liturgy

Liturgy gets operatic with "Origin of the Alimonies"

If Freidrich Nietzsche were somehow alive today he would conceivably be the biggest metalhead in your local university’s philosophy department for there is no other musical genre in existence that so clearly and ably illustrates his theory of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. When it comes to the latter, heavy metal has long been notorious for its Dionysian side due to popular associations with primordial urges, raw power, and a fixation on subjects like madness and sex and unbound chaos. But equally true, if less acknowledged, is that metalheads are often unabashedly nerdy--enter the Apollonian side of the equation--and just as fixated on control and mastery and order as on sheer anarchic energy with said control expressed through disciplined instrumental and vocal mastery, elaborate lyrical conceits and album concepts, and a tendency to adhere to established conventions whether in death/doom/black/thrash/glam/power/prog metal at least until the next musical leap forward.

Speaking of philosophical concepts and musical leaps forward is perhaps as good way as any to introduce Liturgy’s latest release, a literal “rock opera” titled Origin of the Alimonies. Led by Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Liturgy established themselves out of the gate with their 2008 debut LP Renihilation (the title a neologism for the countervailing and balancing force to “annihilation”). By the time their widely lauded but also widely debated follow-up Aesthethica was released in 2011, Hunt-Hendrix had composed an elaborate manifesto on "Transcendental Black Metal" written for an academic symposium, granted one held in a nightclub and bar. This intellectualized approach to metal ruffled more than a few feathers, while the band itself stood accused of being “Brooklyn hipsters" by many in the ruffled-feathers contingent. So yeah there were some big words and big ideas in effect, and a sculpted beard or two in evidence, but does it really stop the rock? The music they put out and live footage from the time strongly indicates otherwise.

Fast forward nearly ten years and Liturgy has doubled down, maybe more like quintupled down, on their ambitious approach by releasing an album that comes accompanied with multiple YouTube lectures covering an assortment of musical, philosophical, and cosmogonical concepts relating to their new music with the promise of an accompanying full-on opera soon to follow. Building on their surprise 2019 release H.A.Q.Q., Origin of the Alimonies features a chamber ensemble playing strings and woodwinds, church organ and harp, that's just as heavily featured as the musicians in Liturgy. 

The notion of a religiously-themed opera couched in Lacanian psychoanalysis and Deleuzian philosophical concepts being released by a band that's in any way associated with black metal will come as a surprise to your average man on the street (gender choice deliberate) who likely associates the genre with church burnings and the physical desecration of deceased bandmates. The book Lords of Chaos has a lot to do with the familiarity of these images, based on some undeniably sensational real-life events, which have since sedimented into stereotype. But for a smaller group of initiates the music of Liturgy is in keeping with a New Wave of Experimental Heavy Metal (a clever play on NWOBHM) and the queering of metal and its boundaries advocated by Hunt-Hendrix and some others. 


Whatever one's perspective it's hard to deny that the music of Origin of the Alimonies effectively balances out its Apollonian conceptual grounding with some seriously Dionysian furor--as much in the quiet bits as in the guttural howling and seismic burst-beats which are Liturgy's version of blast beats. In its overture section Origin starts off not unlike that other staged musical work that got a riot going on with its depiction of "primitive" human origins, namely Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Both these works open with a vulnerable sounding solo woodwind (flute for Origin, bassoon for Rite) that's soothing for about a second but quickly becomes uneasy with its sense of lonely, aimless wondering. And then more unnerving still as more instruments enter the picture adding layers of tension-generating dissonance and you can just tell something "wicked" this way comes. 

And indeed it does when Liturgy enters the fray and by the beginning of the third track “Lonely OIOION” (you’ll have to watch those YouTube videos if you want to understand the titles, or just wait for the debut of the opera itself) we’re off to the races. Again this feels like a parallel to The Rite and the "Augurs of Spring" section in particular where likewise a few minutes into the ballet the whole thing gets blown wide open, and it does actually sound like an early 20th-century orchestral equivalent to blast beats. This is where the Parisians started really losing their shit supposedly and it didn't help that the dancers were stomping around like rabid orgy goers forming an ballerino/ballerina mosh pit on stage.


 

By the time the dust settles on Origin of the Alimonies you’ll have heard everything from violins played with screwdrivers to a very angry demon baby playing a piano (admittedly I'm taking some stabs in the dark here) to a trap music beat to a free-jazzy-ish interlude to a glitching CD player (neat trick since there’s no CD player in sight) to a fourteen-minute piano-and-metal-band adaptation of a work written for cathedral organ by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1932 (talk about literal heavy metal heh-heh-heh, sorry). In other words this opera is a great deal of fun despite the seriousness. And I figure God up in Heaven is grateful He’s finally got something new and kick-ass to listen to meaning that He can finally get rid of that Stryper cassette that's been stuck in His Walkman for the past several decades. 

One final note regarding the quite striking cover image to Origin of the Alimonies (strategically cropped in the YouTube video above) which is in keeping with the theme of binaries and their subversion in heavy metal and in life in general. This is best expressed in the words of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix herself as taken from a recent Instagram post alongside the uncensored album image in which she addresses the process of actualizing and ultimately presenting as transgender: “I came to terms with my gender over the past five years in part through the somewhat torturous development of this piece, and I was only able to turn it into an album and put vocals on it upon deciding I could play the role of the female protagonist. That’s the importance of having exposed breasts on the cover.” 

When one considers that the music of Alimonies is only one element of the overall Gesamtkunstwerk still to be unveiled, you had better prepare to have your mind blown all over again... (Jason Lee)

   

Shop Talk to deliver high energy punk at Cake Shop 9/16

"Punk-Rock" is one of my favorite adjectives, in particular when preceded by the word "very." It helps me describe in a fun way otherwise gross scenarios (the constant influx of garbage entering my car, the shoes I wear with holes in the sole). This gritty aesthetic is something I've held near and dear to my heart since high school. The trap of listening to a lot of punk music though is that, after a while, it gets damn near impossible to yield to those primary principles that separate the punks from the poseurs, without like a thousands other bands. It becomes easy to get lost wondering just what punk should sound like in 2016.  Well, I'm going to lobby for something like Shop Talk.  Formed by members from both Liturgy and the Pygmy Shrews, the band delivers a sound that's so immediately compelling that I was smitten from the first jagged riff on their EP s/t. Shop Talk is dirty, catchy, and threatens to burst at the seams any second. Check them out at Cake Shop supporting Sleepies and Joey Sprinkles on September 16th.-Olivia Sisinni