Liturgy - The Ark Work 01Whenever anyone proposes that an artist, album, or condiment is something I’ll “love or hate,” I feel an intense compulsion to remain ambivalent about whatever art, music, or Marmite they’re talking about. “You don’t know me!” my brain spits, “your artificial dichotomy is patently absurd, and I’ll prove it by maintaining a neutral and balanced view!” Then I feel silly because, even though I haven’t fallen for the tribalism, my opinion has still been manipulated, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid in the first place.

Back in 2011, Liturgy were very much a love ‘em or hate ‘em band. Their 2009 debut Renihilation had brought them relatively little attention, but 2011’s Aesthethica – and perhaps more importantly, the promotion that accompanied it – thrust Liturgy into the metal limelight. Frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (henceforth H3) managed to rub many in the metal scene the wrong way with his disdain for black metal’s traditionally nihilistic outlook and his arrogant manifesto for the continuation of the genre. Naturally, Liturgy earned a reputation as a polarizing band, and naturally I attempted to remain ambivalent towards their music.

But this is, of course, ridiculous behaviour. Aesthethica, while perhaps overly indebted to Krallice, was an exciting record with a unique range of interesting influences. The frequently positive and celebratory nature of the music was distinct from other black metal (or black metal influenced) bands, and no doubt contributed to many people’s annoyance at the black metal tag being used at all. Four years on, and those that complained about Liturgy’s black metal credentials will likely have a fit over their new album (if they’re not too busy still being angry about Deafheaven).

Liturgy - The Ark Work 03Whether you’ve heard Liturgy’s previous records or not, you won’t be expecting what they present on The Ark Work. Though the Krallicey black metal base remains, Liturgy have incorporated a whole slew of new influences and ideas. Strings, bagpipes, horns, organ, and glockenspiel all make an appearance, all contributing to the grandiose aesthetic. The electronic influences, though, are particularly well done. They inject new life into traditional black metal beats, contributing both subtle background textures and driving rhythmic forces to each song – recent single “Quetzalcoatl” being an obvious example. These additional instruments enhance Liturgy’s mixture of jubilant themes and tragic romanticism, each being used to heighten a particular mood rather than for the sake of novelty.

After a two-minute introductory “Fanfare” of synth horns, “Follow” bursts into life with Liturgy’s signature variable-speed blastbeats and high-pitched trem-picking. The new sounds are immediately apparent: a glockenspiel introduces the track and continues to dance above the guitar lines, creating an otherworldly shimmering effect that is further enhanced by subtle, ascending electronic noises. These first four tracks are linked by common melodies and rhythmic motifs that appear in different guises at various points, almost blending into a single twenty-minute long track. The build and release of emotional energy is expertly managed, though some of the repetition goes too far, particularly on “Kel Valhaal.”

The second half of the record feels more like a set of individual songs, though the theme introduced by organ interlude “Haelegen” crops up in several places. The centrepiece of this half is the eleven plus minute “Reign Array,” which brings together the ideas explored over the whole album into a single, epic piece. Despite its length, repetition isn’t a problem; it’s the shorter “Father Vorizen” and “Vitriol” that are more wearing in this respect. “Vitriol” also brings to the fore what will probably the most divisive aspect of the record: H3’s vocals.

Liturgy - The Ark Work 02

Whereas H3 used a standard black-metal scream on previous Liturgy albums, here we are treated to his distinctive singing. This ranges from a moaned chant to rhythmic sing-rapping – the oft-employed triplet pattern is apparently inspired by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. All of it is nasal and whiny, much of it monotonous, and the frequent slurring up to notes is grating. The rap-singing is always over a single note, and H3’s delivery of these parts sounds forced and uncomfortable. The terrible “Vitriol,” which is effectively a rap track, accentuates this problem due to its minimal arrangement. The total lack of emotion in the delivery doesn’t make sense against the rousing musical backing; no doubt this was a contrast H3 fully intended, but rather than sounding interestingly incongruent, the singing is irritating and distracting.

And yet I keep returning to this album. The vocals are horrible, the songs occasionally repetitive, “Vitriol” makes me cringe, and the production is dodgy (the sound is certainly unique, but very muffled, and there’s little variation in volume so many of the fantastic builds and transitions are robbed of their impact – also, why with the MIDI wind instruments?!), but I’m inevitably dragged back by the inventiveness of the compositions and sheer beauty of the music. Having now listened to this album dozens of times, I’m beginning to love it in spite of its clear and serious flaws. My advice is to take my score with a grain of Marmite and listen for yourself. You’ll either adore or abhor it.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Thrill Jockey
Release Dates: EU: 2015.03.30 | NA: 24.03.2015

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  • Lasse Momme

    That’s a really interesting review man, good work!

