was so evocative that my breath became short, my jaw loosened, and emotions began to well up inside of me for no real particular reason. Well, no — Liturgy was the reason. The performance achieved its goal: transcendence.

Collateral catharses aside, Liturgy gets to the absolute core of performance with their live show. A connection with the audience, free of detachment and theatre, all while being really metal about the whole thing. Because it speaks to the most basics of instincts, Hunt-Hendrix’s compendium on Transcendental Black Metal only puts those long-forgotten feelings Liturgy evokes into words — in case you need an detailed explanation of why you feel so incredible after the show. The band promotes music that is “fostering joy, health, resonance, awaking, transfiguration, and courage,” tenets sorely missed in the current stream of music. If there is a unified future of music, where communal positivity and transcendence is valued above cultural trends and being cool (laughing out loud here), Liturgy will be the standard-bearers of this “apocalyptic humanism.” Hunt-Hendrix closes his Prolegomenon with this: ”Transcendental Black Metal is only the tip of the iceberg at the base of which is hidden a new relationship between art, politics, ethics, and religion.”

If only…

High Gold

GENESIS CAUL from Kel Valhaal on Vimeo.

Liturgy’s video “Returner”

Excerpt from Hunter’s Transcendental Black Metal – A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism on lacanian ink 35

New Yorker article on Liturgy and black metal, October 2011

New Yorker article from July 2011

Link to the article on Consequence of Sound

One Comment

  1. Marina V.
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    Trance evokes tension, too much, so that when listening to death metal, which is so dark with unclear lyrics and vocals, you might get angry, anxious and feel obliged to do what the song says.

    They reach their goal, their transcendence, but is this what they really wish? Maybe this is their symbolic order for something, but it might lead them to imagination…

    What is sure is that rock and metal music, as theatre critics say have got the noise of the beats of the womb while the baby is in it. I would interpret it like that even old people who are addicted to metal music have the desire to get closer to their mother, the music is their connection with them.
    Thank you.

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