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The Ark Work Sonia de Jager , April 22nd, 2015 11:52

As an album, The Ark Work has certainly polarised the public. While some praise it for its triumphant, innovatively rounded sound, others despise the fact that it we're supposed to brand iron on it: "BLACK METAL". As a response to the turmoil surrounding The Ark Work lately, I had initially planned to write exclusively about the musical qualities of the album alone, without paying too much heed to the choleric beefs that seem to be flying around. In the end, it feels a bit like an unadorned undertaking to criticise this album without mentioning a thing or two about the ideas behind the music, and the general reception thereof. Whether it satisfies a musical proclivity; a desire to transcend, a need to observe artistic progress, or whatever else may be, it is a matter of critical choice. And however unobjective we may be, we should have learned by now that critical attempts at damning artists into exile is a pretty lame enterprise. Thus, howbeit: speak no evil. Please, don't.

In general, including pre-Ark Work discography, Liturgy's attempt at deliverance from a hermetic mode of address strongly connected to a particular minute tradition was great cause of alarm for many black metallers, who tend(ed) to view the appropriation of the genre as inappropriate. The difficulty in consuming this as a black metal album is that, clearly, it does not go by the standards we are accustomed to. The "black metal standards" we all recite 666 times a day while heading the nearest burning church. This is where Liturgy take a risk and propose it as a challenging, unconventional light on the eternal plane of darkness and damnation. The computer glitches, midi galore, the lungless bagpipes and the soothingly disenchanted vocals deliver a strange concoction which is was certainly not intended for the weak of stomach. Or the faint of mind. A concoction which, like any well-executed avant-garde effort, leaves audiences confounded and parts the seas into both ecstatic and hateful.

The quality of The Ark Work's sound deserves its praise. For those in favour of traditional trueness: it is precisely the very suffering, dragging, rough and deeply transhuman qualities in the album that bring it to life. The chants which plant themselves among a myriad of genres, dragging their contrived melodies along with the rest of the assemblage into a seemingly disparate, but arduously orchestrated amplitude; the unmerciful pace that races against the softness of the synthetic sounds that accompany it. The strangely uncomfortable chimes create something many musicians have difficulties with delivering: synchronicity in the unsynchronised, peace in the chaotic. Many of the rough-on-the-ear experiments of the like tend to be interesting to understand and get into, but are more often than not a drag to "just listen to".

Liturgy bring seemingly flat, broken melodies and rhythms to animation. Moreover, bringing otherwise-clinical matter to life is what seems key here: the very carnal, animalistic ritual aspects of the sound. It still is music, it cannot be anything else. Any black metal devotee who has thought twice would agree that the very awakening of certain dispositions towards death, darkness, suffering and wickedness is exactly that which has made them feel the most human, the most alive. The Ark Work's musical eloquence achieves extremity and a strange, sad kind of glory. Something which in a way echoes with the sentiment of lack of progress; and as such with black-metal in general. I am not advocating for it to be branded or not, but defending certain qualities of the style, in relation to some of the philosophy behind it.

Notwithstanding: the overall grandeur of it all, is in the end somewhat tiring. Not in the 'boring' sense, really, merely in the sense that it's too much to take in at once. The demand for our awe at an accomplished - yet unfinished - triumph is confusing. The feeling each song inspires is indeed that of a religious service, one in which the endless standing up and sitting down leaves one a little exasperated. And fatigued. What's the deal? Get up or sit down? I find the songs are better absorbed one by one. Like this, they can be contemplated as separate steps in the ritual, as differently motivated saliences. One after the other they just play with too much texture: they're generous, but dense. Though with enough concentration the point should be to consume it all in one go. And most preferably transcend. How will this be turned into a live ritual? I wonder, and I definitely look forward to future performances.