Liturgy is a feast that, on paper, only the hungriest of hare-brained philosophical minds may wish to sample. It’s always been apparent that the Brooklyn-based project masterminded by Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix was far from accessible; shrill experimental art metal adhering to her own conceptualised belief system. But for those like me that crave hard-hitters with feeling, Liturgy’s immediate delivery and stunning melding of classical compositions, high octane drumming and high-pitched tremolo guitars is a spectacle for the ears. As if hearing a clamour for exactly that, 93696 takes Hunt-Hendrix’s transcendental offerings to holy highs and devilish lows across an ambitious, lengthy concept album.
Also bringing in Aleister Crowley’s occultist spiritual idea of Thelema for the ride, there’s beauty, weeping, terror and violence going on, following the large-scale operatic tendencies started on 2020’s Origin Of The Alimonies. It’s these considered thematic approaches that perhaps best compartmentalise Hunt-Hendrix’s colossal mind palace, here a look into death and humanity’s final judgement according to four laws in her own representation of Heaven. This so-dubbed Haelegen, which first reared its head in 2015, gets duly expanded into a four act suite, each beckoning us with angelic chants to delight in or scratch-heads at Hendrix’s next tales of enlightenment.
If 93696’s concept all sounds a bit much (see also the ‘explanatory’ cover art for Liturgy’s brilliant H.A.Q.Q. too), it is. As a Columbia student connected to not only a range of theological concepts, but also music’s pervading beauty and darkness from baroque to black-metal, Hendrix’s songwriting is as ‘try this, try that’ as you would expect, only bowling a strike more often than not. H.A.Q.Q.’s stop-start snags are more pared back. 93696’s rockier archetypes take centre stage, transformed into strange chord sequences, while Leo Didkovsky’s trademark crescendo ‘burstbeats’ agonise your inner stresses (or lungs) to explode outward, best shown through the breathtaking Haelegen II. There are respites in the hymnic interludes. Daily Bread’s introduction is more a caress before Djenneration discombobulates a symphonic orchestra with crunchy guitars. Caela’s middle third even performs a danceable breakdown jig sequence into straightforward cymbal crashes. As straightforward as Liturgy can get, anyhow.
Hunt-Hendrix notes the band’s more “punk meets classical” approach here, which certainly grounds us from the heavenly ascension toward tinnitus. Whereas past efforts tampered with IDM and trap beats (the oft-maligned The Ark Work), and the sounds of a malfunctioning Logic interface, Steve Albini’s production involves his usual live, straight to tape approach. Everything sounds as if it’s happening right next to you, the harrowing waking-from-a-night-terror screams on Before I Knew The Truth for one. Angel Of Emancipation is a lullaby in the album’s main comforting three-song hit (along with Angel Of Hierarchy and Red Crown II), blending into Ananon: a folkloric summoning of Liturgy’s most crushing noise. Its second half takes a pause to rhythmically chug itself back into the chaos, a technique which pops up throughout the record’s 14-minute title track. A ‘can’t quite place it’ familiar toms intro precedes a driving prog-rocker, perhaps the band’s most engaging epic. For fans of shorter tunes, the accompanying As The Blood Of God Bursts The Veins Of Time takes 93696’s acts apart in chunks.
Those throwback themes signify Liturgy’s lore, of which there is much. Spiritual sequels to the group’s Immortal Life EP, and even their Antigone split with LEYA, as some examples. To finish as we started, it’s a feast, but when Liturgy’s sonic exploration grabs you, there’s an epiphany of sorts. It takes art to its extremities—high-culture schools of thought, demanding lengthy compositions, studio dabbling, and emotional turmoil. You expect forceful magnitude impossible to ignore, and you get it with this troupe. If you can stand all that, great. Strap yourselves in and watch the terrifying play unfold.
For fans of: Wolves in the Throne Room, Wormrot, Imperial Triumphant
‘93696’ by Liturgy is released on 24th March on Thrill Jockey Records.
Words by Elliot Burr