Bitter and Then Some: Liturgy Interview

Posted July 6, 2011 in

Welcome to the second installment of Bitter and Then Some, bringing you the falsest of false metal on a non-regular basis! This week we have an extended interview with the controversial Brooklyn-based black metallers Liturgy, who will be playing Kilby Court on July 13. We also have a very sparse rundown of metal events happening this week in Salt Lake and beyond, as well as a few blog exclusive reviews from SLUG’s own Dylan Chadwick. On with the show.

On Friday July 8, SLUG will be presenting Dwellers, Muckraker and Maraloka for this month’s installment of Localized at Urban Lounge (21+). The show starts at 10:00, and as always, $5 gets you in. Check out our interviews with Muckraker and Maraloka here.

On Saturday July 9, the Montreal based death metal crew Blackguard will be performing at The Complex with Freedom Before Dying. This show is 21+, and tickets are $10 in advance and $13 at the door.

If you find yourself in Provo on Sunday July 10 and are looking for something semi-heavy, My Iron Lung, Darasuum and The Bogarts play at the Death Star with support from locals Hitchhiker and Bomb Squid. The show is just $5 and starts at 6:00 PM.

Finally, on Wednesday July 13, Liturgy rolls into town with support from the mighty Eagle Twin at Kilby Court. Tickets are only $8 and the show begins at 7:00 PM.

Liturgy Interview
For many, the realm of metal is a place of sanctuary. It is a dark place, but also safe. However, change is often challenged. Outisders who flock to the strangeness seeking understanding hypocritically expel those with ideas other than their own. Those who seek to evolve are accused of falseness. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix may be the most hated man in metal at the moment. His essay, Transcendental Black Metal, originally delivered at the 2009 Hideous Gnosis Black Metal Theory Symposium, has become the subject of muchcontroversy. It may be because of the intellectual tone of the essay or the “hipster” tag that is being affixed to many Brooklyn-based bands, but the mere existence of the essay and the attention being given to Hunt-Hendrix is seriously pissing off a whole lot of metalheads. To put the essay in simple terms, transcendental black metal is about the exploration of new musical ideas that are rooted in traditional black metal, but not an imitation of traditional black metal—many people hate this notion. However, Aesthethica, the second album from Hunt-Hendrix’s band Liturgy, has garnered just as many positive reviews from metal outsiders as it has negative reviews from the kvltest of the kvlt. Aesthethica is an adventurous collection of music that owes just as much to experimental noise rock groups Lightning Bolt and Boredoms as it does to black metal forebears Darkthrone and Burzum. I spoke with Hunt-Hendrix about the new album and how he’s dealing with all of the attention Liturgy has been receiving recently.

SLUG: I’ve read in other interviews that you’ve studied composition in school and learned how to play piano at a young age. How did you go from that background to developing an interest in aggressive music and metal?
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix: I was interested in aggressive music and metal before I studied composition. I’m not really classically trained, exactly. It’s kind of misleading to put it that way--it wasn’t like I went to a conservatory or something like that. I would listen to a lot of death metal and I would listen to a lot of Stravinsky and there’s sort of a similar kind of brutality between that particular genre and that particular composer. That was one of the first real crossovers that I explored in terms of classical music and metal.

SLUG: I’ve read in other interviews that you’re interested in philosophy and literature. What things beyond metal and even beyond music influence you and the music of Liturgy?
Hunt-Hendrix:  Philosophy was the main thing I studied in school, actually. The genral view of using art to create an environment, for a brief moment, that is really true and moving in a way that is hard to describe definitely had a big influence.

SLUG: Going along with that, why do you think people are so upset with Transcendental Black Metal and you vocalizing the way you that you approach creating your music?
Hunt-Hendrix: I don’t actually check out blogs all that much, but people have been sending me links to a lot of this stuff so I just can’t help it. It’s super intense. The internet is confusing because it’s difficult to get a litmus test of how many people the haters are speaking for and whether or not someone who appreciates the idea of the music is as likely to write an intense comment about that. I would like to think there’s a silent majority of people who like Liturgy, but I’m not really sure. Maybe I come off as a jerk sometimes in interviews. There’s one interview on the internet that’s gone slightly viral, at least for the metal community. I actually look at the interview and think, “Man, that really did not go very well. That guy looks like a douchebag and that guy is me.” I don’t think that video was edited very generously--it seems like whoever edited it didn’t want to make us look good. I also think our attitude towards music is really at odds with people who really take black metal seriously and choose to see life and music in a certain way.


