Liturgy at The Rogue Bar, 7-26-11

The Rogue Bar
Tuesday, July 26

Unfairly or not, Liturgy gets a lot of flack. There are a lot of reasons, I suppose. The band plays black metal -- true "outsider" music -- but they don't look the part, at least not when the part normally looks like this. Then there's guitarist/vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, with his Spinal Tap-worthy name and a propensity to give overblown interviews like this one. My own interview with Hunt-Hendrix was fine; he only spent a few minutes talking about Nietzschean ideals at the heart of his music. 

But experiencing the band last night at The Rogue Bar, I could have cared less about the band's lack of "black metal authenticity." Hunt-Hendrix is hardly the first guy to take black metal really, really seriously, and if Liturgy truly are the sound of Brooklyn hipsters invading the genre, let's hope every band of Big Apple scenesters plans to do it as creatively as Liturgy.

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While no one in the band wasn't pulling their weight, drummer Greg Fox was clearly the star of the evening. Fox, who also plays with psych band Teeth Mountain and performs solo experimental work as GDFX, deviates the most from the black metal playbook. He incorporates the snare/cymbal work of genre-standard blast beats, but constantly mutates the time signature of the songs, rolling out splashy, jazzy fills, and generally coming across as some sort of beatific drumming holy man, complete with a steely, detached stare.

Guitarist Bernard Gann rocked a headless guitar, and on songs like "Sun of Light," from the excellent Aesthethica, he and Hunt-Hendrix locked into step, each issuing treble-heavy, rapidly picked melodies from their amplifiers, while bassist Tyler Dusenbury, strummed out more traditional chord structures, often acting as the sole rhythmic instrument.

"Glory Bronze" found the band exploring the dynamics of tempo change, with Fox shifting in and out of step with the spidery riffs that define the song. The band was impossibly tight, and Dusenbury's locked stare on Fox was telling of the level of concentration the band's music requires.

You could hear Hunt-Hendrix scream over the maw, but it was impossible to make out the lyrics, obscured by both his wail and a thick layer of reverb (for all his talk about "transcendental black metal," I couldn't prove to you he wasn't shouting out his grocery list on stage). He acknowledged the crowd, thanking people for coming out, but generally had an awkwardness that only faded away when the guitars were raging.

The epic "Veins of God" was the night's most impressive moment, with the band riding an almost stoner-rock wave. Fox's opening drum moves were pure doom, his compact kit booming from The Rogue's stage. The three stringed instruments mostly droned on one massive riff for nearly eight minutes, with the little changes introduced as the song went on acting as minimal shading. It was seriously rad.

As a music fan, I try to shy away from puritanical rules about music. I completely understand why metal fans might dismiss Liturgy -- and many do -- but it's a lot harder thing to do after seeing the band live. No gimmicks, no lengthy explanations, just a bunch of music geeks playing some devastating music.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Liturgy at The Rogue Bar

The Crowd: Metal ladies and dudes, of the sleeveless shirt, tight black jeans, baseball-with-band-pins variety.

Tweet of the Night: @azlinz (of Stateside Presents) I'm sorry, I just don't "get" metal music... Why are you yelling at me?!!

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