Review Summary: Experimentation in a duality between creative heights and massive lows.
Any band that describes itself as “transcendental black metal” will be sure to raise a few eyebrows among purists of the genre. Liturgy’s frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and many of his questionable comments are more than enough to quickly be dismissed by fans as trying too hard to create controversy. With the group’s third release The Ark Work
, they have fully succeeded in doing just that. Critics and fans alike are completely divided, with some declaring the album as the next step for black metal, and others abhorring nearly every aspect of it, including the aforementioned declarations by Hunt-Hendrix. It is important to keep in mind here that a band’s philosophies and subsequent fan reactions are not what an album itself should be judged on. This is true especially for The Ark Work
, mainly because there is almost no aspects of black metal present. Hunt-Hendrix’s opinions about the genre he supposedly plays lower in relevance with every album Liturgy makes, as each has moved farther and farther away from any genre of metal, and closer to a strange amalgamation of lo-fi glitch and experimental math rock. The layers of sound can even be seen as having influences in shoegazing. The only aspect that is remotely close to embodying metal’s spirit is the drum performance, and even that would be a stretch. Polyrhythmic drum patterns, off kilter beats, and at times blast beats are utilized and end up being the most impressive aspects of the album overall.
Tracks like album opener “Fanfare” and “Kel Valhaal” make use of a wide range of instruments, including horns, bagpipes, and various electronic noises. Noise is an accurate term to depict how The Ark Work
sounds, as even its fervent defenders will describe it as such. Songs will repeat the same droning, dense layerings of instrumentals and melodies for minutes on end. This trend can get irritating, though also succeeds in providing a hypnotic, bizarre listening experience at times. Repetition is a delicate aspect to deal with, and if not used the right way, can turn any song into a chore to listen to. Many of these tracks have that unfortunate problem, making the listening experience that much more unpleasant and frustrating at times. Liturgy’s newfound focus on an experimental brand of glitch, electronic, and droning noise is certainly an interesting and different feat to attempt, and produces some compelling results within tracks like lead single “Quetzalcoatl.” The vocals are overall hit-and-miss, wailing and moaning for a bizarrely dramatic and emotional effect. Hunt-Hendrix is seemingly content with filling every song with the most monotone, howling sounds he can. When these vocal styles are performed over rapidly off kilter drumming and beautifully strange guitar melodies, it makes for an absorbing yet off-putting listening experience, for better or worse, depending on if you’re into that sort of thing.
The meat of the album’s sound is unfortunately drowned out in an unfortunate production and mixing job, muddying the shimmering guitar sounds and heavenly melodies, and even the drumming at times, where the album shines. Album epic “Reign Array” features a wonderfully absorbing tremolo guitar picking melody that alternates with other harmonies and experimentations before repeating again at just the right moment toward the end, showing off the band’s compositional skills perfectly. Unfortunately, the album begins to feel monotonous by the time “Vitriol” and album closer “Total War” follow it. While being as solid as anything else on The Ark Work
, the return to heavy repetition and the still grating vocals outstay the effect. With too many songs relying on one singular idea to carry them through the entire time, some trimming could have done the album wonders. Overall, The Ark Work
takes ambitious ideas like repetition, experimentation, and droning in service of new and interesting ideas and experimentations. They also yield repetitive, irritating results as well, with strange decisions made that could have been easily avoided in favor of an incredible result. What Liturgy has presented with The Ark Work
remains even more frustrating and disappointing because their ambition and attempts to experiment and reinvent themselves with each album is a trait that more bands should follow. It’s unfortunate that their execution ends up only half successful, with plenty of memorable and worthwhile material among monotonous mumblings of a confused frontman and a fair amount of relentlessly directionless noise.