One thought I have is that black metal is absolutely pure, and yet at the same time it is absolutely corrupt. It is a space for honoring heritage and tradition, and also for the obliteration of all culture.
– Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, interview with Metal Sucks (2009)1
Say what you want about the man behind Brooklyn experimental black metal outfit Liturgy, but he’s got a point. Black metal is a genre and subculture founded on the principles of annihilation, yet also the preservation of tradition through expounding upon man’s ages-long fascination with violence and void. It’s a form of artistic expression that has a curious, schizoid relationship with itself through simultaneous rejection and incorporation of idealism, such as the eschewment of modern ethics and principles in favor of the chaotic yet just as structured mores of old tradition – insofar as the creator chooses to interpret such a concept. For example, the violent rejection of Judeo-Christian attributes in favor of pagan or nihilist viewpoints. Black metal may be described as a struggle with the ontological self in a way far removed from the intrapersonal conflicts of emo or the sociopolitical rejection of punk rock. The acknowledgement or denial of such a struggle led to the creation of some incredible works of art, such as the pagan metal of Drudkh and the Satanic mythos of Deathspell Omega.
What pisses off parts of the black metal community about Liturgy isn’t Hunt-Hendrix’s willingness to expand black metal’s aesthet(h)ic; it’s his guileless attitude. Look at the album cover: a double-dagger with one turned upside-down, surely a subtle literal and metaphorical inversion of anti-Christianity due to the dagger’s similarity to black metal’s favorite target. Hunt-Hendrix’s manifesto on “transcendental black metal” was full of thesaurus-abuse and philosophical pandering, but it takes itself so seriously that it almost does not, as if Hunt-Hendrix’s goal is not to redefine black metal so much as paint its struggle with the celebration and annihilation of tradition at its extremes of image, rhetoric, and sound.
Aesthethica is the most successful realization of Hunt-Hendrix’s ambitions. It concurrently presents an impressive deconstruction of the black metal dogma and a genuinely enjoyable work with progressive song structures that do not necessitate an in-depth understanding of black metal for one to appreciate. Whereas Renihilation frequents the standard destructive milieu with some electronic exposés and The Ark Work is just too goofy to be effective, Aesthethica synthesizes an incredible range of influences from indie rock to math rock to post-punk. There’s the no wave rhythmic flow of “Generation,” the all-MIDI “Helix Skull,” the bombastic earworm of “Tragic Laurel,” the sludgey “Veins of God”… For such aureate compositions, it’s a testament to Hunt-Hendrix’s skill as a composer2 that he can create memorably distinct tracks. And that’s not even taking into account the extraordinarily technicality; Greg Fox is one of the most impressive percussionists in extreme music, with an ability to switch time and anticipate breaks in a manner like Ben Koller of Converge. As divisive as the band’s principles may be, Aesthethica is a work of art that stands apart from its creator’s memetic status.
1. High Gold – (5:16) – ★★★★☆
2. True Will – (5:27) – ★★★★☆
3. Returner – (3:35) – ★★★★☆
4. Generation – (7:07) – ★★★★★
5. Tragic Laurel – (4:05) – ★★★★★
6. Sun of Light – (6:55) – ★★★★☆
7. Helix Skull – (2:32) – ★★★★★
8. Glory Bronze – (6:45) – ★★★☆☆
9. Veins of God – (7:55) – ★★★★☆
10. Red Crown – (7:23) – ★★★★☆
11. Glass Earth – (3:29) – ★☆☆☆☆3
12. Harmonia – (5:28) – ★★★☆☆
1Rosenbloom, Satan. “LITURGY’S HUNTER HUNT-HENDRIX DISCUSSES BURST BEATS, APOPHASIS AND THE PROCESS OF ECSTATIC ANNIHILATION – MetalSucks.” MetalSucks. October 16, 2009. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.metalsucks.net/2009/10/16/liturgys-hunter-hunt-hendrix-discusses-burst-beats-apophasis-and-the-process-of-ecstatic-annihilation/.
2(when he’s not fucking around like on The Ark Work)
3Hunt-Hendrix’s singing voice is pretty bad; this a capella chanting does not work.