Review Summary: Be not afraid
The ugly truth at the heart of Lingua Ignota, Kristin Hayter's former moniker, served as a grim explanation for the dark sound of the project. Ostensibly an industrial/ classical venture (although heavily influenced by gospel music), the trauma that made up an extreme portion of its influence bled through genre constraints like blood through a dress shirt, and culminated as a vicious rendering of beauty and discordancy, awash with gothic energy. Although her releases under this label were heavily weighted by the oppressive blackness of its thematic overtone, the newly ordained Rev. Hayter has a far more shimmery scythe to sharpen, and, much like Lingua Ignota, it shares in Hayter's formative musical influence from her childhood. Through her newly established Perpetual Flame Ministries label, Hayter forges a link between the tumult of her previous persona, and the breaking dawn of her new venture. Sharing a common religious theme, SAVED! is nonetheless a departure from her former sound; the blunt traumatic edge has been heavily pumiced and the religious focus is now one of exaltation rather than divine fear. The vintage gospel style is far more pronounced, and the artificial aging within the production captures both a bygone era and a bygone attitude toward religious fortitude. However, there is a clear throughline that runs through all of Hayter's projects, and if SINNER GET READY was the cataclysmic event to shake the foundations, SAVED! is the emergence of new light bursting forth from the clouds following a raging thunderstorm. The clouds may still be grey and there is a definite thrum of thunder rumbling within the earth, but finally, there is light. Hallelujah, there is light.
Growing up, Hayter sang in her local church choir, and this experience continues to play a crucial role in her output, both structurally and vocally. SAVED! is a beautifully presented collection, and serves as a continuation to the macabre, gothic reverence already established in the artist’s career, as well as being a worthy standalone and wholly new musical beginning. Hayter’s husky, deceptively agile voice transmits authority and seriousness throughout the 46 minute selection, but unlike her previous work, this stoicism is offset by the uplifting tone of the thematic content. Moreover, there is a stark contrast between the lyrical optimism and the musical ugliness on display, and this serves to emphasize the sense of confusion and anxiety so prevalent in matters of theology and personal faith. The duality of these aspects within the music highlights the beauty on a surface level, but teases the listener with the disquieting reality lurking just beneath; 'PRECIOUS LORD TAKE MY HAND' and 'I KNOW HIS BLOOD CAN MAKE ME WHOLE’ are prime examples of this. The latter utilises clean piano notes but pairs them with audible hammer strikes on the piano strings every time the keys are hit, creating a layered, mechanical trill that underscores the pleasantness and simplicity of the surface sound, and adds a disquieting texture to its classical core. Similarly, the use of feedback hisses, mic pops and crowd engagement novelties add a technical sense of antiquity and thus pseudo-profundity to the project, and these are well considered and appropriate to the record’s tone. Sometimes extreme, sometimes subdued, but always thoughtfully implemented and with a relevancy to the composition at hand, the touches are artful, daring and serve the record's themes with exceptional grace.
Musically the release teeters between corrupted classical ballads and jaunty, countrified knee-slappers, and as bizarre as this combination sounds, there is a definite consistency when considered alongside the album’s religious preoccupations and the history inherent in the associated music. Unlike the Lingua Ignota project, a great many of the songs here feature recognisable, if mangled, song structures and as a result are far more digestible than much of Hayter’s previous work. Let this not suggest that SAVED! is an easy ride, however. The classical elements, although genuinely beautiful, have undeniably disturbing underpinnings, both musically and in their production. The mixing on 'MAY THIS COMFORT AND PROTECT YOU' takes an elegant, gorgeous composition and turns it into an assaultive, troubling experience, equal parts beseeching and stricken as it asserts warmth through a wringer of tense discomfort. The dynamic volume shifts on this cut accentuate the humanity at the core of its writing, both as an ideal and a focal point, and keeps the hymnal piety grounded by attributing it the realism of human imperfections through the off-kilter mixing. It’s one of many clever touches throughout SAVED! that marries the overarching concept with Hayter as an individual, and gives the content a startling amount of depth because of it. The repeated cry of,
'I just touched the hem!'
on 'I KNOW HIS BLOOD CAN MAKE ME WHOLE', alludes to the Biblical account of the sick woman who touched Jesus' garment and felt her ailment cease in an instant. The yearning for absolution is plain in Hayter's desperate tone, and her plea for the tiniest of contact with benevolence is felt as a display of the strongest faith. It's a recognition of God's generosity, coupled with Hayter's wrestling with her own unworthiness to receive.
