Yeah, this sounds fucked upcoming from me the advocate of all things Death Metal, loud and slamming drums, but young extreme bands need to learn when to hold them and when to fold them. There are many moments of technical brilliance – leads and solos in particular – to be found in Vitriol’s To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice (Century Media Records), but they tend to get lost in a monochromatic cement sea. Continue reading
If you pay any attention to internet forums or social media venues concerning Black Metal, strap yourself in and get ready for the waterworks. Liturgy’s 2011 album Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey) practically set those parts of the internet where panda-paint and studded armbands are still the law on fire with howling and recriminations – they were hipsters who didn’t understand Metal; they were disrespecting or even betraying Metal; anyone who liked them was a poser and personally responsible for the death of Cliff Burton.
The internet being what it is, of course, the other side were as bad, gleefully throwing around hyperbole about “transcending” Metal’s limitations and the death of the caveman headbanger. Four years later, the follow-up to this divisive album has been released, and in terms of honouring Black Metal’s traditions and aesthetics, it makes Aesthetica look like A Blaze In The Northern Sky (Peaceville). There will be tears.
Liturgy, of course, are entirely aware of this reputation. Setting out their stall from the very beginning, The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey Records) opens with that most Black Metal of clichés – the portentous synth intro – and turns it on its head. Fanfare opens with the parpiest keyboards we’ve heard since Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk (Candlelight), but uses repetitions, discord and glitches to turn it into something resembling Bal-Sagoth having a stroke – both triumphant and broken, familiar yet challenging. Aesthetically, the rest of the album takes its cues from this, blending glitchy electronics, parpy synths, jingly bells and programmed drums in with Liturgy’s usual guitars and… ahem… “burst beats” to create a dense, shifting wall of sound. It’s the vocals, however, which are likely be the biggest sticking point – the more traditional screams of Aesthetica making way for a withdrawn, chant-like mumble, clean yet muddied, and unusually passive and withdrawn for a Metal band of any kind. The internet has already had a massive coronary over ‘Vitriol’, in which vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendricks “raps” – though in truth it’s more like Middle-Class Spoken Word than anything you’d find on a Hip-Hop album.
Musically, this is a much more varied collection than we’d normally expect from a “Black Metal” band – ranging from triumphant fanfares and surprisingly ferocious blasts through to languid, contemplative passages and shuffling, trance-like electronica – but Liturgy succeed in retaining a feeling of identity and purpose throughout. Even on the afore-mentioned ‘Vitriol’, it never feels like they’re throwing all their cool new influences against a wall to see what sticks – there’s a sense of purpose and intent here that separates them from the aimless hipsterish mess they’ve been accused of being. This is an ALBUM, not just a collection of point-scoring references, and it unfolds with an arrogance and forcefulness that is entirely Metal
That’s the most surprising thing about The Ark Work, as much as both fans and detractors alike would argue otherwise – it is absolutely Metal As Fuck. The Ark Work doesn’t always sound like Heavy Metal, let alone Black Metal, but it couldn’t have come from any other genre. Whereas their equally-controversial peers Deafheaven take fairly conservative Black Metal music and play it with a completely different attitude and aesthetic, Liturgy do almost the opposite, drawing on musical elements quite far from genre traditions, but always investing it with the arrogance, power and sense of sheer unashamed ludicrousness that has always marked the best Metal. Even the vocals make sense once you realise how utterly un-self-conscious they are, and what a massive middle finger to genre conventions they represent. You spluttered in disbelief when you first heard Hunter droning away on Quetzlcoatl? How do you think 80’s Trad Metal fans felt when they first heard Tom G Warrior?
Despite what you may have heard, The Ark Work is neither the ultimate transformation of stupid music into art nor the final betrayal of Metal’s values by the poser hordes. It is, however, one of the boldest, most distinctive and utterly unflinching Metal albums you’ll hear all year, and the perfect example of a band with a strong vision and a determination to walk their own path until the end.
Sweet mother of God: it’s pub-Post hardcore!! Seriously, this is a vibrant effort from Californian agonists Griever (not to be confused with the British metalcore band of the same name), but it’s marred somewhat by a miscast vocalist in Alex Jacobelli and a horrible production which deadens areas of brutality and heightens elements it shouldn’t resulting in tinny cymbals occasionally ruling the sound even through the most bass-heavy cans.
Our Love is Different (Vitriol) carries the sound of a harsh, more weighty Touché Amoré. The jagged leads and closing violence of ‘Malice’ show real emotion while the leadplay coursing through ‘The Tie That Grinds’ evokes the edgy post-punk of Joy Division. Jacobelli’s voice, however, is a consumptive and limited roar more suited to Sludge, and in these surroundings it’s hindered further with each cab doubling as an airing cupboard; though this bizarrely aids the heavy, rapid pummel of ‘King of Ash’. Unfortunately that muffled state dulls the edges of some enterprising and energised riffs and whilst anguished savagery is evident throughout, it’s obvious that a certain sharpness and vitality is missing. The emotive, skipping riffs of the title track descend to a moody subtlety which is broken by a hoarse rasp seemingly threatening to give out at any minute, yet miraculously managing to maintain its wounded bark – it detracts from the emotion but this is thankfully held up by yet more heartfelt leadwork and those switching, often frenetic rhythms.
Post-hardcore is no longer in its infancy so, whilst maintaining an exciting pace and possessing moments of jerking, acerbic battery, such prominent faults are too easily noticeable and threaten bags of promise with mediocrity. Griever possess all of that promise and no little variation too; the sinister and impassioned ‘The Endless Wall’, with its resigned clean vocal, is a much valued departure from the template and shows a sensitive edge to the ferocity.
There’s no doubting that this would be an immense live proposition with the chaotic, sometimes imbalanced sound somewhat more suited to that arena. Through the stereo, however, these guys could brush up on a few aspects before they can be considered all-round contenders.
Maybe a tube of Lockets for starters?