The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Three Songs No Flash

An Abyss Spits Out Another Abyss: Liturgy Live
Brad Sanders , July 13th, 2011 08:32

Seeing them live in a Bloomington basement, Brad Sanders gets to the bottom of the never-ending Liturgy / black metal controversy. Photographs (including embedded gallery) by Chet Strange

Add your comment »

More than any other metal subgenre in the last decade, black metal has consistently bred interesting new bands with radical visions for its future. It's as though its top purveyors have collectively refused to stagnate after that long honeymoon of complacency that followed the creative explosion of the Norwegian Second Wave. Unfortunately, also more than any metal subgenre, its diehard fan base rejects the very change that has been its calling card these past ten years – or at least rejects the notion of bands operating outside of the arbitrary boundaries of 'true black metal'.

It's gotten so bad that an effective new way to discover a great black metal band formed in the last decade is to simply find a band that the internet's self-appointed black metal magistrates have deemed false. In recent years, the likes of Alcest, Cobalt, and even Watain have drawn the ire of the black metal elite for varying but ultimately unclear reasons, but I've never seen them disparage a band within their own preferred genre quite like they've attacked Liturgy. The Brooklyn four-piece, you see, has committed a crime far worse than any other possible transgression for a black metal band: they're hipsters. Varg Vikernes may be an anti-Semitic convicted murderer, but at least he doesn't wear a v-neck.

In the detractors' defence, the infamous Scion Rock interview they tend to base their anti-Liturgy arguments upon is pretty painful to watch. In it, frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix comes off as dismissive of his genre's history and smugly self-satisfied with his own ebullient rejection of darkness and negativity. It's in his body language as much as his words. He smirks when he drops high-concept ideas and big words, and even the way he sits in his chair with an air of superiority grates. By the time he starts discussing the “manifesto” he wrote for the make-believe genre of transcendental black metal even the staunchest Liturgy apologists will likely find themselves nervously looking at the floor and inching toward the nearest exit. By the end of the interview, Hunt-Hendrix isn't even saying anything. Words tumble from his mouth but meaning doesn't follow; he's just wallowing in a self-drawn bath of pretentious nonsense.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I met Hunt-Hendrix before Liturgy's show at Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana last Friday and found that he was shy, awkward, and, dare I say, humble. I went to the merch table to pick up a copy of the excellent Aesthethica LP – the seventeenth best album of 2011 thus far, in our estimation – and the Liturgy mainman seemed genuinely appreciative that I wanted to buy his music, that I enjoyed it, and that I was there to write about his show. None of the guy stumbling through elementary philosophy with a pompous tone in that Scion video was present in the Hunter Hunt-Hendrix I met. People behave differently with a camera in their face, and nothing about my encounter with this YouTube commenter-dubbed hipster/poseur/faggot indicated that he was anything but a gracious black metal musician happy to be able to tour and bring his music to receptive audiences. And bring it he did.

After a surprisingly solid support set from apparent Mr. Bungle thralls Dope Body, Liturgy took to the stage and promptly commenced to pummeling everything in sight. After opening with a blistering rendition of 'Pagan Dawn' – the only song they'd play from debut LP Renihilation – Bernard Gann stopped to replace a string on his guitar, and instead of filling the silence with the usual awkward stage banter, Hunt-Hendrix built a meandering series of riffs on the spot, joined eventually by bassist Tyler Dusenbery and drummer Greg Fox. Once Gann got his guitar restrung and retuned, there was no pause between Hunt-Hendrix's improvisation and the second song of the set, 'High Gold' – everyone simply made eye contact, nodded, and launched into it. This was the first of many crucial moments in Liturgy's domination of that tiny Bloomington house venue.

The rest of the evening flew by far too quickly. Flawless performances of 'Generation', 'Sun of Light', 'Returner', 'Veins of God', and 'Glory Bronze' rounded out Liturgy's 45-minute headlining set, and the enamoured crowd, in return, paid meet adoration to their household gods. The quartet's tightness, as if it wasn't proven enough by the early broken string incident, was made incredibly evident as they blazed through songs with light speed tempos and odd time signatures without falling out of step with one another for even a second. It's difficult to produce distinct twin guitar harmonies when every other riff is tremolo-picked, but Hunt-Hendrix and Gann somehow manage, and the lockstep rhythm section not only keeps up with the fretboard pyrotechnics but often shines in its own right. On the whole, Liturgy may be the most technically impressive band in black metal today. Even more fuel for the corpsepainted haters, I suppose.

Being a part of a Liturgy audience in 2011 isn't quite the same as seeing black metal's torch passed to a new generation, but only because the passing of a torch implies a replacement of the old guard. As long as young bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues keep offering relatively conventional but undeniably brilliant observations on the genre, that won't happen. Instead, to witness what these Brooklyn natives bring to the stage is to see yet another transmutation of a genre that is more creatively fertile than any other in metal, and one that has room for all the radical freethinkers and transcendentalists and whoever else has some tangential interpretation of what it can and should be. The best time to be a black metal fan was not in 1993 in a basement in Oslo; it's right now, all over the world. The darkness breeds more darkness, but it also breeds light. An abyss spits out another abyss. Long live Liturgy, and long live black fucking metal, whatever form it may take.

