Liturgy: Transcending Black Metal

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 much derision in the metal community. 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: Why do you think people are so upset with Transcendental Black Metal and your vocalization of the way that you approach creating your music?
Hunt-Hendrix: 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. Maybe I come off as a jerk sometimes in interviews. There’s one interview on the internet that’s gone slightly viral, at least within 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 think that our music is really at odds with some people who really take black metal seriously and choose to see life and music in a certain way.

SLUG: One of the main points of your essay, 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?
Hunt-Hendrix: 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. I think of transcendental 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. I’m really intrigued by the 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 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. 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.

Aesthethica is not for everyone. It is aggressive and ugly, but also courageous in its approach to black metal. Jerky time changes, twitchy electronic bits and repetitive chants coexist alongside the screeched vocals, tremolo riffing and blast beats (or “burst beats” as Hunt-Hendrix calls them, but that’s another conversation) black metal is known for. If nothing else, it is an interesting and polarizing collection of music that should be sought out by fans of experimental and aggressive music in general. Liturgy will perform at Kilby Court on July 13 with Eagle Twin. Read the full interview with Hunter Hunt-Hendrix at next week.