Imagine black metal heaven, as oxymoronic as that might be. This isn’t Alighieri’s vision of hell or the old Scandinavian paradise of Valhalla. No, here’s a place where shimmering golden gates tower high above and reach infinitely across a cotton white and idyllic cloud paradise. Only it’s completely empty. There’s not a soul to be found. On their third album, The Ark Work, Brooklyn’s Liturgy valiantly vies for an eternal residency in such a place.
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has foregone his screaming to replace it with monotonous and monkish chanting. While the dense and razor-sharp tremolo picking remains, as does Greg Fox’s unbelievably quick drumming, the album fearlessly features sampled crowd cheers, MIDI horns, digital harpsichords, and bells, among many other not-metal sounds and instruments meant to portray the album’s free spirituality. The angelic synths and ethereal riffs that rise to the heroic brass precipice of “Follow II” belong more in the end credits of a gladiator film than a metal album. Where black metal has traditionally dwelled deep within human suffering, Hunt-Hendrix, Liturgy’s primary architect and voice, has broken that mold with what he’s dubbed “transcendental black metal,” channeling blast beats and tremolo picking through his idea of artistic self-realization and self-affirmation: that there’s a significant evolution of the soul, wherein upon realizing the immediacy of death (on which black metal has traditionally focused), transcending into another realm of thought and creation is necessary while still living.
As heavy-handed and impenetrable as that philosophy might seem, The Ark Work is still triumphant and interesting enough musically to keep fans satisfied — especially the album’s 11-minute climax, “Reign Array”. A progressive epic, the song contains time signatures that shift on a dime, not wholly unwelcome bagpipes, and cultish chanting, all Liturgy-specific tropes that never seem to wear. With all its heavenly might, The Ark Work stands as another Liturgy entry worth endless discussion, raising the question the band has prompted before: Is this even black metal?
Essential Tracks: “Follow II”, “Reign Array”