Wednesday 1 April 2015

Liturgy - 'The Ark Work' (Album Review)

Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: 24/03/2015
Label: Thrill Jockey Records

‘The Ark Work’ CD//LP//DD track listing:

1. Fanfare
2. Follow
3. Kel Valhaal
4. Follow II
5. Quetzalcoatl
6. Father Vorizen
7. Haelegen
8. Reign Array
9. Vitriol
10. Total War

Liturgy is:

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix | Guitar, Vocals
Bernard Gann | Guitar
Tyler Dusenbury | Bass
Greg Fox | Drums


Liturgy has always been a divisive band. It’s very likely that they will always be a divisive band. It doesn’t matter whether you’re speaking in purely musical terms, or if you’re talking about the philosophy behind the music; they elicit a strong reaction either way, and that’s probably by design. From the first time I heard ‘Renihilation’; Liturgy just clicked for me. I’ve been listening to black metal for nearly twenty years now, and while I easily identified it as black metal, I’d rarely heard it played with such intensity, or with such a frenetic energy to it. It wasn’t just about blast beats or ridiculously speedy tremolo picking; it was about the entire presentation. It was wild and exuberant at a time when so much of black metal had been more about depression and sorrow (which are still worthwhile things for the genre to explore, by the way).

‘Aesthethica’ harnessed that energy and turned it into songs that dug their hooks into you. The rhythms were stronger and more varied and the band had learned to build up to big moments, which resulted in an even better album than the first. All of this is to say that I have been on board with Liturgy’s musical vision from the moment I heard them. Sadly, I’m not on board anymore and you can believe me when I say that I don’t take any joy in reviewing this album as harshly as I’m going to.

‘The Ark Work’ is a fucking mess. It’s an album characterized by a series of bad decisions from which the instrumental compositions are never able to recover. This isn’t about playing with new genre elements or trying new things in general. It’s about bad execution and not realizing what the reasonable limitations of one’s capabilities as a musician/songwriter are. The biggest issue among several larger problems is Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s vocals. His vocal delivery brings to mind a child who doesn’t want to go to school because they don’t feel good, or maybe begging for more time to finish up a video game. It’s in such stark contrast to the bombast and fanfare of the music that it sounds like it was pulled from a different album and when his singing matched this album’s music closely; it was a happy accident. I’ve often wondered while listening to ‘The Ark Work’ what this album might be with a more capable singer. Who would even be up to the task? I can only imagine.

You can point to a number mishaps throughout the album, musically as well. “Kel Valhaal” borders on being a nightmare to get through as a listener. The horns repeat the same general rhythmic idea over and over again with occasional studio trickery that sounds like the musical equivalent of a thirty year old Max Headroom malfunction. This continues for nearly three minutes, along with bagpipes whining and bells struck with mallets in the background. Once we finally get some genuine progress in the song, the vocals come in and Hendrix delves into some variation of a rap performance. I’m not qualified to dissect a vocal performance in this style, but from someone who only occasionally listens to rap/hip hop, it sounded more accomplished than a complete joke like YouTuber Krispy Kreme, at least. Still, it’s not anywhere near enough for the song to regain its footing after the inadvisable compositional and instrumental choices in the song’s first half.

I will also point out that any review claiming that ‘The Ark Work’ is completely without merit should be read suspiciously too. “Follow” and “Follow II” would make an excellent single instrumental song, taking the best parts of each and condensing it down. The bells work well as an introductory element in “Follow” and the strings are beautiful in the second half of “Follow II”. There’s a great song to be had between the two with judicious editing. “Quetzalcoatl” has some great ideas on the musical side of things, especially in the big climactic moment at about the minute and a half mark. Unfortunately, the vocals are a big hinderance to the rest of the song. Unfortunately, I believe that is in some ways the story of ‘The Ark Work’. Anytime the album shows real promise from a musical standpoint, Hendrix’s vocals choices not only don’t enhance the songs, they get in the way and cause real damage more often than not. Even if the vocals were completely removed, ‘The Ark Work’ would be deeply flawed, but at least you’d be able to appreciate the brilliant moments when they came along. Instead what we have is an album that sounds like it came from a band so excited about its concept and so wrapped up in making it happen that they couldn’t tell what was working and what wasn’t.

Words by: Daniel Jackson

You can pick up a digital copy here and a CD/LP copy here.

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