Much to the chagrin of black metal purists, 2015 will (probably) contain releases from the genre’s two greatest “antagonists.” Yet, unless Deafheaven’s slated third offering is absolutely abysmal, The Ark Work will effortlessly restore Liturgy as the most reviled act in…well, whatever genre the band is nestled within at this point. For saying that The Ark Work is “not truly black metal” is more so factual than accusative, something that front man – and pretension connoisseur – Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has acknowledged. Currently, the essential question concerning Liturgy is whether they are misguidedly earnest in their message or attempting to troll “transcending” music intellectuals and seething metal purists alike. But quite frankly, whether the answer is the former or the latter, The Ark Work is too shoddy for it to matter either way.
This is primarily due to the lack of substance that the album provides. Though just shy of an hour in length, The Ark Work’s foray into black metal referencing glitch, noise and IDM leaves a distinctly uneventful impression by the time “Total War” closes out the album. For example, the first four tracks – while seemingly linked together as a single twenty-minute movement – revolve around one barely developed concept of a triumphant chorus of brass. Cheap, synthetic horns are repetitively sampled throughout album intro “Fanfare,” vaguely added upon with subpar black metal, glockenspiel and bells with similar production values on “Follow” and then boiled down to a seven minute loop of a single syncopated riff on “Kel Valhaal.” While all of the aforementioned clearly aims for a exultant atmosphere, the juvenile approach – both in production and composition – ruins any realization of this goal. And while “Follow II” provides enough intriguing development to salvage the tetralogy from complete worthlessness, it still lacks enough expansion to be considered a complete, worthwhile track.
The Ark Work’s introduction may conclude at the halfway point of the album, but its subsequent tracks mimic the lack of momentum that preceded them. Lead single “Quetzalcoatl” introduces an intriguing electronic-tinged tremolo riff that unfortunately overstays its welcome, and “Father Vorizen” stumbles along through a lifeless, mid-paced attempt at something vaguely resembling black metal. “Reign Array” is the only track that synthesizes a plurality of concepts and does so more or less effectively over its elven and a half minute run time. Sure, it still retains the repetitive nature of the remainder of the album with its four minute bagpipe tinged outro, and its production value ranges between mediocre and akin to a retro video game soundtrack. But it is the sole instance on The Ark Work with enough quality to (somewhat) feasibly defend Hendrix’s “transcendental black metal” ethos.
What mars even commendable moments such as “Reign Array,” though, is Hendrix’s grating vocal performance. His deadpan whining fluctuates between a moan and a mumble, reminiscent of Christian Death’s Rozz Williams minus the confidence and competence. When “Quetzalcoatl” and “Reign Array” dropped prior to The Ark Work’s release, Hendrix’s vocals – while still annoying – sounded negligible enough. But over the course of an entire album, his performance verges on unbearable. “Vitriol” epitomizes Hendrix’s vocal detraction, as its collection of off-key chants and “occult-oriented rap” are layered over a hip-hop style beat seemingly made by someone with only the faintest idea of what the genre sounds like.
Ultimately, The Ark Work renders a verdict on the question of Liturgy’s intentions difficult to make definitively. Hendrix’s vocal performance and the band’s lack of coherence or purpose make a compelling argument for labeling Liturgy as trolls. Yet, despite the lack of quality of The Ark Work’s tracks, there is just too much apparent effort and attempted detail to make it seem like a complete sham. Hendrix’s work in Liturgy pines for the scope and approach of his main influences Swans and Lightning Bolt (respectively), failed attempts that still signal some level of genuine exertion. At some point, all of this becomes superfluous though, for regardless of Hendrix and crew’s objectives, The Ark Work is still an unenjoyable experience.
Liturgy’s The Ark Work gets…