Black metal doesn’t like change. Or at least that’s how it used to be. The 2000s saw the emergence of new ideas in the genre that would develop into the trends that we saw at the beginning of this decade. Blackgaze and post-black metal were celebrating their peak and the values and virtues that were established in black metal during the second wave in the early 90s were shaken and reformed to achieve new sounds.
It was around this time that brooklyn-based Liturgy released Aesthethica, the follow-up to their 2009 debut Renihilation, that quickly became one of the most controversial albums of its genre. Aesthethica was hailed to be a bold and captivating album by some and labeled as pretentious and hipster by others. I believe, however, that this album was often rejected unjustly and that many criticized it, not for its content, but for who stands at the center of the project, namely the band’s guitarist and vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. Hendrix is credited for the music and lyrics as well as the design of the album and considers Liturgy’s music to be “transcendental black metal”, a term he coined in his manifesto of the same of name.
The values that constitute the core of transcendental black metal are polar opposites to the nihilism and misanthropy found in the second wave black metal of the early 90s. Hendrix views the band’s music as a vessel to explore concepts such as christian deliverance and puts a focus on positivity through affirmation and courage. The radical differences that are expressed in this juxtaposition are what I believe led to the harsh judgment and criticism that the band received from many. Music at its most basic, however, is free of ideology or philosophy. Music is the truest expression of the soul and I think that is what can be found on this album.
The triumph and elation that emanates from Aesthethica at its peaks is unmatched. The intensity and energetic yet sad splendor of songs like True Will, Tragic Laurel or Glory Bronze is overwhelming. Cascading and explosive drumming joins with wailing, distorted guitars to form a wall of sound that is only cut through by Hendrix wretched and distant black metal screams. True Will, for instance, starts off with layered, chanting clean vocals, a prominent feature in Liturgy’s music, that create an atmosphere of exalted sorrow before the instruments kick in like a roaring current. Nimble blastbeats navigate the melancholic yet bright guitar leads to their frequent climaxes that are backed by overflowing drumrolls and blastbeats of even higher intensity. The guitars are constantly racing as they spiral downwards only to ascend once more. Glory Bronze is another example of how electrifying this album is. The brightest sunlight radiates from the guitars as flurries of cymbals and drumrolls soar to ever higher reaches. The music briefly subsides around the mid-section of the song before the band initiates the final ascent. The composition returns to its initial state as the instrumentation grows even louder and even more intense than before, culminating in the most triumphant and grand climax of this album. In contrast to that the next song, Veins of God, features a fuzzy, stoner metal bassline that leads the song’s slow but steady climb as it’s guided by huge and majestic guitars, giving it a post-metal feeling.
Over the course of the album, Liturgy deliver a wide range of sounds but no matter the pace or intensity, their music is always highly precise and challenging, featuring odd time signatures, complex songwriting and math-rock influences that are most prominent on songs such as Returner and Generation. The band’s sound is further complimented by the fantastic production done by Colin Marston of esteemed projects such as Krallice and Behold… the Arctopus. But despite all the good things I can say about Aesthethica it is true that the album is highly eccentric. Aspects such as the frequently appearing layered clean vocals, that also make up the entirety of the track Glass Earth, or the chinking electronics at the very beginning of the album are sure to turn some people away; and they evidently did. The final product, however, is an album that is a bold and unique statement with a clear vision. Not many bands can fuse technicality and emotional suspense to create an album that is so triumphant, so visceral, so melancholic and yet so very exhilarating and liberating. No matter in which way this album is remembered, its legacy still stands strong, even six years after its release.