Liturgy – 93696 Review

All music, it is said, is a conversation with the Divine. Sometimes that conversation is civil and polite, and sometimes it is furious and rabid. Sometimes it’s deep and challenging, sometimes it’s relaxed and chilled. No one takes this idea more seriously than Liturgy. The brainchild of Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix, this avant-garde group has been pushing the boundaries of what constitutes black metal since it was created in 2005. Given the ambition and experimentation, this stuff should be catnip to the cool kids of AMG. And yet… it remained unclaimed and ignored in the promo sump. This is because, as a metalhead, Liturgy are hard to love. Incorporating established ideas from metal into your music is one thing (although metalheads will roll their eyes hard at Hunt-Hendrix calling blast beats “burst beats” and atmoblack being rebranded “transcendental black metal”); trying to argue that those tenets should be abandoned altogether is quite another. When this is combined with pretension (and holy shit, Liturgy is pretentious), it’s enough to scare anyone away. Which brings us, with trepidation, to 93696.

93696 is, apparently, the numerological representation of heaven. It is also the numerological representation of Liturgy with the dial turned to 11. If you aren’t familiar, explaining Liturgy is a challenge. It’s black metal meets avant-garde sparkliness meets weird trills meets progressive djentiness meets dissonant noisiness, all of which thunders uneasily around your brain. A hulking 80-minute monster, 93696 synthesizes all that has come before (The snippety repetition of Aesthethica, the massive scope and judderiness of The Ark Work, the broad orchestrations of H.A.Q.Q.) with a deep philosophical aim: namely, an interrogation of the divine. Let’s be frank: this is a set-up for an absolute disaster. This had the potential to be unbearably bloated, soulless, too long, and overly experimental. Doom’s knives were out. And yet, despite it all, there is something here. Something original and important. 93696 isn’t perfect, but despite the odds, it is an album that anyone with an experimental bone in their body should be dedicating some time to.


The great success of 93696 is that, in contrast to previous Liturgy efforts, it makes you feel. Despite the brainy philosophizing, despite the winks and tricks, it is primarily an album you’ll navigate with your soul. Once you wrap your head around Hunt-Hendrix’s musical language, it’s also not overly impenetrable or mysterious. Yes, there are shrieks and crescendos, dissonance and repetition, but the album is generous (especially on the second half) and surprisingly tender. A full gamut of musical styles is traversed, from jittery tremolo-picking (“Djennaration), to stomping melodies (“Caela”), to proggy experimentation (“Haelegen II”). In between the fury, gentle and moving interludes show Liturgy’s tender side. What ties this all together is a broad musical vision that makes 93696 moving and profound, if you open your heart and brain to it. The songs here flesh out some of the sketchiness of previous albums, providing heft where The Ark Work and Aesthethica felt weightless. The production, by the legendary Steve Albini, does a fine job of ensuring the chaotic instrumentation doesn’t become one big smear.

What holds 93696 back is as banal as it predictable. This thing is too long. 80 minutes of Liturgy is too much Liturgy. Hunt-Hendrix’s high yelps are fine in small doses, but ultimately begin to grate. Many of the longer tracks could have been pared back without losing their immediacy or impact. I get that this is a grand statement, but I found my enjoyment dramatically increased by splitting it into 2 and having a cup of tea at the halfway point.

If you’re a Liturgy hater, you will likely despise 93696. It’s chock-full of all the things that irritated you in the first place. But if you’re either new to the band, or fell off at The Ark Work, you should give 93696 a go. It’s deeply ambitious and, despite its flaws, succeeds far more often than it fails. It’s Liturgy (finally) reaching their full potential, however. If you keep an open mind and stick with it, you’ll find some of the best, most interesting metal you’ve heard all year. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear something truly transcendental (I did). That doesn’t happen very often, and it’s worth making 80 minutes for 93696.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Thrill Jockey Records
Websites:  |
Released Worldwide: March 24th, 2023

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