  • AndySynn

    I know some people who will legitimately claim, with a straight face, that this band are a work of absolute genius and that they’re “reinventing the paradigm” (or some other such wordy nonsense). And yet I can’t see how anyone could EVER feel that strongly about them, because there’s just not that much to any of their albums. Behind the whole (admittedly irritating) pretentious art-school schtick they seem to have going… they’re just not very good. Not awful. But not very good at anything in particular.

    Funnily enough they remind me of that South Park episode “Fun with Weapons” except where the boys imagined themselves as mighty warriors, I get the feeling that Liturgy honestly see themselves as hugely important artists of substance… when in actual fact they’re just not very good.

    • I completely agree. I try to give them a fair chance even if their antics kinda rub me the wrong way. Still I can’t help to just get a resounding “meh” with their music. For all the avant garde posture I just don’t get anything exciting enough that could get me at least nodding if not full-on headbanging.

    • Jose Barajas

      They’re trying, I guess, I mean that’s what count in anything, right? That being said, I think they’re trying way too hard. At least their first two albums sounded like music. I’ve listened to several tracks off Ark Works and it just sounds like they’re trying way too hard to make something weird, avant garde, experimental, to the point where it’s so niche that somehow it transcends what’s good and becomes a masterpiece. The problem I have with a lot of new-ish bands that are popular amongst the youngsters today is that some music is so weird and experimental that it gets lumped into almost a level of being untouchable in terms of appeal because it’s so “new” and “different.” To me, Ark Works seems very dada and trying to go against everything else so much that it will slip through cracks and become a classic and recognized as so because of it’s desire to try something different.

      I honestly think this album is unlistenable. I used to have a music program called FruityLoops and I liked experimenting with it to make weird shit for fun. The cool thing about that program is it had hundreds of preloaded instruments ranging from bells, to synths, to drums, to orchestra instruments. Sometimes I’d put down like 20 tracks of bells, woodwinds, guitars, drums, etc., write out some notes then turn on all the tracks at once and just see how crazy 20 different instruments would sound at once and it was fun for a few minutes, then I’d do something else. That’s how this album sounds to me. Like they recorded everything, didn’t bother to actually make songs and just turned on all the tracks of everything at once

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      The overhype and attention getting conflict they generate makes this music really’s a Malcolm McClaren approach to music, medium over message. Problem is we’re (thanks to Malcolm) a lot more sophisticated these days and all the bullshit they’ve wrapped their music up in…just seems sillier than a Manowar rock opera about the last caveman battle for upper middle earth…but not as entertaining.

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      That is an epic episode featuring perhaps the best SP scene ever: Cartman using his power of invisibility to walk naked across a stage in front of a huge audience.

      Liturgy have more going for them than you give them credit for I reckon… but you know that already from the review :D

  • The Beargod

    I want to like this album, but it’s just. So. Fricken. Bad.

    • Guest

      I’m the opposite – I want to hate it, but it got its horrible claws into me

  • Eddy Ferreira

    ..I liked this album, The vocals sort of killed it for me, But i think there last album was a lot better, even though it was dismissed as Hipster Shit.

  • Grymm

    Here’s what I think about the album (and Liturgy as a whole):

    As much as Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s histrionics (say THAT 10 times fast… jeezus) have rightfully annoyed many metalheads, I wanted to give this album a fair shot. There are some good ideas here, with “Quetzalcoatl” being the strongest case for the album and band. Basically, I wanted to really like this record and be won over by Liturgy.

    But (and there’s always a but) no matter what institution you graduated from or how well received your manifesto is, if the music doesn’t hold up, it’s all a moot point. This album, to me at least, is quite toothless. It’s too repetitive for my liking, the songwriting isn’t that strong, and the rap-singing is just awful.

    I tried and gave it an honest shot, but I’m not won over. Good review btw, Jean-Luc.

    • Matthew

      It’s one of those albums where I think I’m interested by it more than I actually *enjoy* it.

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      Thank you squire. I think the songwriting is extremely good, and the I can live with the vocals. Just. But I totally understand if they’re a barrier for many people.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I saw Mastodon last night they were entertaining, unpretentious with great songs and fantastic musicianship…

    • That’s just the thing, just from this month alone we can name two or three bands that are actually pushing the envelope in really attractive, interesting and mostly fun ways. Even moving on from the whole gimmicky stuff, I can’t really find a motivation in myself to get to see their stuff as special as they think it is.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        They lost me at Glockenspiel…
        Whilst this band seems ‘interesting’ I couldn’t be less interested in spending anytime with this.
        You’re totally right and these could end up the victim of their own pretentiousness with this one.

