Liturgy: Ark Raving Mad
Liturgy | The Ark Work | | 2015
“I feel just like Lord Byron.
– Really? ‘Cause you look like a stupid git with his raincoat on inside-out.”
A positive outlook by Degtyarov
The single most infuriating word in the black metal scene today could very well be ‘Liturgy’. It is, after all, the moniker of the New York-based collective that claims to have pioneered ‘transcendental black metal’. This alleged new subgenre is, shortly put, supposed to be a new form of black metal which inverses many of the genre’s tropes, thus liberating it from its traditional limitations and helping it reach heights never even dreamt of before. Unsurprisingly, this statement caused widespread backlash in the form of mockery and insults. Liturgy displayed the type of pretence that usually drives people away from the excesses of modern art, and so they became the sitting ducks of the black metal scene. Not only the genre purists had their way with these Brooklyn bad boys; even enthusiasts of artists such as Deafheaven and Wolves in the Throne Room – controversial in their own right – tended to dismiss the band, stressing that Liturgy encapsulated all the criticisms unjustly bestowed upon their own favourite groups all too often; Liturgy soiled the USBM banner that they were flying.
Initially, my attitude towards Liturgy was equally negative. Rather than openly mocking the band, though, my disgust largely manifested itself in the form of a simple refusal to acknowledge their existence. The only time I would mention the band was when I spoke with potential new contributors to Black Ivory Tower: when they would ask me if the publication had any ‘no-go’ topics, I would tell them that generally there were no taboos, although I did expect them to possess the common sense required to not write about “shit like Liturgy“. That sideways warning was always considered unnecessary, as who in their right mind would pay attention to the crap these clowns churn out?
Yet here I am, writing a full-fledged review of The Ark Work, Liturgy‘s latest full-length experiment. Normally, I hate to recycle terminology from the philosophy course I was forced to take as a freshman, but boy, did I experience a gestalt switch when I listened to this new album. It is nothing short of brilliant. Yes, Hunter Hunt Hendrix still displays in interviews an attitude even more aggravating than his surrealistic name. Sure, I recall his bizarre manifesto in which he claimed to have basically re-invented black metal. You remind me that everything about this band is obnoxious and I’d say you are absolutely right. But their brand-new full-length marks a turning point in their career not only in the sense that it is more bold than everything they’ve done before, but also in that it sheds a whole new light on their back catalogue.
Even more so than the manifesto and all the interviews, The Ark Work makes the intentions of Liturgy abundantly clear: to record the worst music they can possibly conjure. Their reward comes in the form of outrage, while at the same time they suck money out of the pockets of those who proclaim to be on the vanguard of metal and support this band solely because it’s so vogue, au courant and out there. In essence, Liturgy is a giant attention magnet for both metalheads looking to vent their hatred and contrarians-without-a-cause who thrive on the fact that they are into a band so zany they are liked by nobody else. This controversy of gargantuan proportions has made the band sufficiently viable – on both an economic and an artistic level – to secure venues all around the globe where they get a wildcard to pull whatever prank they feel like coming up with.
Like few other records in recent memory, The Ark Work validates the status of black metal as aural terrorism. From the first note to the last, Liturgy offers a cacophony of bottom-tier MIDI keyboard sounds, and whiney vocals that vary from sounding like a preteen Varg Vikernes to someone trying to rap while crying uncontrollably, topped off with excruciatingly high-pitched lead guitar riffs that seem to be purposefully engineered to irritate the listener with sounds that he just cannot drive into the background. Indeed it is impossible to sit through this album without it getting to you; The Ark Work offers not a shred of redemption in any of the 57 minutes during which it assaults you. It is the most aesthetically awful modern art put to music; not since the reputable con artist Karel Appel put out his LP Musique barbare has there been music that so effectively tears down the human soul and makes us forget about all our artistic achievements as a species, leaving us just sitting there, listening to the music with animalistic terror glistening in our empty, soulless eyes. If there were an auditory equivalent to the thousand-yard stare, no doubt The Ark Work would induce it.
In order to understand where Triple H. and his comrades are coming from, it is best to think of their act in terms of performance art. Performance art, as I see it, is the ultimate guise with which you can live out your wildest dreams and fantasies without anyone ever questioning your sanity. Whether it is shooting coloured eggs out of your vagina, commuting without any clothes on, or crafting a floor made completely out of peanut butter, there are few activities you cannot adorn with an intellectual aura by stating that you attend art school. Making one of the worst albums of all time and letting self-professed forward thinkers gobble it up so they can assert their intellectual dominance over the unenlightened plebeians fits seamlessly into this academic brand of practical jokes. It is a fiendishly subtle way of saying “fuck you” to the entire world: so subtle that, when done right, you will always get away with it.
Those who are patient enough to build their entire careers around conning people by making them feel open-minded, eventually reach a point where nothing can touch them. Jeff Koons has for the longest time been selling the most awful kitsch humanly conceivable for millions of dollars. Not that musea and art collectors do not realise it is kitsch; no, it is the entire point. Koons can tell them he is full of crap (and he often has), but at this point the truth has just become a part of the intellectual discourse surrounding his “works”; for all he cares, he could commission someone to craft a swastika made out of shit and he would find a buyer without lifting a smelly finger. Don’t get me wrong: should Koons ever make an unexpected appearance in front of my car bumper, I will hit the gas pedal without a second thought, but on a pragmatic level he proves very useful in laying bare the utter confusion of the contemporary artistic community. He has literally admitted to museum directors that he is a fraud, and he has got away with it every time. That is something a cynic like myself can feel nothing for but the utmost admiration.
While Liturgy has not quite reached the point where they can overtly state “we are just fucking with you and you are a moron if you like our music” and expect a subsequent boost in their album sales, The Ark Work might drive them down that road a fair bit. Should this potpourri of musical waste receive accolades from the usual suspects (and you know it will), the ol’ Hunter can pitch his most aggressively demeaning musical trainwrecks to any major record company, who will then fork over the moolah to make it happen. I shall henceforth see Liturgy as black metal’s Golden Horde. While their acts in themselves are atrocious, the wasteland they leave in their wake will prove fertile ground for those who aim to break the status quo and push things into a new direction.
Don’t worry: I don’t have a driver’s license.
The Ark Work
1. Fanfare (2:21)
2. Follow (3:31)
3. Kel Valhaal (7:11)
4. Follow II (7:30)
5. Quetzalcoatl (4:48)
6. Father Vorizen (5:58)
7. Haelegen (2:55)
8. Reign Array (11:36)
9. Vitriol (5:21)
10. Total War (5:06)
Total time: 56 minutes
This article reminds me of Tom Wolfe’s sarcastic takedowns on the shallowness of modern American cultural life as known from “The Painted Word” and “From Bauhaus to Our House”.