Will The Drinkery even still be standing by the time Liturgy is done with it? Does the venue have a contingency plan for the third day of Midpoint Music Festival after Liturgy demolishes their sound system? Will there be an unshattered eardrum remaining? Only time will tell. Liturgy’s Midpoint appearance marks their second show together as a quartet since 2011, welcoming drummer Greg Fox and bassist Tyler Dusenbury back to the fold, and it’s hard to say what the performance will bring. They are a self-termed “transcendental black metal” band, and their music is delivered at full speed over unstable ground, tempos and time signatures switching at a breakneck pace.
In interviews, singer/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has mentioned being interested in pursuing rap metal “in a context that’s very different from what we know of as rap metal from the ’90s” as he moves forward on a new record, and he’s also discussed (without detail) a new technique called “integrated tremolo.” Taken together, these bring to mind Death Grips via My Bloody Valentine, but will surely manifest itself as something completely different. Rest assured, no matter what happens with the setlist, it’ll be heavy.
Liturgy’s last record, 2011’s Aesthetica, was a sprawling (overly so, perhaps), pummeling monster, difficult to digest in one sitting. They get a lot of mileage out of jackhammering away at a single chord, and take this to an extreme on “Generation,” which stays on the same notes for seven minutes, varying only the tone and rhythm. Beautifully wrought intros give way to pummeling syncopated . Hunt-Hendrix’s voice is like steel wool, tangled, abrasive, but ultimately porous. His shriek is not delivered with the force some black metal vocalists use, rising and falling unnervingly and, seemingly, effortlessly. It’s kept low in the mix, right on the same level as the guitars, with a slight reverb, and you can hear the air escaping his lungs as much as the shrieked lyrics.
Liturgy’s music has its fair share of detractors in the black metal community. Chris Grigg (lead singer of Philadelphia’s Woe) wrote “you are an outsider wearing some (just some) of black metal’s skin” as part of a lengthy open letter to Hunt-Hendrix. The latter’s eloquent (and even lengthier) response laid out his artistic mission: “[B]lack metal's virtue is that it can, using a combination of history, sound, and audacity, activate a connection to a sort of transcendental field, the perennial occult, the Absolute.” He continues, “Our music is neither aimed at any particular niche audience, like the ‘metal community,’ nor the widest possible audience - it is simply the product of an intense urge, and it is directed in principle to anyone, generically.” Hunt-Hendrix is not guiltless in stoking the fires of this particular navel-gazing battle over authenticity, but when he plugs in and turns up, the results are pretty astounding.
Liturgy’s music is not for everyone; it is, if anything, emotionally exhausting, but also immensely rewarding. Midpoint has booked a truly outstanding lineup of metal artists this year. Topping a Friday Drinkery bill that includes stoner rockers All Them Witches, Denver’s psych-metal Across Tundras, and Cincinnati’s own Old City, Liturgy’s loud reign over OTR won’t soon be forgotten.