LITURGY’S HUNTER HUNT-HENDRIX DISCUSSES BURST BEATS, APOPHASIS AND THE PROCESS OF ECSTATIC ANNIHILATION
Photo by Ben Shapiro
With its intertwining, trebly guitar lines, smeary blurs of percussion and peculiar chanted interludes, the debut full-length Renihilation by Brooklyn’s Liturgy was one of this year’s more intriguing black metal releases. In sound, it split the difference between the buzzing rawness of early Ulver and Krallice’s recent experiments (Krallice’s Colin Marston produced the album). And while one could easily be satisfied by the overwhelming, majestic crackle of the “Pure Transcendetal Black Metal” on Renihilation, just as important to the effect is the transcendentalist philosophy of Liturgy’s leader, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. As you’ll see by Hunt-Hendrix’s answers, graciously composed while the band was on the road, Liturgy is a band consumed by ideas as profound as its music.
You started Liturgy in 2004 as a one-man black metal project, and it’s since blossomed into a four-piece. Was this mostly so that you could play out live, or were there others goals that could only be achieved through collaboration?
We expanded into a full band in order to realize an idea I had about a new kind of blast beat called the burst beat. The burst beat is more true to life than the blast beat, more like systems in nature, in two ways. First, the tempo accelerates and decelerates; it expands and contracts, like breathing, or the economy, etc. Secondly, it abruptly crosses thresholds between different modes. Just as water goes from ice to liquid to gas, or a horse goes from walk to trot to canter – the burst beat transitions freely between different kinds of blast/grind beats with different tempos. I was never able to realize this idea adequately using a drum machine and multi-tracking. It has to happen live.
That self-propagated “Pure Transcendental Black Metal” tag is a pretty lofty one. What are you going for there?
The meaning of “Transcendental” is pretty free floating. One thought I have is that black metal is absolutely pure, and yet at the same time it is absolutely corrupt. It is a space for honoring heritage and tradition, and also for the obliteration of all culture. For me the meaning of black metal has something to do with a longing for ecstatic annihilation, a perfect void. An obliteration that brings about purity. The absolute, impossible, contradictory limit. Whether this transcendent realm is a cosmic unity or a silent void, and whether those things are different, I’m not sure.
Does Liturgy’s music express themes of transcendence, or does it induce transcendence, or both?
Do you feel any friction between the violence and tension in Liturgy’s music and the ecstasy that you’ve publicly stated is at the heart of Liturgy’s music?
If there’s friction, it’s a friction present in real life. The violence that Liturgy represents is the ecstatic violence of honesty. Angst is something that everyone falls into all the time; if one experiences it as a particular, concrete problem, it feels like pain; but if one chooses to relate to it as pure angst in itself, the angst turns into ecstasy. That’s another meaning of transcendence.
Are your live shows merely that, or do you view them as opportunities for “primordial collective joy,” as you’ve described in interviews?
Live shows generally are opportunities for primordial collective joy.
Song titles like “Life After Life,” “Mysterium” and “Ecstatic Rite”– even your band name — carry religious connotations. Same goes with the cover to your Immortal Life EP. How do you reconcile this with the anti-religious sentiment of so much black metal?
Is black metal so anti-religious? Anti-Christian maybe, sometimes. I’ve haven’t encountered much black metal that wasn’t pagan, pantheist, thelemite, satanic, or something – I mean, the black metal scene itself is basically a cult. That said, I think there’s something fresh about Christianity in particular, partly because it’s such a worn-out target for attack.
So much of the message of traditional black metal explores themes of individuality — the individual’s hatred, his sorrow, his isolation, his triumph over god and government. As the founder and creative force behind Liturgy, does any of black metal’s individualist bent resonate with you?
My view is that the individual is epiphenomenal, a mirage, and that attachment to individuality is a disease. Especially when I’m, say, making music, I am not an individual; I’m not responsible for what I do – I’m channeling social, cultural, technological forces which work through me in ways I don’t understand. Liturgy is more interested in subjectivity than individuality. The Subject listens to himself, to the urges he has but doesn’t understand, and he follows what’s interesting to him with courage and fidelity. That’s when new things are created. So Liturgy is an opponent of the Individual and a proponent of the Subject.
The concept of “renihilation” sounds kind of paradoxical — is that a return to nothingness?
If Renihilation is taken as meaning exactly two annihilations, then it’s an annihilation of an annihilation; this meaning has to do with our present stage in history. Or, if it taken as an infinite repeating series of annihilations, it is the apophatic procedure, which is used to describe God (not this, or this, or this).
What’s the significance of the short interludes that break up Renihilation’s more purely metal tracks?
I don’t know that they’re so loaded with meaning. Apart from acting as punctuation marks, they sort of indicate a connection between chant and black metal which I think is important. But of course we find chant as early as A Blaze in the Northern Sky, so it’s nothing new.
Liturgy’s drummer Greg Fox plays unlike any other black metal drummer I’ve ever heard — he uses a much smaller kit and often plays in big smears of blasts and snare rolls rather than in perfect synchrony with the rest of the band. How did he get involved in the band? And did his style change the band’s direction, or were you looking for someone to do exactly what he does?
I was looking for someone to play the burst beat. Greg and I have played in bands together in the past, and I knew he’d be great for turning it into a reality.
I’ve never felt strongly about Sonic Youth in particular, but I do feel a strong connection to the scene they were part of in New York. Especially Glenn Branca and Teenage Jesus. Swans are an influence as well.
Would you consider yourself a metalhead?
How do you react to accusations that Liturgy are part of an invasion of metal by malicious, pretentious Brooklynite hipsters?
Renihilation can be an infinite series of negations. “Not this cliché, or that one, or that one…” By rejecting all the clichés, you chase after what’s left: Pure Being. Of course clichés then follow in your wake and you have to keep fleeing. But that’s basically how traditions survive/progress, so ultimately we’re only interested in pre-existing aesthetic criteria (aka any particular scene, “hipster” or otherwise) insofar as they’re something to absorb and transcend.