Piercing the Veil #6: Liturgy and Black Metal as A Philosophical Catalyst
It’s funny looking back at the ill will Liturgy received earlier in their career, because nobody better described metal’s appeal than bandleader Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. In her Transcendental Black Metal manifesto, she wrote: “Good metal produces a satisfying bouquet of clenching, constriction and brutal affect.” Ironically, the discourse that hounded them was housed in questions of legitimacy; how much did she really love black metal, who was she to say her music would speak to all walks of life, did she even get metal. When Hunt-Hendrix speaks of black metal, she does so with the highest esteem while also protesting its troubling tendencies. By virtue of being herself, she defies many of its outdated and unfortunate dogmas. “In my mind, preaching love and Christianity and existing as a female and queer composer within the space of metal itself is a pretty radical thing to do,” she says. Over the past decade, she and her avant-garde group have propelled black metal past its potential.
Many musicians on Piercing the Veil reveal that metal is the most honest way for them to express themselves, whether that be as amphibian avatars or as cosmic journeymen. Hunt-Hendrix is the first to define this drive so precisely. She calls it subjective necessity, and defines it as “something just absolutely must be a certain way aesthetically, no matter what the sacrifice, with no thought of what will come of it or whether it makes sense.” It just so happens that her drive is filtered through classical music, God, William Blake, electronic music, and various other artistic pedigrees.
Hunt-Hendrix’s subjective necessity concept best describes her music because it’s so maximalist it feels like it's compelled by forces outside her control. Liturgy reach peaks outside of what’s conceivable. It makes sense that their last album Origin of The Alimonies was an opera because their output has always been operatic in scale. At times it’s as if they are trying to break through music itself, upending the filters between brain, ears, and emotions. Hunt-Hendrix’s tangential interest in genres like IDM and trap seep through a hyperactive core. Their tones and modulations are lean and limber, with a litheness often lost in black metal.
The upending of black metal traditionalism could be seen as a revolt against the genre, but Hunt-Hendrix isn’t defiant. Whenever she talks about black metal she heaps praise upon it like a sink with a broken faucet. “The essence of black metal is the vital affirmation of mutation, destruction of the traditional social forms that oppress us in tandem with a deep sense of awe towards religion, reverence for the past and the sublime, asceticism, and distance from the ideological surface of culture and the entertainment industry.” In her manifesto, she isolates metal’s brutality as a means to fill a never-satiated musical void. She champions Scandinavian black metal as the ideal unbridled intensity musicians pine to inscribe into their music.
However, she has her reservations. “I reject it (black metal) to the degree that it culturally becomes fixated on traditionalism with regard to gender, racism and wholesale disaffection with modernity, and the characteristic lack of hope for collective agency and emancipation,” she says. “I just think that all those attitudes are characterized by a fear of the actual historical force that drives black metal, an unwillingness to face the intensity of its creative chaos and filling it in with politically reactionary or psychologically defeatist meaning in a hopeless and temporary attempt to prevent it from fully blossoming.” As such, she taps into the pure essence of her Norwegian influences and grows from there. The full choir, the electronica, and the burst beats present in Liturgy evolve what music and black metal can be, and how they interact with the world.
Through incorporating broader influences, Origin of The Alimonies was more classical than it was metal. It was also Liturgy’s most radical expression. As Hunt-Hendrix puts it, the album chronicled “the source of time that is outside of time and sets the task for civilization, which is to ultimately achieve Haelegan, the kingdom of heaven.” An array of characters act as allegories for art, religion, science, politics, and how these knowledges comprise the human soul. These allegories are further explored through Liturgy’s aesthetics. Hunt-Hendrix acknowledges aesthetics as integral to our comprehension of reality, society, and culture, and uses them as shorthands for larger concepts in an organic symbiotic relationship between these mediums. Every metaphor encircles another metaphor, forming their own ecosystem. H.A.Q.Q.’s album cover is literally a diagram conveying these interactions.
There is ongoing communication between art, politics, and society. No part has a start or an end. We understand them as paradigms, but it’s hard to recognize the divisions between each because they are just rough outlines. Liturgy intelligently steer the conversation towards finding the intersections between these institutions rather than their divergences. Origin of The Alimonies’ narrative details humanity’s quest towards heaven through said paradigms, and only understanding the process once it’s concluded. Through it, Hunt-Hendrix asks, “what is the world-historical meaning of metal, of music generally, and of culture generally?” Liturgy is Hunt-Hendrix’s vessel for analyzing an ever-ballooning series of concepts, much like how the band’s scope cannot be understood by isolating a single work.
Combining these philosophical and musical ambitions is a daunting task, and even more so to parse as an audience. However, Hunt-Hendrix’s intent eases the challenge. “It's actually important to me for the music to speak for itself entirely, and to just kind of be dripping with love and emotion and connect in an immediate way,” she says.
Thus, Liturgy is a document of curiosity and progression. Hunt-Hendrix pushes art and studies how that push reacts to and with its surrounding context. Her approach may be intimidating for those wishing to understand the full picture, but, like with art or history or identity, it’s nigh impossible to fully comprehend every factor involved. Hunt-Hendrix’s YouTube lectures are a godsend for those interested in her personal philosophies. As for her music, she states, “To 'fully engage with Liturgy' in my view is not to only enjoy it musically but to be a bit disoriented, to be wrestling with questions of authenticity, shame, social identity, and religion.”
Origin of The Alimonies released