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Bryan Brussee , July 8th, 2015 10:09

Bryan Brussee heads to Electrowerkz to watch the ever-divisive Liturgy perform chin-ups and a set of near-transcendent metal

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, arguably the most polarising figure in the formerly hyperboreal black metal genre, stands in front of us. The t-shirt he’s wearing looks just a little too small for him, his hair’s long and a bit greasy and he’s got a look in his eyes that suggests he’s gazing out across some vast and frostbitten Scandinavian horizon instead of a crowd of about 150 reasonably well-adjusted-looking young men and women.

He approaches the microphone, closes his eyes slightly and moans a note, using either a pedal or the black box affixed to his SG to hold it as he moves back to breathe. The effect isn’t entirely seamless, creating something closer to a repeating stutter than a smooth syllable. His voice hardly holds up to this kind of scrutiny, his ear for melody may be off-kilter, blown out from too many burst beats or his vocal cords merely fried since Aesthethica’s guttural shrieks tore the black metal community in two back in 2011. He adds notes, though, one after the other until the wobbly melodies echo off the walls of Islington’s Electrowerkz. Sooner or later the once-hesitant sounds all meld into a churning choir, vast, reverberating. You feel it in your gut and your chest. It’s not quite that elusive “haptic void,” and as I understand that concept maybe that’s the point. But it’s close.

The chants drop out all at once and Liturgy blast into 'Pagan Dawn', and while it’s kvlt with some dynamics, The Ark Work material that follows proves more engaging. Hunt-Hendrix recreates the chiming bells of the record on his SG while Bernard Gann’s tremolo picking lands closer to a tremolo strum, his hand flapping furiously up and down in a flurry of motion that lacks the icy economy of the pick. Tyler Dusenbury plays bass chords that aren’t so much heard as felt in much the same way, and Greg Fox mans the drums. Lithe, tattooed, and having just minutes before pumped out some chin-ups on the pipes of the venue, his drumming is fluid, dynamic, ecstatic. It’s the second closest thing to transcendent I’ll see tonight.

There’s the audience, though. Some are banging their heads if they’ve got the hair, as is to be expected, but most stand around, holding beers, faint smiles on their faces as they bathe in the hypertrophic onslaught. There’s a of couple young men, though, with their heads down and eyes shut, completely still. When we get a moment’s silence near the end of 'Reign Array', I gesture to one particular young man, his arms spread like the sad Messiah, and ask my plus one, “You think he’s trying to transcend?”

As the band returns for their encore, the audience yells out songs. 'Vitriol', the occult triplet pseudo-rap from their latest record is the most requested. I shout out for 'Dream House', and though our entreaties only get us 'Returner', the stoic Hunter Hunt-Hendrix cracks a smile. It’s a great moment, and right then I remember excitedly showing The Ark Work to friends and coworkers. Just last week I played the whole thing in the office, and the ever-astute Luke Turner quipped halfway through the MIDI-damaged onslaught, “it’s a bit silly isn’t it?” and yeah, it is. This is conceptual metal that comes with a user manual. You’re either all in or all out, the whole package not completely removed Coheed and Cambria’s ridiculous Amory Wars set of albums, comics and novels. Maybe Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and the boys have created black metal that’s “affirmative,” “courageous” and “solar”. But behind all the Ivy League manifestos and symposiums, this music, ridiculous in its arrogance but also impressive for its ambition (to say nothing of the sheer spectacle) is fun, as much a blast as the beats that drive it. Same goes for the live show.