Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.
Liturgy: “Returner”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/03-Returner.mp3|titles=Liturgy, “Returner”]
For a moment, Brooklyn-based quartet Liturgy seemed poised to steer black metal into a bold new direction. Renihilation, the group’s debut full-length from 2009, showed that even while employing the classic tenets of black metal, it was possible to push the genre forward and put it in a more efficient package. Yet whereas that album made a statement, the band’s follow-up, Aesthethica, turns many of those tactics into a mere reminder.
Liturgy comes armed once more with Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s mostly indecipherable howl and quasi-anthemic guitar lines blasted with co-pilot Bernard Gann, both positioned over Greg Fox’s machine-gun drumming and Tyler Dusenbury’s frenetic bass lines. But rather than let its pieces work alongside each other, Liturgy places its components atop each other, turning its formidable wall of sound into an unfiltered onslaught.
By most standards, Liturgy still has a fairly forward-thinking vision of what black metal can be, reaching out of the genre playbook at will. Odd-pattern tremolo picking gives “Tragic Laurel” a progressive feel that leaves the door open for the sucker punch of its main section, and “True Will” stacks layers of screams over a seesaw chord progression, interrupted only by a skipping-CD breakdown.
However, Aesthethica ultimately is not just demanding but, in many ways, taxing. The seven-minute, one-riff “Generation” turns an otherwise hypnotic instrumental into a test of the listener’s patience, and by the sixth time that it comes to define a track, the aforementioned tremolo picking morphs from signature to standby. The group certainly knows how to hit full-force, as with the out-of-left-field sludge of “Veins Of God” or the persistent “Returner.” At the same time, Liturgy undoes itself with a handful of throwaway moments, such as the half ditty of “Helix Skull” and over-and-over-again chanting of “Glass Earth.” What might otherwise act as an intermission or breather instead becomes an aural chore.
With its special emphasis on unorthodox instrument application (the static opening on “High Gold” or the waterfall effect of so many guitars on “Glory Bronze”), it gradually becomes apparent that Liturgy, despite its upside-down-cross artwork and full-metal sound, really stands closer to Sonic Youth or The Boredoms than to Black Breath (or any other thrash/black-metal crossover groups, for that matter). In that light, Aesthethica might best be seen less as a flawed metal album and more as an extremely aggressive art-rock album. Viewed in these terms, Liturgy can be forgiven for swapping unusual for experimental and abrasiveness for boldness.