A one-time lightning rod for black-metal scene politics after they dispatched a manifesto at an academic conference and released an album on an indie-rock label, Brooklyn art-metal band Liturgy have returned with 57 minutes of immersive, ecstatic experimental rock that almost defies genre. While the churning ice-pick guitars and blastbeat drums of black metal are still a launching point on third album The Ark Work, Liturgy are infusing them with so much more: microtonal drones like Master Musicians of Joujouka, the glitchy electronic twitches of artists like Oval, the triplet flows of Southern rap, the mathy syncopation of Meshuggah, the uncanny valley production of Oneohtrix Point Never and, yes, even glockenspiel.
You can make out all of that of that in “Reign Array,” The Ark Work‘s 10-minute-and-27-second opus that vocalist-guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix thinks of as “a microcosm of the rest of the record.” To premiere the track, we caught up with the genre-crosser in Brooklyn to learn more.
A recent interview in metal-purist mag Decibel seemed to be baiting you a little with its questions. Why do you even bother with the press cycle if it’s going to be like this?
[Laughs] First of all, I’m hoping that this cycle is less controversial than the last cycle; and I feel like that’s possible because I think that the album is weird enough, in a way, that no one’s gonna mistake it for something that it’s not. . . I mean, I like talking about the music, I see the relationship to the press and the music industry as something that I want to be mindful of for the total process. And it’s risky, but sometimes it goes really well [laughs]. But, maybe it’d be better if I didn’t do interviews — I’m not totally sure.
How do you feel like the cycle’s been treating you so far?
We’ll just have to see. On the one hand, the Internet loves controversy; on the other hand, I think this music is really original and very deliberate about making it original. It’s not like “accidentally” original. I’ve read about what happens when original things come out, people get mad for a while, so maybe that’s OK.
The controversy of the last record was sort of where you fit into black metal, and this record is removed from that in a lot of ways.
I think this record is still connected to black metal: It has the guitar-playing style and the drumming style. I kind of think of it as using black metal as a vessel for combining all these other styles of music from different times in history and different cultures. Kind of like putting them into a black metal cauldron and stirring them and then producing something that doesn’t sound eclectic and it has a synthesis. And that’s really important to me — the alchemy of arriving at a synthetic place. It’s very important for me to cohere. But also for it to be “synthetic” in the other sense of the word, too. That’s kind of a new thing for this record — there’s this “real versus fake” dichotomy?
The horns sound kind of fake on it — sort of the Oneohtrix Point Never orchestra-hit vibe.
Yeah. So there are real horns on the record and there are fake horns. There’s real and fake strings, there’s real and fake bagpipes. There’s a mix of both and there was something that was attractive to me about that, knowing that most people would hear the record on the Internet…. The world is really changing and there’s something really interesting to me about virtuality and how to incorporate virtuality into the organic.
So many of your themes are about transcendence, taking off, ascending.
My experience with music, generally, is that music really can literally have the power to heal. I’ve experienced that with certain records or certain performances, and I just want to underscore that aspect of music and to sort of strengthen that possibility as much as possible…. I think it’s something that the chanting does. If you go to some sort of meditation and chant for a couple of hours, then something happens to you. It’s one of the most primordial aspects of what music can be. And It’s not so uncommon — you just have to treat music in a certain way so that it to happen.
What was it like to do the cameo on The Blacklist?
It was crazy because we played the same 30-second clip of our song 20 times in a bar, with a fake audience that kept reacting and cheering once the song was over, over and over again. And there was no stage and no amps, I never lip-synced to my own screaming before. And, I love the way that that turned out. I love that there was just a three-second clip, uncredited, with Peter Fonda. I love things like that.
To sort of become part of pop culture in a miniscule way. It’s a neat victory.
Yeah. I have no idea why that happened.
There wasn’t even like a music supervisor like, “I love you guys”?
Yeah, I have no idea who made the decision or anything. I feel like lots of things happen for a reason, but that thing, there’s no reason [laughs].