Long before I was a Cerebral Metalhead, I went through an obsessive Sonic Youth phase. Back then, as now, my favorite Sonic Youth track was "Theresa's Sound-world" from Dirty (1992). With its crescendos of criss-crossing, dual tremolo guitars and blastbeats, that song seems to reach some elevated plane, where music ceases to exist as something to be heard and judged and instead accesses some fiery realm where all is sound and light and power.
Sonic Youth - "Theresa's Sound-world"
I thought of that song as I read this quote from Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, main man of Brooklyn's Liturgy. It's from an interview he did for a recent Pitchfork "Show No Mercy" column. This particular reference was about the cover art for Liturgy's last EP, Immortal Life:
"(It) is supposed to represent transcendence, which for us means an ecstatic encounter with the present; a violent, apocalyptic, cosmic joy. And a shattering of ego."
That's exactly what it feels like to listen to "Theresa's Sound-world." And given Thurston Moore's professed love of black metal, perhaps it's no coincidence that I get that same feeling from Weakling, Wolves In the Throne Room, Krallice and now Liturgy. All of these bands make majestic, tension-filled black metal, unafraid of combining violence with trembling beauty, the separate parts of which smear into a messy and often quite beautiful gestalt. I couldn't begin to guess what it is about in-the-red tremolo and relentlessly pounded drums that unlocks the spirit realm for me.
Liturgy - "Ecstatic Rite"
Liturgy access that place with tooth and claw, forcing open the doors with an elemental bag of tricks. Two electric guitars, picked at hummingbird speeds, spiraling in and out of conventional harmonies. Tension and release, mostly tension. The guitar sound is thin but textured (thanks, Colin Marston), an homage to early Ulver. Slower parts reveal bass-like sound, but it's ghost-like, nearly undetectable -- it could just be a trick of the overtones, or nothing at all. Howled vocals are almost completely whitewashed.
Liturgy - "Beyond the Magic Forest"
Greg Fox's drumming still floors me, ten listens in, because it sounds more like the extreme free jazz of Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun than metal. Fox's barely-controlled clattering dominates the landscape, crashing through in huge washes. You can feel the impact of wood against skin and metal. Even in the superhuman canon of black metal drumming, this is technically amazing stuff. Every piece of Fox's kit seems to be hit all at once. And it probably is: he's using just a kick, snare and two crash cymbals for that giant tsunami of sound.
Liturgy - " - "
I could see someone conducting Liturgy live, sculpting their unhinged washes to resolve only when it feels right. At full-force, Liturgy sound like they're doing that for themselves. Renihilation threatens to slide off the rails into pure abstraction, but it never does. The songs are completely tonal; pretty guitar melodies and counter-melodies frequently poke out of the morass. And when everything unifies for the mammoth riffs on "Ecstatic Rite" and "Beyond the Magic Forest," the effect is even more cathartic for the chaos that preceded it. A series of untitled interludes, mostly wordless vocal incantations underpinned by looped guitar drones, create the quiet, (dare I say it) liturgical space out of which this music erupts. It's another indication of the control that Liturgy have over their chaos.