  • 6810

    So, how exactly does one obtain a “grain” of marmite?

    I’ve been known to have blocks of water, banana particles and solid bong smoke… but grains of marmite?

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      Leave it out in the sun until it crystalises

  • Wilhelm

    Where’s the new Dodheimsgard review? It’s avant garde that blows this out of the ozone.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    I quite agree with the general feeling here….its too radical to be claimed as “reinvention of Black Metal”. But, somewhere, in some 6th or 7th dimension of your mind, you are inclined to think, “Well he did think of doing something different.” But somehow, I still abhor it. Good Review Sir.

  • JohnC

    I saw someone say my exact thoughts about this- it’s so bad it’s mesmerizing. I hate every second of it but I still keep coming back to it

  • Tony Hicks

    I’ve avoided Liturgy like the plague for years, constantly put off by Hunter’s douchey antics – he seemed like such a tool that I never gave his music a chance. I was quick to judge, it seems; I think The Ark Work is a tremendous record, beautifully realized and full of feeling, as mesmerizing and intense as a true black metal album should be. Much respect.

    I never would have given the album a second thought without this review. Thanks, fellas.

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      Happy to help!

      I find it amusing that lots of black metal fans hate Liturgy because HHH seems a bit douchey/hipsterish, but are fine listening to Burzum though Varg is a racist murdering fuckhead.

      • Tony Hicks

        I think a lot of metal enthusiasts – myself certainly included – pertain to a bit of a herd mentality. i.e. Which bands are making ‘correct’ metal? Which bands are ‘ruining’ the ‘genre’? True kvlt black metal fans, I’ve noticed, are especially culpable. Again, not pointing fingers, I do it too. It’s like anything else with a mass following, be it sports, Star Trek, whatever it is.

        Burzum was my introduction to this genre. I adore the first album. It’s incredibly hard to listen to now, having read what I’ve read and seen what I’ve seen. I still respect the music, but I will never put a single dollar in Varg’s hand.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Yes I absolutely agree with you here. My main issue with liturgy is that in my view they’re more interested in talking the talk than nailing their craft.
        Going further though, how does Leviathan fit into this notion of hypocrisy in metal. It’s too easy to say Varg he’s become a bit of a joke anyway.
        The new Leviathan got a very generous and non judgemental pass here at AMG. At a personal level I’m happy for the guy that he seems to have reformed. I hope his victim has found a similar peace.
        … but …
        As an artist particularly selling himself as Leviathan. Like Varg I can’t give the guy a pass for what he did.

        • Jean-Luc Ricard

          Yeah, I don’t know about Leviathan, I never got into the music hugely and didn’t really follow the other stuff that went on with Wrest. Apologies for that cop-out ;)

          Since the 2011 interview cycle and the manifesto it seems HHH has toned it down a bit, and they new record is quite different from the last. It seems to me they’ve put a lot of effort into the music. Shame about the vocals… but I still want to listen to it!

  • Norfair Legend

    I just don’t know how to feel, whenever this band is brought up it seems that “art” is the first word used to describe them. To me, music is an art but not art itself, if you catch my drift. When I say that I don’t like Liturgy it’s always followed by, “but look at it as art, they’re pushing boundaries.”

    I want music, made for music’s sake not to dissect the metaphorical brush strokes and colors used. Liturgy rub me the wrong way because they are self aware and push this angle, makes the noise not sound as genuine…am I reading too much into it? I don’t know. I still think I don’t like them regardless.

  • Tom Hardy

    Read the review. Curious, I listened to the track in the YT video below the review. Sounded like off-key really bad folky style singing meshed with a bad rendition of a Negura Bunget sound meshed with pretty sounding movie soundtrack~esque tunes overdone to the point it’s pretentious meshed with the image of Hunter’s douchey face from the review fresh in my mind. This would appeal to a lot of hipsters thinking it’s fresh or new or never done before. Question isn’t about whether it sounds old or new, it’s about whether it’s good musically. The track proves it isn’t.

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      Hipster? But I don’t even own any plaid shirts!

  • Guest

    Read the review. Got curious about the track in the YT video and listened to it. Sounds like a pretentious pompous hipster deadbeat band with off-key singing, core sound reminiscent of Negura Bunget of old and just pure bad leads. If kids lap this up, their tastes I guess are highly questionable.