Mars
Jul 13, 2011 2:36pm

I dunno, indie people. To get huffy (that's North East American English for 'frustrated / annoyed combo') about metalheads pissing and moaning about what is or is not 'True Metal' is completely misunderstanding an integral part of the metal mindset.

Unlike indie rockers, who either need artistic progress (IMO: good) or the shiny new trendy thing (IMO: bad), 'true' metalheads want tradition. It's an anchor and bonding element among the community - many of whom live in states of social and economic turmoil. To have large scale shifts in artistic direction and philosophies upsets that system and leaves these people adrift.

I remember when 'Thrash Metal' rose, there was a big divide between the older metal fans who understood metal to be Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Motorhead etc. and the younger fans who had yet to be indoctrinated into the 'lifestyle'.

Anyway, this is no different - perhaps a little more intense due to Black Metal's rep as the white guy equivalent to gangster rap; "It's REAL".

In fact, I'll go so far as to say the truly forward thinking metal acts usually end up rejecting the metal tag as it's more of a hassle than anything else (specifically, I recall Voivod aligning themselves with hardcore punk around '87 and Godflesh bemoaning being stuck on metal tour packages; Nachtmystium consistently fight their 'black metal' roots).

Traditionalist fan hate, an entire audience who will avoid your music without ever hearing a note because you're 'metal' - why would anyone want to deal with that crap?

Besides, the only reason we're discussing this at all is because Liturgy aren't 'really' Black Metal. If they were the aforementioned Watain this wouldn't be here unless they did something news worthy or un-black.

I like Liturgy. I wish Triple-H would stop trying to win the unwinnable war and ditch the BM vox, though.

Reply to this Admin

Brad Sanders
Jul 13, 2011 3:19pm

In reply to Mars:

See, I think that's outside-looking-in reductionism of the first degree. I've been listening to metal since I was 12 years old, and even though my tastes have grown since then, I still carry this sort of primal need to cling to and defend metal – esteemed editor John Doran would probably echo this sentiment, though I won't speak for him. But I have NEVER been a tradition-for-tradition's-sake guy and never will be. Most metal bands who find their way onto my year-end lists are doing something new and interesting with the genre, and the same is true of most of my metalhead friends. Are there people who are strict traditionalists who hate change like you suggest? Sure, but they're a minority (and I mean of real music enthusiast metalheads; not the guys who go pick up the new Lamb of God every year and keep Vulgar Display of Power in the 5-disc-changer of their truck at all times) and we majority bemoan their existence, as I've done above. Liturgy ARE *really* black metal; listen to the vocals, the tremolo-picked riffs, the rhythms, the overwhelming atmosphere they create. Watain gets hate from basement-dwellers for their crisp production and penchant for big melodies, notably NOT as often for their animal sacrifice. Fierce black metal code-adherers are an odd bunch, but they aren't most of us.

Reply to this Admin

Mars
Jul 13, 2011 8:09pm

In reply to Brad Sanders:

Brad, please read my post again.

Reply to this Admin

Brad Sanders
Jul 13, 2011 8:27pm

In reply to Mars:

Neither of us were quite as clear as we thought we were, I think. Perhaps you're right that metalheads with my mindset on change are outnumbered by those without it, but I wasn't meaning to take on metal fans in general with this piece, just the ones (who I hold to be a minority) who attack bands who threaten the traditional powers. And I don't think whatever Liturgy does to piss off the Darkthroners makes them any less black metal. It's just another iteration of the style.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Jul 13, 2011 8:30pm

In reply to Brad Sanders:

I first bought Iron Maiden ST in the early 80s because Phantom Of The Opera blew my mind. This was followed by For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica. Still to this day I'm looking for new stuff that will just melt my face and I find this as much in mad new micro genre flag bearers such as Liturgy as I do in relatively traditional bands such as Electric Wizard or YOB.

And compared to other genres, which really are conservative such as indie or hip hop, I don't know about tradition all that much. If you dispassionately look at the history of metal - apart from the central position of the riff - it has gone through a dizzying amount of subgenre split-offs. None of which were particularly popular to begin with (Mars is right, it wasn't just thrash though, people hated on Venom, they hated on Mayhem, they hated on grindcore, they hated on doom...)

But for the last seven or eight years it feels like metal has been the most forward looking of genres, coming up with mental new ways of pulverising us when other forms are just treading water. Metal's always had hipsters I guess - I'm not interested, I just want to enjoy this purple patch while it lasts.

Also, I can't speak for America but the make up of metal audiences has changed out of all recognition in this country. Metal was only really a working class male thing in the 1970s and that slowly started changing a little during the 1980s but then went through a massive shift during the 90s.

