There are records to jam to, those to play during a workout, and then there is 93696, the kind of album you need to consume, really drink it in. Liturgy’s latest – out March 24th via Thrill Jockey – is literally a religious experience, something that invites you into its communion. Both their most challenging and beautiful release, never before has the Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix’s brand of transcendental black metal felt this alive and spiritual. Also, feel free to sue me for the Catholic puns I have and will continue to distribute herein; you just can’t add to the guilt that decades in the Church bestowed upon me.
As for Liturgy’s latest, what’s immediately apparent even for those who haven’t been following along (shame on you sinners) is that there’s a vibrancy and power that the band are wielding that will convert any who give the band a real chance. Hunt-Hendrix’s philosophy is quite impressively laid out on her YouTube, though like the best religious experiences, just being open-minded and present is more than enough. 93696 embraces the non-hate-filled aspects of Christianity with esotericism and Thelema. This is not a record forcing ideals on the listener; instead, it’s an open hand offering a spiritual journey, as she explains:
“I certainly find the idea and the practice of art as religion to be very powerful. It really sustains me. We’re on tour right now; it’s a really powerful experience for me to perform with Liturgy and to interact with fans. Because God or love or whatever you want to call it. But it’s God. It’s a concrete thing, at least emotionally. It’s just like any other cluster of thoughts and emotions that you can be experiencing. You can be experiencing cosmic joy and this sublime gratitude. And I’ve just always wanted to generate that experience using music. And not all music does that, not all music seeks to do it, and not all the music that does do it sounds like Liturgy. Liturgy is kind of its own twisted way of doing it because black metal, but in a way not that twisted because black metal is such a sublime form.”
“My vision for this record,” she adds, “especially in the context of how crazy the world has been, is that really, it’s meant to be a vision of heaven. This is what heaven would sound like or feel like. And I don’t know whether that’s optimistic or pessimistic. I think heaven will feel good or whatever, but I don’t know… We’re on this sort of precipice where maybe the world is going to completely change in the next five years and maybe civilization will collapse. Maybe there will be a technological solution to all social problems and it’d be great. Or maybe just some people will get the solution and it’ll collapse for most people. I don’t know, but I think that that’s part of the sense of awe at how radically things can change and how radically different things can be.”
I don’t want to undersell how much of a progression (and purposefully reflection) this is for Liturgy. Their sound certainly ventures further into opera, electronic, and black metal, but earlier art punk and noise rock influences come to the forefront. There are honest to God riffs for days here, and Hunt-Hendrix shares that disparity’s inspiration:
“I’ve always been very interested in surprising, uncomfortable juxtapositions between styles. And part of that, or all of it maybe, is in connection to what I was saying about heaven – that joy doesn’t just feel good, it feels new and singular and different. And so that maybe there’s a cosmic life force that causes genres to evolve and causes it to be possible to see forms in a new light, a generation later after they’ve been invented. How can you use them differently, and how can you give new meaning? And I think that I really like the idea of transfiguration through suffering, or the theme of experiencing a great wound or a great loss and then that turning out to be an opportunity for a unique type of grip and healing or whatever.”
“And I’ve always kind of thought,” she continues, “of metal in its entirety, has that loss or something. And so transcendental metal is using it but in this opposite way. And then as far as the noise rock stuff goes, yeah, I think that this album definitely has riffs in it that are more in the vein of noise rock, screamo, and I grew up playing those styles of music. In a way it’s the return to form of me as a teenager. In a way it’s new, but it’s also a testament to the roots of Liturgy. I was much more connected to art punk or something like that back then. This record sounds more like the way that the music has always sounded on the stage, to me at least.” She adds, “We’ve never been an obvious fit for any scene. And so we have this intersecting existence in these different scenes. But then I also have my philosophy, and there’s also this alien aspect to it. And so in a way it’s like a community of especially alienated beings or a community that involves bridging music and ideas and dreaming of heaven. I love talking to people at shows and meeting people who then might go on to activate, or strengthen, or sustain creative self-expression in others. This all kind of sounds too obvious to me as I’m saying it, but it’s very real. You can change someone’s life, and they can change yours.”
So let’s get to brass theological tacks; what exactly does Heaven look like?
“In my system of philosophy, I have a fairly specific vision of what heaven is,” she replies. “The most consolidated way to put it, is that it would be a world where no suffering goes unredeemed. The problem with our world is that there’s enormous suffering, and most of it is actually not redeemed, it’s just suffering. That’s unfortunate and then that’s it. But there’s an experience that is kind of Nietzschean, an experience that a lot of people get to have of going through suffering and then that suffering actually being what is most meaningful to them. You might think of heaven as a place like an Elysian field or something, where everything is just fine, and then it’s like, well why even exist? And that’s true. That’s a really good objection. And so in heaven we would have our bodies and we would still be experiencing time in a way that’s similar to the way we experience it now. And we would be evolving and growing, and going through conflicts and suffering loss, but it would all be redeemed. And as far as what exactly underpins that, I don’t know. You can read it as a futurist vision perhaps or more of a cosmic vision.”
“Heaven would be a place where people are able to see God directly or to see God all the time. People would be able to be animated by their true divine all the time. And the human condition, we wouldn’t be so split between ordinary concerns that are self-centered and foolish and infinite ideals. We would be fully animated by the infinite ideals. And so that would be justice but also self-expression. Because everyone deserves to create and express in a unique way. And so much of what’s wrong with the world is the result of people not getting the opportunity to do that. Because if you can’t do that then you have to retaliate, you have to blame somebody. And there’s so much injustice that is just because of those sort of wheels of bad karma of unfulfilled people. There’s obviously more systemic stuff as well. But maybe you could argue that the latter stems from the former, I don’t really know.”
Hunt-Hendrix and I talked about the experience of seeking the divine as a queer person (she is trans) and how no one road to seek truth is alike.
“It’s been kind of a strange path because I wouldn’t say that I’ve felt so confident exactly, for a lot of it,” she answers. “I think that for my whole life I’ve been a very manically, driven person with a prophetic urge. Like a messianic urge, but not really someone who is well enough to deserve a messianic urge or something. And I think you can hear that in the music too. There is a lot of pain in the music and the lyrics. And the career of Liturgy has been a real struggle, especially the first [six to ten years]. And I grew up with contact with Christianity that was a lot of conflicting. And I’ve heard people say that because they grew up trans without having language for it, that they needed the idea of God, especially, where the reality makes so little sense to you that you need something outside of it. And I certainly had that experience of, not just because of being transgender, that’s kind of reductive, but for a number of reasons of feeling very alien. And I think that being an outlier is rough but then it gives you opportunities to do something different.”
“And then in recent times,” she says “the promise of the spiritual joy of Liturgy is much more fulfilled now that I’m in my thirties. It was not very fulfilled when I was in my twenties. I mean that’s the ironic thing, in my view, most of what goes by the name of Christianity in our time is actually satanic. And I really mean that it’s hateful. I’m sure God is not very happy with how things are going. But that’s no reason to abandon faith.”
The new album is currently available on Liturgy’s bandcamp and the Thrill Jockey Records’ webstore. You can also follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Discord to keep up with future updates.