: One of the main points of Transcendental Black Metal is breaking away from the foundation of black metal. Why, then, do you think it’s important not only to label your music as black metal, but to label it at all?


: It seems to me people imagine that I really disrespect black metal--that I think all black metal is bad or all black metal is inferior to my band. That’s not what I’m saying in that document. I think of Transcendntal Black Metal as an outgrowth of certain characteristics or eventualities of black metal that I want to focus on. There are certain features of black metal that I’m done with and don’t want to focus on. As someone who takes what music means really seriously, I think that black metal in itself, transcendental or not, is something really special in the history of rock music. It has this larger historical referentiality, and the second wave has these figures that are enormously courageous. I’m really inspired by that aspect of it. I love black metal. So many musicians, especially in independent music or experimental music, want to say, “Oh, my music is undefinable. I don’t belong to any tradition. The music speaks for itself.” That’s fine, but I’m really intrigued by the opposite act of giving something a label, especially a controversial label, to connect it to a tradition and see how it resonates with that tradition.

SLUG: A lot of places that have been giving positive reviews to Aesthethica, such as Pitchfork and  Tiny Mix Tapes, are not traditionally “metal” outlets. How important do you think it is for the people who listen to your music to have an understanding of Transcendental Black Metal or metal in general to appreciate your music and where you’re coming from?
Hunt-Hendrix: I think it’s pretty exciting when people come up to me and say, “I don’t even know what kind of music you were just playing, but I think it was awesome.” I wouldn’t be too disappointed to find out that someone unfamiliar with black metal appreciates Liturgy. I like the idea of being able to reach people with the music without any labels attached. I know that sounds like it contradicts what I said earlier, but both things are kind of true. The music is ultimately not directed at any one audience. I didn’t make it for the black metal scene or for any other scene. It’s kind of fascinating to me how someone would hear our music and what it would sound like to them if they don’t normally enjoy black metal. It’s cool to get into someone’s head and figure out what they’re thinking about.

: In Transcendental Black Metal you talk about the need to create a uniquely American form of black metal. Do you think any other American bands are creating music similar to Liturgy or music that fits the ideal of Transcendental Black Metal?
Hunt-Hendrix: There’s more and more black metal in America, and there are awesome bands doing awesome different things. As far as I’m aware, there’s no one who’s really taking it in the direction that we’re taking it in. I’m not disappointed by that or anything. One of the article’s that was brought to my attention talked about how I am ruining black metal in America because I’m creating “rules” for what black metal has to be. That’s not my intention--Transcendental Black Metal is more of a vision of a possible form of American black metal.

SLUG: How did you come to work with Thrill Jockey Records? Why did you decide to work with them rather than a label more known for putting out metal records?
Hunt-Hendrix: It’s kind of weird how things worked out. After our first record came out, they were super interested in putting out the next one, and a lot of metal labels weren’t super interested. Even at that stage we were kind of weirding metal people out. I could imagine a label worrying about their reputation for putting out a “false metal” band or something like that. There’s a lot to be said for 20 Buck Spin for putting out our first record. It’s a legit metal label, and they were interested in putting out weird stuff that didn’t really fit the metal mold, so it was perfect timing for us to put out our first album with them.

SLUG: Some people have mentioned that the cover of Aesthethica looks similar to the cover of Slayer’s God Hates Us All. Is there any connection there? If not, what is the meaning behind the album cover?
Hunt-Hendrix: I can’t really say. It doesn’t symbolize anything in particular. I made the album cover, and it was just an intuitive choice. I wanted to create something that looked very meaningful, but in a way that I couldn’t specify. I had actually never seen that Slayer cover until I had already designed the cover for our new album.

SLUG: You’ll be playing at Kilby Court in Salt Lake as part of your next tour, which is a really cool venue, but not one that typically caters to more aggressive music. Have you found that Liturgy is playing in more and more non-metal places?
Hunt-Hendrix: We’ve never played in Salt Lake City before. We’re stoked to be there for the first time. So far for us, it’s a hodgepodge. It’s almost a game we play in the van of “is this gonna be a metal show or a weird rock show?”. It goes back and forth. We play non-metal shows a little more than metal shows at this point. A year ago it was pretty evenly balanced, but it was leaning more towards metal shows. As our identity has slowly been taking shape in people’s identities, I think it’s gone from promoters putting us on shows with all black metal bands to putting us on shows with arty noise punk bands.