I wrote about it in relation to Morrissey and heavy metal here:

http://thequietus.com/articles/01210-for-those-about-to-mope-or-how-rock-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-morrissey

My main point remains the same, it's just a falsehood to claim it is now a lower class, low income, hesher kind of genre.

Reply to this Admin

Brad Sanders
Jul 13, 2011 8:58pm

In reply to John Doran:

Agree with all of this, and see a lot of the same on this side of the pond. I think metalheads - real metalheads who are interested in checking out new metal albums and going to metal shows, etc., not people who spin Lamb of God and Avenged Sevenfold at the gym then go to the club on the weekend and are equally enthused to hear some radio rap - are a generally forward-thinking lot. The primordial people who I address in this Liturgy piece are a minority, but a very vocal and annoying one, which is why I had to take them on. This piece is celebratory of where metal is right now, not focusing on the haters. And I think that's what Liturgy would want.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Jul 13, 2011 9:24pm

In reply to Brad Sanders:

For the sake of clarity I should point out that obviously I mean I bought Ride The Lightning...

Reply to this Admin

A
Jul 14, 2011 4:23am

'Gets to the bottom of the controversy?'
More like mentions a few key-proponents of the Black Metal movement then give us a summary.
Terrible read.

Reply to this Admin

Fenrir
Jul 14, 2011 7:54am

In reply to John Doran:

Daley Thompson pushed me towards the Maiden.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj87n_dEwRU

Reply to this Admin

Dan Franklin
Jul 14, 2011 8:13am

In reply to Brad Sanders:

I wasn't aware of Liturgy before I read about them on this site, but for me this is all about a listener's entrypoint into a genre.

The first black metal album I owned was 'Dusk and Her Embrace' by Cradle of Filth. I was 14 and was coming into metal through the big Roadrunner bands of the mid-90s: Fear Factory, Machine Head, Sepultura, Type O Negative etc. I didn't really enjoy Cradle of Filth (still don't) but when I read a review by Phil Alexander of Emperor's 'IX Equilibrium' which described it as the black metal equivalent of 'Reign In Blood', I found the comparison exciting (having bought the Slayer catalogue and getting their totemic importance as a band for the general metal, and specifically thrash, genres). I loved 'IX Equilibrium': the big production, ambitious songwriting, the bombast. So from that point I worked outwards, exploring the other Second Wave bands - particularly liking Mayhem but not really ever loving Darkthrone and Burzum because of the production - and going forward with later Enslaved, Thorns (that album's awesome!), Satyricon and some of the more avant garde, obscure stuff. It's such a personal and precious experience that I can fully understand why people are so protective over their tastes in a genre. But it's all about context.
As for Liturgy, they remind me of Cynic - a band supposedly rooted in death metal but really pushing those boundaries - in their ability to talk rubbish. As it's proved time and again, that's why many musicians communicate best through music.
As for hipster adoption of metallic sounds, I've always enjoyed the way that 'serious', WIRE-reading types listen to Sunn 0))),Boris and 'Dopesmoker'. It's always a pleasure to steer them in the direction of Burning Witch, Goatsnake and High On Fire and see if they get into them.
For me as I'm getting older I've come to appreciate more and more the bigger bands who have taken extremity and incoporated it into their sound and exported it to a wider audience. Three outstanding examples of this are Mastodon, Opeth and Slipknot. Bands like this pry open the underground for a shole slew of new listeners and contain one or more real, 'true' enthusiasts. I will always defend Slipknot because I think getting 'Iowa' to number 1 in the UK was a transgressive act bar none, and their Reading 2002 afternoon set dragged music fans of all colours and stripes into the vortex. There are bands doing his for a new generation too, like Bring Me the Horizon.
As I read on the cover of Pig Destroyer's 'Terrifyer' album: nothing is true, everything is permitted.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Jul 14, 2011 10:39am

In reply to Fenrir:

Me too. Without Lucozade I wouldn't be into heavy metal. And I dare say the same is true of a lot of people my age.

Reply to this Admin

Louis
Jul 14, 2011 11:33am

I've liked both the Liturgy records to date, while finding HHT's pronouncements a source of great amusement. Still, all the griping from the metal community is a little rich, seems it's fine to be an arrogant elitist when you're talking about race or nationality, but not when you're talking about music theory or metal itself.

Reply to this Admin

Brad Sanders
Jul 14, 2011 1:39pm

In reply to Dan Franklin:

Lots of interesting points here, thanks for sharing. My entry point to black metal was one of the most rock n' roll black metal albums of all time, Immortal's Sons of Northern Darkness. Perhaps no surprise, then, that I don't mind bands taking the genre in different directions. Had I started with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or even Battles in the North, by what I understand your theory to be, this may not have been the case.

Reply to this Admin


Jul 14, 2011 2:29pm

In reply to Brad Sanders:

Sons of Northern Darkness is a ripping album...

Reply to this Admin

Dan Franklin
Jul 14, 2011 2:30pm

In reply to :

Sorry, that comment above was by me!

Reply to this Admin