April 22nd, 2011
Liturgy are a band that defy conventional categorisation. So much so, they’ve created their own genre – “pure transcendent black metal”.
This is no idle boast. Interviews with formidably titled frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix reveal an unusual amount of thought has gone into the band – he’s written a manifesto focusing on the positive side of chaos and even invented a new kind of drum style, the ‘burst beat’ (more like ‘systems in nature’, apparently).
As they take the stage in Hector’s House, it becomes obvious the difference between the Brooklyn foursome and their Scandinavian black metal forebears is not merely one of philosophy. There’s no face paint, no spiky wristbands, and no gigantic drum kit. With his long wavy hair, slender form and baby face, Hunter-Hendrix looks more like a hippy-leaning indie kid than the commander of a crack metal assault unit. The rest of the band appear slightly more rock – one guitarist even has a guitar with no head – but it’s clear that Dimmu Borgir this ain’t.
But when Liturgy actually start playing their music, habitual mental exercises of categorisation and comparison become increasingly pointless.
There’s black metal here, sure. Hunt-Hendrix’s incomprehensible feral scream, seemingly produced with little effort on his part, cuts through the searing guitars, thundering bass and blast, sorry, burst beats beloved of this most revered of genres.
But there’s also a lot else, if your ears can take the sustained treble roar. The juddering repetition and righteous fire of hardcore, the jerky cerebral playfulness of math rock, even the triumphant ascending chord progressions of post-rock (but without any of the faffing about). One song has a riff like a bruised, muscular take on the Smashing Pumpkin’s Cherub Rock, another starts with Hunt-Hendrix layering up chanted vocals like he’s hanging out with Yeasayer.
Crucially, they’ve got the steely timing and rubber wrists to pull it off. The lynchpin is drummer Greg Fox. Like some crazed yoga ascetic escaped from a desert ashram, his muscular form – adorned with 3D pyramids and other similarly cosmic tattoos – pummels the stripped-down kit with a razor sharp precision that let’s in just enough jazzy freeness to keep things interesting. The guitarists are no slackers either, busting out wonky duelling solos like Yngvie Malmsteen on DMT before crashing back into the annihilating sea of churning sound that more than once evokes the droning guitar escapades of Glen Branca.
Only once does it drag, thanks to a plodding instrumental workout that falls into the trap of sounding more like a series of dull riffs stuck together than any kind of song. Apart from this they arrest and intrigue, post-modern metal magicians plundering the annals of alternative rock for their own esoteric ends. Leave your preconceptions at the door and get transcended.