Review Summary: When horrible, horrible people make good music.
"One could propose a new meaning for black metal along with a new
array of techniques to activate that meaning. The meaning of
Transcendental Black Metal is Affirmation, and its new technique is
the Burst Beat."
Lead guitarist and vocalist of Liturgy, Hunter-Hendrix, is that guy. You know, the one who somehow wormed his way into your group of friends, taking everything way too seriously. Any sort of gay joke has them almost pleading in their assertion of being straight and any sort of potty humor is met with a smug look to the sky with their nose and chin telling you they are above that kind of thing. That guy.
You see, Liturgy are hellbent on proving that they are above the genre that they've planted roots in. Someone must have told them that they were an interesting take on black metal or something; at least, that's what I hope. Like the gay jokes earlier, Liturgy do not take these allegations lightly. In fact, Hunter-Hendrix wrote an entire manifesto in order to prove otherwise. In Transcendental Black Metal, Hunter-Hendrix insists that Liturgy are just that. Rather than being grouped into a void of stagnation and pointless depression -which is his view on black metal- he makes up a genre that really only changes the intent.
The whole ideology reads like a freshman's philosophy paper that happened to overuse large words from a thesaurus. It's annoying, temped, and, quite frankly, ***ing stupid. Black Metal is known for its ridiculousness: some in the form of burning churches, others in the form of bloated ideologies. Ironically, as is always the case with hipsters, Liturgy fall into the latter genre staple. Needless to say, these guys aren't going to win any fans over from giving interviews. As a matter of fact, a quick search for “Liturgy interview” on YouTube nets you the douchiest, most pretentious interview I've ever seen (keep in mind that this is metal too), with nearly all votes being negative.
Lucky for them, their music happens to be pretty good. Even though they deny being a part of black metal (myspace.com/nybm what?), Liturgy's style of music clearly belongs under that umbrella. There's tremolo picking; there are shrieks; there are unrelenting drums. However, it would be remiss to say that there isn't anything fresh to be found within Aesthetica. Don't get me wrong, Hunter-Hendrix is still full of ***, but asides from being assholes and a few 'beginner' mistakes, Liturgy is definitely a band to keep your ear on.
Perhaps the most obvious and unique trait to Liturgy's brand on non-black metal are the almost math-rock tendencies. It's not Tera Melos' effortless dance of moving up and down the fret board, but Aesthetica contains many of that genre's stop-start rhythmic sections to create a refreshingly powerful assault. Tracks like 'Returner' and 'Generation' make excellent use of this unique blend to create something that is both unrelenting and, dare I say, groovy. 'Generation' is also one of the few instrumentals found on here and it highlights pretty much all of the positive aspects of the band. They have an amazing talent in being able to create interesting rhythms with downright epic chord progressions with lots of repetition but none of the tediousness.Seriously, there are some jaw-dropping moments on the record to be had: the aforementioned tracks, “Bronze Glory”, and “Harmonia” all do a great job of creating memorable black metal tunes that you might want to show that friend of yours who's jizzing over Bon Iver or something.
And the drumming. Oh god, the drumming. I still hold my doubts over whether or not the 'burst beat' will revolutionize the genre, but Greg Fox is one hell of a drummer. Rather than performing blast beats ad-nauseum like most black metal bands, his fills and beats feel organic, creative, and unrelenting. The math-y sections feel appropriately disorienting, but the tremolo riffs are surrounded by organic, building snare rolls and well executed increases and pauses in tempo. He might not be the greatest drummer in the metal scene, but his performance on here is definitely worth recognizing.
Then there's the negative aspects of Aesthetica. For one, there are some downright awful decisions found on here: the intro to the first track is a little grating; “Helix Skull” seems to be only present to prove that someone in the band can use Fruity Loops; and the chanting is head-scratchingly misplaced. I actually laughed when I heard the penultimate “Glass Earth” from how unnecessary it was, sounding like an unholy union of your high school fire alarm and ...monks. While the majority of the record is solid, songs like “Sun of Light” fail to ignite any sort of emotion and come off as filler. Also, Hunter-Hendrix's vocal aren't special, I guess.
Musically, Liturgy are on the right path. They are a young band with room to grow (this is only their second LP) and the quality, for the most part, is up there. It's 'hype' that people are going to have to get through: yes, Liturgy are pretentious douchenozzles; no, this is not the best album ever. However, writing them off is almost unfair because there is something worth listening to in Aesthetica. This very well may be the most unique variation of black metal in recent memory. While their sophomore effort reaches impressive heights, transcendence is still a long ways away.