Blog exclusive reviews

Rev Raptor
Street: 5.16.11
U.D.O = Accept (duh!) + AC/DC + Krokus + Metal Church
Rev Raptor is pretty well mined territory. Having released thirteen albums, former Accept vocalist, Udo Dirckschneider has found a winning formula, unleashing his scratchy pterodactyl squawk to mow down the frontline, while the band works hurriedly in the background, and uses it to full capacity. It’s an excellent fit, and though the album is definitely not an industrial record (Regardless of Germany’s longstanding tradition for producing terrible techno and the equally bad Rammstein), the backing band works with a metronomic exactness that’s as mechanic sounding as it is ferocious.

The title track, with its mournful atmospherics and gravelly snarling, is U.D.O. at its best, while “Renegade” (a rager, slightly reminiscent of Grave Digger) and “Terrorvision” (which boasts the lyric “cyber-kinetic fuck machines”) drip with a steaming dollop of teutonic thrash terror requisite for an album with such infamous German metal lineage.

Unfortunately (though not at all surprising), Rev Raptor has its share of cornball moments, which hurt the album as a whole. The ridiculous “I Give as Good as I Get” is a painful power-ballad that will have listeners racing for whatever “skip” button their stereo device affords, and “Leatherhead,” though infused with plenty of good rock n’ roll swagger, contains clumsy lyrics that are nothing short of shudder inducing (“you think you’re a tough guy?/well I’m from the street” and “I’ll kick out your daylights, it’s gonna be fun” come to mind). Couple that with the dopey artwork, (think of clownish concept stickers for a rejected NES game) and the album comes out feeling a little bit…goofy.

Yet, despite its buffoonery, U.D.O. does showcase excellent musicianship. The guitar interplay on “Underworld” is commendable, “True Born Winners” rides a solid good groove throughout and guitar geeks hunting for whiplash-inducing solos will find them throughout.

Perhaps a touch lopsided, and soaked in a tad too much cheese, it’s an album with its moments, and it fails to tarnish the storied Dirkschneider legacy, power ballad or not…but in a painful Dave Mustaine/Metallica twist of irony (and staid heavy metal journalism) Accept’s Udo-less Blood of Nations (2010) was much better.   –Dylan Chadwick

Seven Sisters of Sleep
Southern Lord
Street: 6.21.11
Seven Sisters of Sleep = Bongzilla + Weedeater + The Atlas Moth
Rooted in a weird subgenre that predicates itself on the aching principle of moving with the swiftness of drizzling tar on a January morning, Seven Sisters of Sleep’s debut full length plays out like an aesthetic struggle.

There’s no question, the band takes many cues from the nascent sludge of ubiquitous forbearers like Eyehategod, and they showcase their own brand of painful, crawling gutter slime on cuts like “Beirut” and “CCEC.” However, these moments of obstinate, walking-through-the-swimming-pool rigidity are frequently broken up when the band explodes into a frenetic hustle and, as if possessed by a nerve-ridden hardcore spirit, begins charging forward at a staggering clip. The impossibly infectious swamp grooving of “Passed Out Standing,” the bullet timed double bass attack of “Tide is Rising” (which, if ya listen real hard, actually sounds a bit like a Merauder throwaway) and the dissonant heavy hitting of “Christmas Morning” (which lends itself to plenty of ‘90s hardcore comparisons, particularly Unbroken) all race forward at an uncompromising gallop, coalescing into each other to create an ungodly mass that’s mean and ugly, and it blows over you before you can even respond. Top the high-speed hazing with that indecipherably grating “locked-a-closet” vocal yowling, and you’re left with something powerful…if not just a bit unsettling.

Ultimately, it’s a well done record. Nothing particularly new, but it employs the time honored tricks that make sludge records so great (like frequent tempo changes) and clocking in at just around twenty minutes or so, it’s plenty short and sweet…so to speak. –Dylan Chadwick

Seven Witches
Call Upon the Wicked
Street: 6.28.11
Seven Witches = King Diamond + Savatage + Golden era Judas Priest
Landing new vocalist James Rivera and plodding forward on their eighth album, New Jersey based trad-metallers Seven Witches offer up a veritable grab bag of heavy metal delights on Call Upon the Wicked.

