Thursday, July 28, 2011
Few bands from the last year have drawn as much scrutiny from the music community as Brooklyn metal act Liturgy. Despite the critical success of their past work, the band has succeeded in the dual tasks of alienating itself from fans of its native genre while cultivating a following in the new indie culture. The former is admittedly not necessarily a Herculean feat; the black metal scene has for years been notoriously inaccessible to outsiders, and little breathing room is typically allowed for bands that attempt to stretch the boundaries of the style. However, that a band as sonically challenging as Liturgy has managed to find a new audience in a crowd that has only recently begun to accept metal as a legitimate musical entity is somewhat more surprising. Given the undeniably pretentious sound of their self-ascribed classification, transcendental black metal, one might expect Liturgy to become mired in the same overdramatic wasteland that has held back progressive metal for so long.
However, Liturgy’s latest release, the infuriatingly-spelled Aesthethica, manages to succeed in spite of all this. The album is comprised of 68 minutes of searing, high-register guitars and unflinching blast beats, featuring plenty of the speed of traditional black metal and none of the trudging grind that characterizes many works of the genre. That’s not to say Aesthethica is an easy listen; the album attacks at full strength from the outset, only rarely letting up from the furious energy of opener “High Gold.” Most of the album seems to burst forth fully developed, and the songs are sometimes more likely to settle into predestined patterns rather than evolve over time. As a result, the album is not always a terribly involved listening experience; one is more likely to appreciate its strengths as they wash over and grow in the ear over time rather than at the first try. Frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s vocals contribute to this attitude of atmosphere over detail. Never shifting away from its incomprehensible shriek, his voice is really more of a textural instrument than a device of musical exposition.
But it is this sense of elevated, nonspecific grandeur that allows Aesthethica to work. Pretentious underpinnings aside, the qualifier transcendental does seem to have some meaning here. Each song bears a feeling of almost colossal ambition, guitars and drums and vocals all striving to reach some unchallenged height with each shift in composition. There’s simply something about this album that feels fraught with a sense of glory, a kind of skyward drive that sends the music charging above the clouds. It feels like a work that knows exactly what it wants do to, made by a band that knows exactly what it wants to be.
Metal fans can and certainly will argue over whether or not Aesthethica is really black metal. The absence of melodramatic darkness will be a detriment for some, and others will take issue with the album’s apparent lack of traditional structure. But arguments of classification are hardly compelling when a band succeeds so readily in defying the standards of a genre that seldom ventures into such wild territory. Its crossover appeal means that Aesthethica could become something of a transitional work for many listeners, something that will draw attention to the often-ignored metal scene. However, it’s just as likely to be overlooked by music listeners because of its origins, and that’s unfortunate, because what Liturgy has created here is more than a mere gateway. It has marked lands all its own, new spaces where light and energy resonate more powerfully than cheap theatrics, and where new possibilities appear at every turn.