LITURGY – All hail the new flesh
Jack White once said that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. With that quote firmly in place, I’m now celebrating my own demise, but I guess the quote is fair in some respects and especially when we deal with one American band called Liturgy. The web has been filled with screams and shouts from angry black metal fans dealing with two aspects of the band. A certain manifesto that goes under the title Trancendental Black Metal and also the band’s look. The band hailing from Williamsburg, New York don’t look like the the old horde of the second wave and the Brooklyn neighbourhood is perhaps more firmly in place in our collective memory thanks to the retro cult of hipsters. Maybe they hang out with hipsters, but who really cares? It’s your own choice if you want to look like a used cars salesman from 83 and most who live there do it because of the cheap rent anyway.
The music to me has some influences from the indie sound of the eighties and early nineties. Especially the guitar sound, making the entire sound more upbeat than the average necro or satanic black metal band, whatever you wanna call it. They haven’t got that much publicity in Europe yet, but their homeland has certainly embraced them and with good reason. They are a really good band and their latest record Aesthethica proves this. I also remember the first time I saw the video for Returner and how the overall sound kind of flows and creates this feeling of traveling through a wooden landscape with trees that are covered in snow. This is either a good indication of their overall sound and that it certainly is black metal or that I’ve watched too many badly produced black metal videos from the nineties. What a lot of black metal fans like is the atmosphere and maybe I’m not putting enough emphasis on the atmosphere. The atmosphere is crucial in black metal in a lot of respects. That’s also what I like about black metal. The overall sound that drives and pushes, rather than beat and huff of thrash and death metal. I had been pushed pretty hard by friends of mine to be hard and strict in a future interview with Liturgy, but if I want to stay true to myself I can’t. I like a lot the genre blending that happens right across the board of extreme metal. Would Brutal Truth’s Need To Control be such a crazy landmark record for grindcore if they didn’t go apeshit while recording it? A solid portion of black metal fans can’t stomach a band like the Norwegian band Kvelertak, but what about other harder bands that don’t have their huge fanbase or mainstream popularity, but also has it’s romance with the black metal sound? Bands like Haust and Okkultokrati from Norway and while you’re at it check out the current rooster at Candlelight records. Even Darkthrone has switched gears and have adopted a more d-beat approach. As a punk fan I love that, but I recognize that you have to pay some respects to the roots of any genre. Black metal has never been stagnant, so what is the problem with a band from Williamsburg that wants to put their spin on black metal in the year 2012?
It’s a manifesto called Trancendental Black Metal that makes the band a hard pill to swallow and it has been written by the band’s frontman Hunter Hunt Hendrix. If you ignore the elitist academic leanings in the text, what I get from the text is that Hendrix tries to create an artistic or musical divide between the second wave of black metal and the new American strain purported by Liturgy and one of the key elements to their music is the burst beat. A drumming technique that is supposed to be vastly different than the all to familiar blast beat technique, although I fail to recognize the difference between the two from what the text says. The problem with the manifesto is that it has been given too much focus and too little focus has been given to the band’s music.
It was the very last day of an epic Roskilde festival and with the grace of a drunken munk, I was making my way to one of the smaller stages at the festival. The mud from the two past days downpour didn’t face me. I was more worried about the actual interview, since it had been pretty much impossible to get in touch with the press handler at Thrill Jockey Records. I had to make like a retarded ninja and get past security at the backstage entrance. After some pleading and reasoning they let me through. I got Hunters phone number and sent him a text. Half an hour later we were on and I met up with the sweet and polite Hendrix and his second guitarist Bernard Gann. Unbeknownst to me, Liturgy had turned into a two-piece and a machine was now doing the drum duties. We set up in their makeshift dressing room and the interview was ready to kick off. I know it’s a cliché to start an interview with questions like – How did you first discover black metal? On the other hand it’s a great opening and it might ring some familiar bells to all the younger dudes and dudettes out there.
As a teenager and I was into a lot of different music at the time, like hardcore and post rock stuff and classical music. I encountered it on the Internet mostly on different websites, like larm(LARM!) which is gone now. I never really knew anybody that liked black metal personally. I had a friend who did. Mostly it was finding things on the Internet and then just downloading the albums.
What were your favorite bands?
