Last year, Liturgy created a beacon on the map of black metal with its fourth full-length album, “H.A.Q.Q.” (2019). Many music fans found the record astounding, praising it for its boundary-pushing and experimental approach to metal. The record weaves together elements of classical and glitch, and keeps the listener on their toes at all times. It’s a superb representation of what Liturgy describes as “transcendental black metal.”
Liturgy is the project of singer, songwriter, composer and philosopher Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, who has been a pioneer of music over the past few years. Following the popularity of “H.A.Q.Q.” in 2019, Hunt-Hendrix remained in the metal conversation throughout 2020, following late supporters of the album, and more notably, her announcing her gender affirmation as a woman. Fans knew that this public revelation of self that Hunt-Hendrix had experienced was going to influence her work. And, given the philosophical nature of her work, there was no doubt that this event in her life would cause a deeper and more raw sound emotionally, both through her vocals and instrumental arrangements.
In October, Hunt-Hendrix announced the release of “Origin of the Alimonies” (2020), which came out on Nov. 20. She teased the album as being an opera album, in which she uses art to embody her personal philosophy of the world. Hunt-Hendrix explained her thoughts in a video on her YouTube channel.
“The form of the answer to the question of the origin of all things has to be opera, because words alone … are not adequate to answer the question … It has to be a mythical narrative set to music,” Hunt-Hendrix said.
Almost entirely self-written and composed, this project proved to be an excellent follow-up to one of the most groundbreaking albums of 2019. In the state of her world — and the world in general this year — her emotions are fierce and her orchestration is as sensational as ever on this record.
As opposed to the glitchy synth start of “H.A.Q.Q.,” we get a lone flute ringing in “Origin of the Alimonies” in its first track, “The Separation of HAQQ From HAEL.” Instruments like the violin and trumpet accompany the flute, but the occasional glitches remind the listener that this is a Liturgy album, not a classical one. We also get a reminder of Liturgy’s sound from what Hunt-Hendrix likes to call “burst beats” from drums, along with loud and fast-chugging bass and guitar, creating an incredibly grand change in atmosphere.
At the conclusion of the song, a harp’s plucking strings serve as a heavenly segue into “OIOION’s Birth,” a one-minute, 47-second-long organ song of eerie chords, grinding double bass and an array of miscellaneous orchestral instruments. This is not unlike the three “EXACO” interludes on “H.A.Q.Q.,” nothing but a display of Hunt-Hendrix’s keen ability to create a beautiful yet unsettling environment for her work to thrive in.
“Lonely OIOION” is practically the best taste of Liturgy’s work you can get. A jaw-dropping band performance from drummer Leo Didkovsky, guitarist Bernard Gann and bassist Tia Vincent-Clark, along with Hunt-Hendrix’s powerful screams, make this record staple Liturgy. However, its combination with other layers of glitch and orchestration makes it much more of a work of art than a black metal song. It’s arguably one of Liturgy’s strongest and most complete songs to date. Picking apart this song in particular is an unreal experience. The changing of chord intervals and keys keeps the song from becoming redundant, and each instrument pairs together in a way that any musician has to appreciate. Of course, how else would Hunt-Hendrix want to end the song than with a tranquil flute, trumpet and two harps?
That artistic wonder transitions into “The Fall of SIHEYMN,” a binaural roller coaster of various instruments. Hunt-Hendrix uses microtones in this song, while also electing some notes to play on unusual parts of the instruments. While the track is mostly free-form, it seems almost believable that Hunt-Hendrix would have orchestrated it herself, as nothing in that track seems out of place.
“SIHEYMN’s Lament” is by far one of the most surreal moments in the context of this entire record. Hunt-Hendrix’s screaming and singing are layered over an instrumental mostly following a hip-hop framework for the first portion of the song. The tempo fluctuations and mix of acoustic and artificial sounds are outright dizzying and get more dramatic as the song progresses. Hunt-Hendrix, whether intentional or not, is pushing boundaries in black metal much further than other bands have. While certain subgenres of pop and hip-hop have taken influence from black metal, it’s not terribly often that these genres influence black metal itself.
“Apparition of the Eternal Church” is a 14-minute epic filled with chugging, drumming and nonstop transitions. It’s a reminder of what Liturgy’s music has been known for: incredibly well-orchestrated songs with elements of black metal, classical and experimental music coming together in perfect unity. The song wastes no seconds throughout its runtime as it goes into closing track “The Armistice.” These final four minutes of the album do not turn down the intensity at all, while still serving as a fitting conclusion to such an intense and awesome musical project.
Liturgy will likely deter many listeners, as its loudness and shrillness bring a whole different type of intensity to black metal. Instead of the muddy and dark tones typically found in black metal, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s work is surprisingly bright, while being leagues more intense than a considerable amount of modern black metal. However, if you’re prepared to endure the contents of “Origin of the Alimonies,” you will be amazed by what Hunt-Hendrix brings to the table musically. Yet again, Liturgy has brought one of the most mind-blowing albums of its year.