Head here to submit your own review of this album.

Apart from a handful of hardcore punk bands and the occasional Mastodon craze in my repertoire, I'm not the ideal guy to comment on Liturgy or what they mean to the metal scene. I do know that they seem to be pretty important whether they're being enjoyed or not. I also know the basic constructs of black metal: blast beats, fast tempos, and an emphasis on overall atmosphere as opposed to distinct licks. This is where it ends. Between The Number of the Beast and Sunbather, I'm fairly clueless.

Singer Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, however, is a benevolent fan. He loves the genre enough to write a medium-length manifesto about what he sees as its changing landscape. This 2009 piece is ideological, fun to read, and has been rigorously ripped to shreds (his persona and sexual orientation included) by the community ever since. Apparently Hunt-Hendrix glossed over quite a few years of important music in his work, titled Transcendental Black Metal (look it up for yourself, there's a .pdf out there), and Liturgy's 2011 breakthrough Aesthethica encountered difficulty overcoming the shadow of this buzz. Why is that? Well, HHH lives in a pretty trendy area of Brooklyn, so the term "hipster scum" had certainly been tossed around. Personally, my own anger would depend on the types of crowds going to see the music. If they're there to stand around and just be at a Liturgy show and not to engage, my animosity would boil over. For now, I'll just have to keep enjoying The Ark Work as much as I can before I get to see one of these crowds firsthand at the Midwest's newest hipster summit, Eaux Claires Music Festival. To that end, Liturgy's orchestral output sounds unlike anything released in years.

What does The Ark Work sound like? 'Quetzalcoatl' sounds like an alarm going off in a data center. 'Vitriol' conjures a sonic swamp worthy of Avey Tare or Björk. Some moments do sound like a 64-bit version of your favourite Super Nintendo adventure game, but they always have a payoff when a chorus arrives. The first three tracks bleed exceptionally together, a fanfare (called 'Fanfare') of horns giving way to a matching snare drum part on 'Kel Valhaal'. Here, a march towards some dark fate ends up sounding triumphant. You can tell something is brewing on the suspiciously short 'Haelegen' and, sure enough, the crushing and glorious 'Reign Array' is the albums summit. When the first chorus gives way to a bagpipe section, I'm surprised I expected anything less ceremonial.

On penultimate track 'Vitriol', a 7/8 signature underneath group harmonies recalls Liars at their weirdest and A Place to Bury Strangers at their absolute best. Hunt-Hendrix warns throughout: "soon the flowers will close up and sing peacefully/soon the ADHD kids will quiet down respectfully." Amidst more cautionary lines and this killer rhythm, Liturgy could be attempting to evoke anything. I'm totally hooked, and it's not the only moment where the count of beats is unnaturally hooky. The drums sounds in general, whether electric or acoustic, are confounding even on the lesser tracks. Greg Fox doesn't sit on single patterns for more than a few phrases at a time, but doesn't sacrifice the desired atmosphere in the process. The drums move from snare and crash hits simultaneously (blast beats) to alternately (perhaps HHH's "burst beat?") within short contexts on 'Reign Array' and 'Follow II' alike - producing hypnotizing tracks that remain so despite the fairly consistent change. Naturally, Fox is helped along by ascending guitars, bells, synths, beats, strings, and vocals that break out into major tones at the exact moments my ears need a break from all the intensity. If you listen for one of these moments around the 5:45 mark of 'Follow II', you'll know precisely what release I'm talking about.

On 'Follow' and elsewhere, the vocals attempt to imitate electronic sounds and vice versa. Although Hunt-Hendrix sounds fairly boring on tracks like 'Father Vorizen' and in a couple of other spots, he's redeemed by his ability to work synths into the lines. Again on 'Follow II', the shriek that marks the first vocal a couple of minutes in fades away into a sea of digital fog. Also, the beat on 'Quetzalcoatl' pummels away into the vocal lines that drive the song forward on a seemingly endless loop until it gives way to actual drums exploding in cymbals charging like a mammoth.

Am I the clambering fan some of these scene veterans would hate? I'm new to this genre, sub-genre, and even the band. I struggle to find out what exactly it is that drove the community so batty about Liturgy years ago. Things seem fairly clear in hindsight. But, since I wasn't there when everyone was talking about the controversy surrounding Hunt-Hendrix's rhetoric, all I really have to grasp tightly to is The Ark Work. It's catchy without sacrificing heft. It's a behemoth, but also sounds meditative. Furthermore, it doesn't seem to compromise so much as heartily invite the genres it dives into. The 808s further the black metal mission in conjunction with the intelligibility of many of the vocal lines; which paint a more distinct picture of meaning and story than an hour's worth of screaming would have (although I could use the occasional growl here). Each piece of the puzzle comes together to create a whole that's much different than most discernible forebears. As long as I don't perceive exactly what Liturgy are ripping off, I'm going to keep enjoying the moment.

This is the place you'll find reviews from 405 Readers. To join in, head here.