Liturgy Are (Not) Black-Metal

The highly polarizing experimental rockers play the Casbah on May 5


Brooklyn rockers Liturgy are not a black-metal band. They don’t look like what a metal band is supposed to look like (no creepy corpse face paint) and they certainly don’t want to sound like one. They like black-metal. Some of their music, especially the extremely fast-paced drums and guitars, certainly hint at them being a black-metal band. There’s too many horns and bagpipes on their new album, "The Ark Work." Too much glockenspiel. Singer and guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix doesn’t shriek like a black-metal singer. He even kind of raps on one song ("Vitriol"). The opening instrumental track, "Fanfare," kind of sounds like John Williams’ score for the original "Superman" movie. Sure, that’s pretty epic, but Superman is so not metal. Neither are Liturgy.

"I don't really think of Liturgy as a metal band even though I call the music transcendental black-metal. It's kind of a contradiction," says Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, calling from a tour stop in Portland. "It's difficult in a way because I don't really want Liturgy to be thought of as a black-metal band because I think that our music has a pretty wide audience. There are tons of people who would appreciate a Liturgy record who don't think that they like black metal or who have never heard of black-metal."

So what are Liturgy? Well, since 2008, they’ve been polarizing. So let’s go with that: Polarize-metal. It can be a new genre. They’ve been constantly innovative and consistently frustrating over the course of three albums. Just when listeners think they have them pegged, they pull a 180 and play a song that sounds almost nothing like the previous one. Critics are often boggled and perplexed as well even when they like what they hear. Rolling Stone described "The Ark Work" as "immersive, ecstatic experimental rock that almost defies genre." Verbose tastemakers Pitchfork seemed to somewhat endorse the album, albeit with the rather snarky, if not somewhat accurate, description of, "like 11 open browser tabs autoplaying or a block of car alarms set off by a passing motorcycle." Clever.

"Liturgy has always been pretty misunderstood. I think people didn't get how experimental the band was," says Hunt-Hendrix. "The new music is just more honest about what the band is, I guess. I wanted to do the rap style vocals for a long time. I thought about doing them on some other songs on the last record [2011’s "Aesthethica"] but I kind of held off."

The fact of the matter is that we could spend the entire article discussing what Liturgy is (a little bit of everything) and what they aren’t (nothing comes to mind). Their music will certainly be heard as beautiful and blissful to some, while others will hear it as dissonant and disorienting. But it’s certainly worth hearing and examining. When music is pigeonholed into genres and pithy categorizations, be it black-metal or otherwise, it can be too easily dismissed or, what’s worse, too easily embraced by people who think they’re going to like what they hear only to find that it doesn’t fit their notions of what that genre is supposed to sound like. Even fans of Liturgy don’t agree on what they sound like. What it is, however, is the sound of a band doing exactly what they want to do. Messing with people. Causing debates. Isn’t that what good art is supposed to do?

"The music is very emotional. It's epic, sweeping music, and it's constantly conveying a sense of importance or high stakes or something like that," says Hunt-Hendrix. "I think that it's just stage music and it just makes people uncomfortable."

That’s pretty metal.

Liturgy play the Casbah on Friday, March 5, at 9 p.m., 21+. Tickets are available here.

Seth Combs writes about music for local and national publications. You can follow him on Twitter at @combsseth

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