The controversial Liturgy frontman explains his move away from black metal and towards "occult rap."
Photo by Erez Avissar
Deafheaven may be the current trending band for black metal elitists to lazily shit on, but Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has been the reactionary metalhead culture’s preferred punching bag since 2011. That's when his band released its divisive sophomore album, Aesthethica, and Hunter published his widely-derided Transcendental Black Metal manifesto (which VICE described as "what happens when you approach the most inherently comical form of metal with absolutely no sense of humor or fun"). To those who grew up without the benefit of Immortal or Darkthrone in their lives, it must have been puzzling to see the waves of hatred washing over the Brooklyn-based experimental metal band; to those who consider corpsepaint to be a viable fashion choice, though, Hunter was the anti-Antichrist.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Hunter did nothing different than any other artist who ends up letting their persona overshadow their product. Time has passed, new "hipster metal" bands have emerged, and now, the Liturgy is back in its original quartet configuration with Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Bernard Gann, Greg Fox, and Tyler Dusenbury. The jury's still out on the band's upcoming full-length, The Ark Work, but from the sounds of things, Hunter's left black metal behind.
It's been four years since the metal world heard from Liturgy, and as Noisey discovered in a candid interview with the man himself, that's no coincidence.
The Ark Work is a significant move away from the sound on Aesthethica. Was that departure in sound natural, or more of a deliberate move?
Really, the answer is both. On the one hand, the record has a more dense and complex arrangement than previous Liturgy records. There are certain aspects that I feel like I’ve always wanted to be in the music, but we just haven’t really had time to flesh out. Certain things like bells and horns and this kind of shimmering, spectral vibe. Something that reflects very closely to the way this music has always sounded in my head, even though in the past we’ve arranged it for a rock band arrangement. Part of it was taking the time to be like “Okay, how can I execute this thing that I really want to sound right?” But then there are other aspects which I never thought of when I began the band, and the big one is that rap was something I wanted to really engage with on this record.
There was rap production and even vocal style for a lot of the songs like this triplet flow that you associate with like Three 6 Mafia or Bone Thugs, this kind of occult rap vibe. I’m a huge rap fan, and I was thinking maybe it was time to consider the relationship between rap and metal, and not to make something that’s rap metal in the way we generally think of it like Slipknot or something, but connect those two things on a new basis that’s more Burzum meets Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony.
Is the impetus for your creativity extrinsically motivated by the desire to change a dynamic in the subculture, or is it more intrinsic, where this is you cultivating your own personal growth as an artist?
That’s a good question. I think there’s a relationship between the two. Insofar that I just have this urge to kind of synthesize things that I like, it’s an internal impetus where I have a feeling that there’s some new territory that I haven’t been able to explore yet that I would love to explore. I would love to hear a record that sounds this way, and I haven’t heard one yet, so I wanna make it. But there’s another aspect to it in that I sort of see the band as being a band that writes music and plays songs and performs them, but also there’s this other aspect, which is engaging with the Internet and culture and reactions from blogs and stuff, and even considering the career of the band as a kind of work of art on its own like a narrative or a sculpture or something.
Knowing that people react to these ideas in a certain way is kind of on the table too, so it’s kind of scary to cover certain territory but it’s also interesting to see what happens. I think a lot about the fact that if this has been the first Liturgy record that came out, it probably wouldn’t be as divisive. There wouldn’t be this history of me engaging with the metal scene at all in a way.
Do you see that concept of what you do as a comprehensive work of art something that you’ve been deliberately working towards this entire time, or has it been more of an unconscious discovery for you as an artist?
A little of both, but more the latter, though. It’s this open-ended thing that I’m searching for, and when I think of total work of art, I think of it along two different lines. One is there’s a kind of total work of art that you associate with Wagner or Matthew Barney or these people who develop a whole cosmology, and they combine music with drama or visuals or whatever, and the aim of that is to create a new beacon representing cosmic laws for history or filling the space left by religious history or whatever. That’s the more romantic version of the total work of art. I’ve been working with that because I’ve been developing a mythology which derives from psychoanalysis, Christian mysticism, and things like Kabbalah, which some of the songs are named after figures in this mythology.
But then there’s a different tradition of the total work of art, which is like a lot of performance artists are like fluxus artists which has more to do with treating every element of life or endeavor as a work of art in order to short circuit ideological preconceptions. I wanna do that too in the context of what I was talking about before in treating comments on a blog written by someone else about my song as a work of art. I think about both of those versions of that idea, and I’m working with them as I think about Liturgy, so it’s open-ended and a work in progress, but those are my reference points.
Photo by Kevin Shea Adams
So the comments and the aversion to what you’re doing have a direct influence on what you do as an artist?
Well, it’s complicated. For example, I made a zine out of the first couple hundred comments on this kind of famous or infamous interview that I did, and people were saying all this mean stuff, and so I made a zine out of it and distributed it to some friends to take a silver lining sort of attitude to it. That phenomenon is something I’m curious about and not just wanting to sweep under the rug and try to avoid it, but then again I really don’t know what I’m doing, and it is painful to receive so much negative feedback, and it’s been really discouraging too.
We haven’t put out a record in a while, and a part of that has been because it felt kind of daunting to do something again because there was so many people and so many things that were critical. I have a very real and personal relationship to this stuff, but I also try and think about it in a more abstract and artistic sort of way which is just another way of handling it.
'The Ark Work' is out March 24th via Thrill Jockey.
Jonathan Dick is transcending on Twitter.