Liturgy - H.A.Q.Q
Experimental Post-Black
9 songs (45:11)
Release year: 2019
Reviewed by Goat

A band that needs no introduction if you're at all interested in black metal and scene politics, Liturgy are easy to hate from a purist perspective. Hailed by Pitchfork as scene saviours for trying to break the genre's internal rules, the band and their philosophically dense/word-salad nonsense (delete as appropriate) approach to trying to 'transcend' black metal are the exact definition of a love/hate project and this surprise-released fourth album (out physically next year) is the perfect setting for a dissection. It's already being hailed as genius by the likes of Anthony Fantano who in his review mourned the fact that the likes of Deafheaven's Sunbather (a far superior album) and past efforts from Liturgy did not, in fact, transcend black metal and push it into new realms thanks to the genre's inherent conservatism, which of course utterly ignores every black metal album made in the past 20 plus years that wasn't by Americans (dismissing the interesting and diverse experimentation made by every act from Sigh to Solefald in a single sweep). Apparently either you're stagnantly blasting for Satan, or you're layering trap and glitch elements and using 'burstbeats' to transcendental effect...

And it's hard to avoid the pretentious philosophy behind the music when it's on the cover art, H.A.Q.Q standing for "Haelegen above Quality and Quantity" and being closely related to frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix's belief system, which reads like an awkward, shoehorned mess of Marxism plus Scientology plus Christianity plus Kabbalah to this guy. And on first listens, H.A.Q.Q is something of an awkward mess, too, classical instruments and strange glitchy 'errors' layered into a blackened blast that sometimes features shrieked vocals, sometimes off-key clean moans and chants. Technically the guitars and drums are superb but utterly drenched in harp or vibraphone runs in a way that sometimes feels as if you're listening to two different albums at once, particularly thanks to the interludes which range from modern classical piano compositions (Exaco III) to Krallice-esque guitar trills (irritatingly-named outro ....). It's certainly more coherent and less ridiculous than 2015's The Ark Work, granted damning with faint praise but when limited to a forty-minute album rather than, say, the sprawling, hour-plus Aesthetica there are glimpses of something genuinely good to be found here.

Sure, those Japanese woodwind instruments on Hajj are awkwardly inserted and the melodic riffs and strange, wordless clean singing doesn't really gel with the blackened undercurrent. Yet there is something oddly uplifting and almost cinematic at moments, even with the shrieks and blasting drumming, and the glitchy breaks don't hurt the music as much as you'd think. It is hard to think of this as black metal however, as opposed to some avant-garde mindfuck, and purists are right to be offended when confronted with this as the genre's next evolutionary step, even before confronted with low-hanging fruit like the harp-infused Virginity. Pasaqalia is a standout thanks to being more like the work of a group like Isis than an attempt at black metal, slower-paced and using the melodic vibraphone and stringed morass at its centre better - maybe modern classical and ambient sludge are simply better, more natural companions? It does feel overlong at only five minutes plus, however, the band simply not doing enough to propel the music onwards, which becomes a problem on the longer, eight-minute pieces here. God of Love especially tests listener patience with the seeming random composition, the parts that work like the Ulver-esque symphonic introduction and the technical centre section not given enough dominance overall - at least it makes the Exaco interludes useful as palate-cleansers. As a whole, H.A.Q.Q is a very flawed, very frustrating experiment that is nowhere near capable of delivering what is promised and although interesting to listen to is hardly deserving of recommendation, let alone the praise it's being showered with.

Killing Songs :
Pasaqalia, sections of Hajj and God of Love
Goat quoted 45 / 100
Other albums by Liturgy that we have reviewed:
Liturgy - Aesthethica reviewed by Crash and quoted 78 / 100
Liturgy - Renihilation reviewed by James and quoted 91 / 100
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