Right off the bat, Rivera is a good fit for the band, seamlessly alternating between stratospheric Halford-esque wailing and a plunging Layne Staley drawl (check opener “Fields of Fire.”), and the band follows suit with their own blend of Priest style rocka rolling (“Call Upon the Wicked” and “Harlot of Troy” are dead ringers for Stained Class outtakes).  However, the overall attack is varied. “Ragnarok” is a NWOBHM style romp through the apocalypse, “End of Days” (despite the brazen corniness of composing a song around a literal “Ave Maria”) is a brilliant nine minute epic, raking itself over the coals of Maiden’s “Hallowed be thy Name” and choral Mercyful Fate worship  and “Mindgame”  with its laughable refrain (“stop fucking with my head!”) is a heady thrash stomper recalling the burly call-and-response theatrics of Scott Ian and Frank Bello.

Snarky critics might be quick to point out the band’s tendency to tread rehashed ground, and Call Upon the Wicked, with its flat-ish production certainly isn’t a dynamic step forward…but musically its water-tight, it never sounds dull or tired and the band has easily found their strongest lineup to date. Rivera’s throated acrobatics keep things exciting, and vintage member Jack Frost’s guitar solos on “Ragnarok” and “Eyes of Flame” scratch metal fans right where they itch.

Ultimately the album’s only weak point is a completely unnecessary cover of Cream’s “White Room” tacked on to the end. Though earnest, and showcasing excellent axe-wielding on the part of Frost, it’s a dated song that doesn’t lend itself well to the metal camp…but any metal fan with a brain can see that this is a strong album with very little to complain about. (The digipack contains live versions of “Metal Tyrant,” “Metal Asylum” and “Jacob” as well. Bang yr head!). –Dylan Chadwick

Black Fangs
Street: 6.21.11
Sourvein = Buzzov*en + Grief + Crowbar + Electric Wizard
Quoting Beavis and/or Butthead in any kind of academic work is never a good idea. I tried it once on a linguistics paper…the professor didn’t share my sense of wit. Still, when it comes to sludge metal, I’ve never found a music critic who’s been able to articulate the genre quite as well as Butthead, when in one particular episode upon watching the music video for Crowbar’s “Existence is Punishment,” he utters the deathless line (in his trademark lisp) “this music is slow and fat.”

Sourvein follows Butthead’s profound sludge paradigm to an throbbing T. Upon releasing their first proper full length since 2002, the band opts not to build any new bridges into unknown territory, but to stubbornly mine a groove in the swamp they’ve long since floundered in before…and this isn’t a bad thing.

“Society’s Blood” is fairly standard sludge fare, a gurgling mass of washed out guitars oozing over pained vocals (“he looks like he’s taking a dump!” –Butthead) while “Fangs” and “Night Eyes” are driven by coiling Sabbath-esque riffs that bubble and percolate before disintegrating into hissing breakdowns that stomp and sputter like a woodland animal, beaten senseless and thrown into a nearby pond. “Night Eyes” boasts deft drum work, “Holy  Transfusion” with its bludgeoning wall of My War era ‘Flag atonality is an experiment in discomfort and endurance, while “Gasp” (the album’s clear highlight), with its oppressive atmospherics and hypnotic solo, draws it together reminding listeners that even if they’re not reinventing anything, they’re playing it to stained perfection. Cobble it together with muddied production and it’s an album devoid of frills…and filler.

For music so deeply rooted in the concepts of discomfort, alienation and pain, Sourvein hits the figurative nail right on its rusty head (they do hail from a place called Cape Fear for [Eyehate]God’s sake!) and for any heroin imagery their intravenous name inspires, Sourvein is anything but dopey. Think about a gummy hypodermic sliding into your arm, missing the vein entirely and plunging itself right into your squirming, emaciated muscle, or scraping itself tepidly along the surface of the bone. It’s not pretty, and it probably won’t win over any new fans…but for those already in the know? They’ll keep coming back over and over…and they won’t always know why. –Dylan Chadwick