Who Are…Liturgy

Seth Colter Walls

By Seth Colter Walls

on 05.12.11 in Who Is...?s

File under: European Black Metal meets American Post-Minimalism (with hints of other classical music currents)

For fans of: Krallice, Rhys Chatham, Iannis Xenakis, and Richard Wagner

From: Brooklyn

Personae: Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (guitar, vox), Bernard Gann (guitar), Tyler Dusenbury (bass), Greg Fox (drums)



These are cynical times in the culture industry — so much so that, when a metal band from Brooklyn starts talking about transcendentalism and William Blake, your first response might be to process it all as a massive piss-take. But there's a sensible, sincere explanation. Turns out, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix was lured away from his composition studies in college by black metal's serious profile — one that's practically impervious to post-modern meta-snark. If you wanted to posit a new and authentic revolution for counterculture music, that form is as good a starting point as any. Add a healthy dose of other musically rebellious traditions from the last century's avant-garde, and bam: you've got Post-Minimalist Metal. So long as you're not wedded to strict genre constraints on either side, Liturgy might just seem like the next great leap forward in extreme music.

Hunt-Hendrix spoke with eMusic's Seth Colter Walls about the group's evolution on the way to their second full length, Aesthethica, and how he reacts to critics who think his conceptual shtick is too pretentious by half.

On the goals of "transcendental black metal":

Black metal in itself is this kind of rock music that is much larger than rock. It has references that resound with all these cosmic concerns and questions. Transcendental black metal uses the form of black metal to reawaken the original impulse of the American counterculture, which runs further back from [Allen] Ginsberg and Henry Miller back to William Blake and their ideas of liberating desirous forces. And this idea of hoping for some kind of fundamental rupture by using rock music in a way that is vital, serious and life-affirming.

On the evolution of the "burst beat", a gradually accelerating and decelerating augmentation of black metal's steady "blast beat":

I've had that idea since our first EP five years ago. It took a long time for [Greg and me] to communicate how it would exactly work. I'm not a drummer, you know? At this point our communication is clear enough that in a way; Greg has a whole array of tools for doing the specific things that once were more abstract requests. We actually have a syntax of it more solidified now. Renihilation (the band's 2009 debut full-length) had to be so short because it was so monochromatic. Everything was exactly the same song, in a way. This record is twice as long, and I took a lot more time with the composing.

On the influence of classical composers:

[With "Generation"], I actually cannibalized a piece I originally wrote for chamber ensemble. It's like a John Adams piece — this minimalist thing. So that's actually a really old thing from when I was studying composition. After officially turning to metal, I just found a way to work that into the band. There is a parallel between [European black metal and Liturgy] and the relationship between the European avant-garde and "total serialism" on the one hand, and this kind of American minimalism tradition that was kind of bursting apart all the rules against using tonality and things like that.

Post-minimalism and post-romanticism are also key in terms of ideas and music. [Alexander] Scriabin especially. Also [Richard] Wagner. Because post-romanticism was aware of the use of harmony to really map onto emotions and touch the cosmic well, too. Götterdämmerung is very, very extreme! I'm also into the more contemporary European avant-garde, like [Iannis] Xenakis and [György] Ligeti. Our music is tonal and we write songs and they don't — but the "burst beat" really comes from something like Xenakis or Ligeti. What you hear on our record are flooding textures with patterns emerging. Ultimately it's in that kind of urgent drone, I think, where their influence is.

On cynicism and the "pretentiousness" critique:

Yeah, a lot of people have that reaction. I think that's a symptom of the problem with the music that's being published; that people think it's fundamentally pretentious to invoke other forms of music or the other arts. It's like the world is so specialized that people can't really see that these things are really connected.

I don't think the counterculture is in a very good place. At one time it was a utopian political, almost apocalyptic movement. And today, bands in the American counterculture are pretty cynical about what they're doing. I'm aware what I'm saying is contrary to what a lot of musicians might say. But I'm sort of into that. There's a certain basic courage that I really try to hang onto, of just wanting to do something great. And not apologizing for that or being ashamed of it. I think it's awesome when artists of any kind try to make something as awesome as they can.

On the potential for crossing over to a non-metal audience:

I'd be fine crossing over into the mainstream if it were realistic. I would love for as many people to hear and appreciate this as possible. I think where I'm writing the music from…I want to appeal to the universal part of every person. In theory it should just hit you and you shouldn't need any references to get the experience. And I don't like subcultures or scenes. I don't want to make music for one particular elite of any kind.