Review Summary: The Vermin Supreme of the music world has returned.
Liturgy has and always will be divisive. The earlier releases of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix's 'transcendental black metal' project, Liturgy, were overlooked by many at the time. 2011 saw Liturgy release 'Aesthetica' which was taken far more seriously and positively by many mainstream critics while simultaneously dividing opinions in extreme metal circles. Aesthetica demanded respect as an otherwise well-rounded offering however many black metal purists were (and some still are) disgusted by its association with black metal. Then came The Ark Work in 2015 which had most people scratching their head, even more so after listening to 'Quetzalcoatl' which was released as a single in advance.
Often, criticism was aimed at the eclectic Hunt-Hendrix himself and the labeling of Liturgy as 'black metal' as opposed to the music of Liturgy in and of itself. H.A.Q.Q. is no different in that it continues to be dripping with Hunt-Hendrix's enigmatic personality which may deter some already frustrated by his antics (and his rap game). However for those who take Liturgy for what it is musically, H.A.Q.Q. is an incredibly solid release which continues Liturgy's tinkering with the idea of what black metal is and what it can be.
At first listen, H.A.Q.Q. is fairly rudimentary in terms of composition. Each song is fast paced, aggressive, and jarring without compromising the continuity of its repetition. Most songs are fleshed out with sections of clean tremolo picking and tight blast-beats with variation provided only through Hunt-Hendrix's pained wailing and guitar work. These sections are provided relief by jarring transitions to more rhythmically varied parts which continue the theme of repetition that otherwise defines the broader release. The opening track 'HAJJ' lays this bare and up front with its audience highlighting the components that make Liturgy what it authentically is and hopefully will be for the rest of H.A.Q.Q.
In some cases such as 'PASAQALIA' Liturgy unexpectedly throw away the typical 'transcendental black metal' idea and take on a more jarring and slow approach akin to running a mile covered in mud. These variations found in H.A.Q.Q. that seem to break the successful mould that Liturgy imposes on itself demonstrate Hunt-Hendrix's ability to successfully experiment with their sound in a way that is consistent with the bands repertoire. This is a stark and more mature approach Liturgy has taken in H.A.Q.Q. that is distinctly different than some of the more poorly received experimentation previously found in 'The Ark Work'.
A slew of more angelic sounding instruments are integrated across H.A.Q.Q. which at times truly gives an impression of what Liturgy is as an extension of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix's spiritual belief system. Bells, chimes, harps, violins, glockenspiel, vibraphone, and clean vocals give each song a strangely delightful dynamic. 'GOD OF LOVE' is the standout in this respect and provides an incredibly varied assortment of instruments and sounds that combine into something truly unique.
While H.A.Q.Q is a collection of well-mastered and sonically impressive long-hauls of the aggression that is authentically Liturgy, there are frustrating elements to H.A.Q.Q.There are frequent, strangely timed and placed audio effects that are made to sound like glitches across the entire release. These serve almost no purpose and have no relation to any other element found within H.A.Q.Q. The majority of songs are consistent in how they are presented and these audio 'glitches' do nothing to further the spiritual journey that Liturgy attempts to bring you on. Unless there are glitches in heaven, hell, or wherever it is that Hunt-Hendrix will find himself, these odd interruptions disrupt the otherwise consistent sounds of the release and take away from the speed and high notes that are typical.
The softness of the EXACO tracks, I, II, and III are also frustrating additions to H.A.Q.Q. These tracks are mostly softer pieces with piano, electronic, bells, and other instruments are devoid of the pace which H.A.Q.Q. sets and go on for just long enough that it wears on the excitement of the other tracks.
H.A.Q.Q. is indeed a journey and one that plenty of people will love to hate purely from the eclectic and pretentious nature of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. H.A.Q.Q. should not be obscured by the enigma of Hunt-Hendrix as it is a genuinely well thought out chaotic slog.