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Thrill Jockey double: Liturgy and Lightning Bolt

Liturgy are a band who truly divide opinion. Their two albums of brilliantly exhilarating “transcendental” black metal were well received by many of the industry’s most informed and influential critics, but the group are hated by hordes of “real” metallers who believe forward-thinking Brooklyn hipsters with double-barrelled surnames have no place playing “their” music, let alone publishing a manifesto recommending changes for the improvement of the genre as a whole. As far as baiting their audience goes, it would appear as though frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has learned a lesson, of sorts: for The Ark Work, the follow-up to 2011’s polarising Aesthethica, the quarter have dropped the black metal tag and now style themselves – modestly – as a “21st Century total work of art”, which I guess should at least stop fans of any one kind of music taking particular umbrage. And, to be fair, it kind of fits. The Ark Work is definitely a conceptual piece, bearing scant overt resemblance to the Liturgy of old: Hunt-Hendrix has all but abandoned the Cookie Monster growl, instead crooning, speak-singing, shaman chanting and rapping his way across violently churning soundscapes created using synths, electronics, bells, horns (both live and MIDI) and even bagpipes. Guitarist Bernard Gann still shreds furiously, but his blitzkrieg squall feels more textural in this context. The biggest concessions to the old black metal sound are drummer Greg Fox’s signature “burst beats”, and here even those are digitally processed, in a similar fashion to his contributions to Zs and Guardian Alien, so that they often sound more like the rhythmic perversions of early-Noughties “glitchtronica” than any kind of metal I’m familiar with. Not all of it works – the rapping takes some getting used to, and the bagpipes… well, they’re bagpipes – but the fact that they can take so many disparate influences (post-rock, IDM, neo-classical, yadda yadda) and mesh them together into such a singular and cohesive statement, especially one that manages, despite the radically different component parts, to still sound like Liturgy, is worthy of applause; that they have the balls to defy all the negativity and even attempt such a drastic overhaul in the first place is even more impressive. Check out “Quetzalcoatl” below.

If Liturgy demonstrate the good things that can happen when a band is willing to change its working methods, their new label-mates Lightning Bolt are a great example of a group who doggedly refuse to deviate from the script they have written for themselves, yet continually manage to come up with new ways to have fun with it. The duo of Brians Gibson (bass) and Chippendale (drums and vocals) have been making music together as Lightning Bolt for twenty years now, and – let’s be honest – their sixth album (and first in five years) Fantasy Empire sounds kind of the same as the ones that came before it; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, when said sound – the kind of seismic low-end rumble you’d expect from a bass-and-drums punk band, played at breakneck speed and with a masked maniac chanting over the top through a microphone held between his teeth – is so freaking awesome. Theirs is a seriously joyful noise, the type of racket kids delight in making with their first stick-and-tub toys and kazoos, taken up a gazillion notches. It’s Godzilla dancing to footwork. It’s a chainsaw and a pneumatic drill battling it out at a karaoke bar. It’s the sound made by the souped-up racing bike revving next to you at the lights. No, scratch that: it’s the sound that scares the bike revving next to you at the lights. As Gibson riffs into infinity and Chippendale pummels the living crap out of his kit as though he’s trying to generate enough man-made electricity to propel them both into hyperspace, it’s hard not to come back to the fact that each new Lightning Bolt song sounds like a slight variation on another, as if they were jamming an old favourite and dropped a note, or picked up a beat, and just decided to roll with it, but that’s ok: every genre – even noise-rock or avant-punk or whatever it is that Chippendale and Gibson are happy being pigeonholed as – needs its Grateful Dead or AC/DC, endlessly pushing for that perfect, magical musical moment – as if they hadn’t already hit on it years ago. Check out “The Metal East” below.

The Ark Work and Fantasy Empire are out now on Thrill Jockey.

About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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