Liturgy's Hunter Hunt-Hendrix on Black Metal, Nietzsche, and Aesthethica

Liturgy is a band that generates controversy within the small but rabid black metal community. Chalk up the friction to Liturgy's accomplishments: the band earned a rave review from Pitchfork (not a site generally associated with metal), and the band is currently the only metal band on indie-label Thrill Jockey.

The band's latest, Aesthethica,is defined by its splashy drum work, a welcome departure from the grinding drum-machine precision often aligned with the genre. But the band is viewed by many as "invading Brooklyn hipsters," despite the strength of the record.

The band plays The Rogue Bar, Tuesday, July 26. Liturgy vocalist/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix spoke with Up on the Sun from a roadside rest-stop, about the band's outlook and sound.

Up on the Sun: You've labeled your music "transcendental black metal." I've read a lot of objections to what you guys do -- I'm curious if that would be the case if you didn't even call your music black metal.

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix:
There's no getting around that we play black metal. That's the style of the music. It's been an interesting thing to see the way that people react. That probably wouldn't have happened if we had never talked about black metal at all. We didn't have any friends in the metal community, but -- I think it's a very small group of people who are angry about the band. My sense is that there's a silent majority of people who are little bit more supportive [laughs].

It's a small community in general. You started the band as a one man project. What records inspired you to take this approach. Were there specific black metal records that acted as touch stones?

The stuff I was into the most around the time that I started doing Liturgy, were these really obscure [records] from the French scene of black metal -- Peste Noire, Vlad Tepes, Mütiilation -- those were the main bands. I started doing solo stuff after hearing those bands. Definitely the really, really noisy, lo-fi version of black metal. Black metal has never been the only thing I listened to, and the rest of the band is interested in different stuff.

But you've also been influenced by the New York avant-garde guitar scene.

Yeah, very much so. It's kind of a natural progression, in a way.

Listening to the Aesthethica, a song like "Veins of God" is not typical black metal. Feel free to disagree with me there.

The last album was really short, and it kind intense in the exact same way the entire time. This new one has tracks that are a lot more hypnotic, songs that have a wider range of musical exploration.

The album seems to have an element of positivity. It has a very triumphant sound.

I think the word 'positive' is a little bit dangerous. It could be simplistic to say it is a positive record. The word triumphant is good, I think.

I get what you are saying. When I say 'positive,' I mean that in terms of black metal. It's still a record that would scare the shit out of my grandma.


I've read in some interviews that you shy away from some of the more corrosive elements of black metal. I mean, it sounds strange to think that someone wouldn't perceive your music as valid simply because you don't wear corpse paint or dressing a certain way, but a lot of people consider what what you do some sort of betrayal.

Are you saying that because of the more triumphant sound that people are critical, that maybe it's not because of the corpse paint?

I guess that's possible. Records like the last Mount Eerie record had a lot of shared stylistic qualities with black metal. I feel like for people who cling steadfastly to a genre that's defined by its outsider-ness, it must feel weird to have indie bands and fans borrowing elements of their music. On one hand I find myself blown away by how insular it seems, but as a music fan I totally sympathize with the idea that you want something to stay pure.

That makes sense. I think this is a very Nietzschean record. I think most people that like black metal like to think they also have a very Nietzschean outlook, but they don't quite realize that he's actually the philosopher of joy. [People identify him] with this nihilistic despair, but that's the exact opposite of what his ethical philosophy is. The idea of that-- that cosmic joy of post-nihilism -- is very much the root of my writing in Liturgy, and there's something that's truly black metal about that...

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.

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