The first bands that I was into, I mean from the second wave were bands like Darkthrone and Emperor certainly. Bathory and then stuff like Graveland, Vlad Tepes and Mutilation. Really raw but also epic.
What I find really interesting about your sound is a sort of blend with the indie sound of the eighties and early nineties. Do you have a connection with that scene?
I think that socially that’s the scene that we came out of, but I don’t know what the indie scene is anymore.
Yeah, it’s been bastardized.
Yeah, but more post rock or like post hardcore. That’s the kind of people I knew growing up, they where from that world certainly, so that probably has an influence on our sound to some degree, for sure.
What about No Wave?
Yeah, very much so. I got into Teenage Jesus and The Jerks and Mutilation at about the same time and other french bands. They were black metal bands, but they were so RAW, that it kind of sounded like no wave to me. So, I like the same things about both of those styles of music.
You have written in your manifesto that the burst beat is what drives Liturgy’s music. What is the main difference between the burst beat and the blast beat?
The burst beat accelerates and decelerates in terms of tempo and the blast beat doesn’t. We used to play with a drummer and now we have this electronic burst beat. I think the difference is much more clear with the new arrangement, cause it’s difficult to use a blast beat technique to do a burst beat, but it’s very easy for a machine to do it.(We all start laughing hysterically after this fact has been revealed by Hunter Hunt Hendrix)
You’ve written a text or a manifesto that has created a pretty heated debate among black metal fans world wide. Referring to the title of the text, is your music trancendental?
You know, evoking trancendence, it’s kind of an open ended thing to do and a lot of music is trancendental in a lot of different ways. I like to leave it open to interpretation what it means exactly.
One of the most crucial elements of the black metal genre is the atmosphere. With the way you make your music, the instrumentation and the influences, is there a change in atmosphere?
I don’t know. In some ways I think there’s a shift in atmosphere and in some ways it’s not. I think there’s a theme within black metal that our music touches and then it kind of isolates. Some people who are critical also say the opposite – You’re writing manifesto’s about this new kind of music, but black metal already did this stuff and it’s already there. I think that’s kind of true actually. Everything that we’re doing has already been done, it’s just that we’re isolating something. Except for the burst beat, maybe that’s different.
In terms of the atmosphere, I certainly feel more upbeat about your music than the average necro black metal band.
There are certainly black metal bands that are much darker than we are and there are bands that play on heroism and this kind of grand joy or whatever is a part of it, even for a band like Bathory. I mean there’s tons of black metal bands and some of them are totally necro and some of them have a mix, but yeah, I think we isolate that heroic joy stuff and focus on that(At this point we all start laughing)
In your manifesto it seems like you have your own kind of stance and also with your band, that this is American black metal and it’s a difference between American black metal and the second wave of black metal?
It’s difficult to answer that question. The manifesto is trying to make a statement or make this claim, but in a way the manifesto is a performance in itself. It’s a little bit meta and the idea of making this claim I think is possible to do within black metal. I don’t identify with America that much, but I think there is something culturally American about the way we’re making music.
Is it strange for you as a performer to be a part of a genre, were there is strict rules, but were everything is allowed at the same time?
I’m sure it’s confusing to people and it’s a little bit confusing to us too. I think part of my artistic aim is to be a little bit confusing. I mean, I like it when other bands do that and they sort of break a rule and claim that they’re allowed to do that. There’s something about being illegal and breaking a law. It’s an intentional thing, though it has been really strange also, to see the extent of certain reactions.
The interview had been filled with laughter and humor though we had pretty much dissected the darker strains of the discussion surrounding the band. On the other hand, I can relate to the anger towards the manifesto. I mean I’ve studied and I’m reasonably well read, but some of the text reminds me of the trick that authors like DH Lawerence used a hundred impotent years ago.Climbing the throne of intellectualism with one foreign phrase after another, when what you really want to read about is rude Victorian sex acts and a twenty four hour sixty-nine. If you’ve just read this and haven’t checked out the band nor the manifesto, I would give you one final advice. Listen to the music before you read the manifesto. Black metal can be great, but sometimes it turns into a Spinal Tap impersonation. There’s certainly room for a band like Liturgy in black metal and maybe it’s also needed. Maybe I will catch you at the next satanic black metal show that rolls through town. You might be serious and I might be laughing. Maybe I don’t get it, but the joke’s is on you.