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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 11/19/2010

Liturgy's black metal not all dark

By David Malitz

liturgyLiturgy performs at Comet Ping Pong Friday night

Black metal is not a genre for everyone. In fact, it's a genre for very, very few. It is music built on blistering tempos, storming guitars, shrieking vocals and lyrics that are as dark as they are indecipherable. Throw in the fact that bands regularly take the stage sporting ghoulish face paint, and it's no wonder that it has remained a strictly underground phenomenon.

Liturgy isn't about to change this. But if there's such a thing as a "black metal crossover band," it's this Brooklyn group.

For one thing, the band members, including 25-year-old frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, look like any other 20-somethings you'd see around the Bushwick neighborhood they call home. Listen to the band's 2009 album, "Renilihation," and, yes, you'll hear the blood-curdling screams and hyperspeed rhythms that are hallmarks of the genre. It's imposing to be sure. But there's a light that creeps out from the darkness. "Transcendental ecstasy" is what Hunt-Hendrix calls it, and there is something oddly meditative about the band's onslaught.

"I think that music is something that's inherently transcendental," says the soft-spoken Hunt-Hendrix a few days before leaving for a two-week U.S. tour. "At its highest it can be. Music has this sort of power to create a sort of surge of energy that puts people in touch with deeper realities."

There's no mistaking the surge of energy when Liturgy plays. What started as Hunt-Hendrix's solo project has blossomed into a full band known for powerhouse live performances. And people are taking notice, particularly outside of the self-contained black metal scene. Just last week Liturgy signed a deal with Chicago's Thrill Jockey Records, which will release the band's second album in 2011. The label specializes in experimental indie rock and is best known for releasing '90s albums by such bands as Tortoise and the Sea and Cake, who sprinkled hints of jazz into their finely textured songs. There's no act on the roster quite like Liturgy.

"Liturgy . . . do not define or limit themselves with or by a label," says Bettina Richards, founder of Thrill Jockey. "They seek to defy labels. Their joy in both their exploration of music and in their performance will surely win over anyone who may at first hesitate by the label black metal."

Not that Hunt-Hendrix has any real interest in distancing himself from the black metal scene. He has been a devoted fan since high school when he became infatuated with Norwegian black metal band Emperor. (Scandinavian countries produced many of the genre's most famous - and most scandalous - bands in the '90s.)

"There's just this connection between Emperor and romanticism and these sweeping, tonal harmonies that evoke a kind of transcendental ecstasy," he says, using one of his favorite terms. "There was a seed of it there that really excited me."

He even understands why certain factions of the black metal underground have dismissed Liturgy. Hunt-Hendrix is exposing the music to those who wouldn't normally hear it, which might disrupt the genre's secret-society ways.

"It's like going into the temple and taking out the secret scriptures and publishing them everywhere. It's sort of destroying this esoteric cult," Hunt-Hendrix says of the mindset of his detractors. "There are a lot of members of the metal community who disapprove of our band on legitimate grounds, but there are those who don't understand the earnestness of the music, that it's just this hipster, ironic take on black metal. Which it just is not."

So don't expect to see the band donning corpse paint or cloaks when it plays at Comet Ping Pong on Friday night.

"What we're interested in is achieving the same effect those signifiers can achieve when they're really fresh," he says. "Once they are repeated so many times they actually lose their power. And I think part of that is that by not engaging in that language the music itself actually hits you harder if it's not from someone who's dressed up as a goblin."

By David Malitz  | November 19, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  In today's Post  | Tags:  Liturgy  
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