LITURGY – H.A.Q.Q.
Transcendental black metal/Avant-garde metal
It’s Black Friday, so I thought it might be fun to highlight a black metal album from the year. A sort-of Black Metal Friday if you will. I don’t know, maybe it’ll turn into a thing. Anyway I want to start with a bit of a disclaimer that, in general, I am not really a big black metal fan. I understand it, I know what they’re trying to do, but more often than not the music that comes out of the scene just isn’t for me. So when a black metal album comes around that I actually enjoy, there’s usually something about it that separates it from the norms of the genre (hence why I’m featuring a Liturgy album now).
Now, I know featuring Liturgy at all is going to be controversial to other fans of the genre, but regardless of how you think Liturgy does or doesn’t fit into the realm of black metal, you can’t deny the clear influence that black metal has on the music that they produce. For those that don’t know, Liturgy is an American band based in Brooklyn and fronted by Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. The band’s lyrics and compositions are all built around a transcendental religious ideology that Hunt-Hendrix has developed over the years. A lot of the controversy surrounding Liturgy stems from the heavy-handedness and apparent pretentiousness of this philosophy. I’m not going to try to pretend what it all means, but the end result is some pretty damn good music, so more power to Hunt-Hendrix and his crew for that.
All that being said, H.A.Q.Q. is Liturgy’s fourth album, released digitally on November 12 with no prior announcement. The title is an acronym for Haelegen above Quality and Quantity, which refers back to Hunt-Hendrix’s belief system diagrammed on the cover of the album. Once again, I’m not going to pretend to know what any of that means so let’s just get to the music. Sonically, H.A.Q.Q. sits roughly between the band’s breakout release Aesthethica and their last release, The Ark Work. It’s filled with relentless metal intensity, augmented by classical instruments like strings, harp, and glockenspiel, broken up by piano interludes every eight minutes or so. The electronic influence of The Ark Work shows up in the occasional glitchy interruption. And it all closes with an ambient, droning finale.
Another break from The Ark Work is the absence of clean vocals or the bizarre “chanting” from some of it’s tracks. Most, if not all, lyrics are delivered in a harsh, black metal style. The album flows incredibly well. While you might think the piano interludes might disrupt the flow, they actually enhance it, serving as palate cleansers or relatively calm respites before going back into the intensity. And the metal tracks on this album are really, really intense. The album’s closer is brilliant because, while still technically harsh, provides almost an introspective release, allowing you to process the journey you just completed.
There’s only a couple negative things I can say about this album and they’re both really subjective. The primary one is a point that goes with any kind of avant-garde or experimental music: it’s not going to be for everyone. There’s no denying that this is a very challenging listen, and even though I think it’s great, it’s not an album that I’m just going to put on to listen for fun. The second is even more subjective and that’s the fact that Liturgy does not fit into the aesthetic or themes of black metal at all. Now, that’s 100% intentional on the part of the band, but if that’s something really important to you, you probably won’t be into this.
Overall, H.A.Q.Q. is a very impressive, but challenging piece of heavy music. Liturgy continues to push the boundaries and expectations of black metal as well as refining their own implementation of black metal as a transcendental medium. It is easily one of the band’s best releases, and while it might not be for everybody, you can’t deny that it is an incredibly well crafted collection of tracks.