The forays into Southern-style country as seen on 'PRECIOUS LORD TAKE MY HAND', 'NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD OF JESUS', and to a lesser extent, 'ALL OF MY FRIENDS ARE GOING TO HELL' have a light, airy affability to their songwriting, but retain a semblance of the musical heaviness that manifests as looming dread at its most extreme. 'ALL OF MY FRIENDS ARE GOING TO HELL' is a display of personal revelation and reverence, both a critique and zealous declaration. It is one of the lighter tracks on the record musically, conforming to structure (albeit with an oppressive edge), but is still a weighty examination of punishment and redemption, particularly in relation to what these concepts mean to an initiate’s current, earthly life. Such themes represent a counterpoint to the apocalyptic preoccupations of Lingua Ignota, as now the focus is on deliverance, rather than holy wrath. 'THE POOR WAYFARING STRANGER', undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the record, is an earnest and and moody ode to grand unification, with more than a vague echo of sea shanty about it, and between the emotionality of the lyrics, and the wearing, yearning keys, an incredibly deft balance is struck. Declarations such as;
'...I'm going there to see my father...'
...I'm going there to see my mother...'
'...I'm going there to see my brothers...'
'...I'm going there to see my saviour...'
tie the familial bond with that of spiritual strength, and the carefully chosen ides hope for absolution to allow for Hayter's own faith to manifest as truth. Family, by its very nature, is a thing as naturally close to an individual as it is possible to be, and here Hayter leaves no illusions about the conviction of her own beliefs by linking the two. Likewise, 'I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS' is a revealing portrait with poetic, gorgeous lyrics and a soul-bearing central preoccupation. The use of vocal key changes first on the lyric 'release', and then later the warbling on 'me', displays a remarkably adroit shift from the action of deliverance to the personal stake in the hope for receiving it. It feels so intensely soul-rending that it borders on transcendent as Hayter beseeches, literally for her life. A sister piece of sorts to 'I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES' (SINNER GET READY), the lyrical content also makes mention of celestial bodies in relation to personal effects, although here the comparison is made to clothing, whereas on the aforementioned cut, it was to weaponry. This again is the shift from wrath and judgment to deliverance and hope, and it is expressed delicately and wonderfully.
It’s difficult to put into words exactly what SAVED! is. It’s easy enough to explain musically what the record consists of, but the wealth of ideas and the significance thereof are almost immeasurably revealing and personal. Hayter’s idea of religion and theology are mined and stripped bare from an emotional standpoint, but this is expressed in a contained, genuinely steadfast way; an expression of oxymoronic zealousness and uncertainty that stoutly declares its faith and beseeches for answers to impossible questions in the same breath. Much like the babbles of adherents speaking in tongues that pepper the release with the supposed immediacy of genuinely transcendent experiences, SAVED! is an album of urgency and conviction. Conviction in its ideas, in its historicity, in its confidently unusual musicality and its channeling of a vintage religious style- everything feels imbued with heartfelt humanity; a proclamation as loud and booming as trumpets from on high, but with a complex personal touch weaving about its surface elements like a snake coiled around a branch. The final sounds of this record, on 'HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING', is that of a possessed babbling, starting softly like a whispered prayer beneath the strains of the most typical, clean, classical composition on the album. This is the 'SINGING' the title alludes to. It ascends in volume and intensity, until the music is drowned out and all listeners are left with is the garbled ululating. Eventually, the sound gives way to wails, cries, and finally, exhausted heavy breaths and rasping. This is one of the most fitting ends imaginable to SAVED!. It’s a trying, uneasy, thoughtful, and ultimately uplifting experience that demands attention with every aspect of its production, and shows Hayter’s style of performative musicianship from a different, more expansive, accessible but no less eloquent angle. The wails at the end of 'HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING'- are they anguish and grief? Enlightenment and jubilation? The tone of the record sits at a crossroads between the two- exuberant and joyous, but conflicted, and deeply troubled. Human, in every respect.