Liturgy is the sexless hive-geek counterpart to Lana Del Rey, 2011's most polarizing and polarized artist. The Brooklyn black metallers (Liturgy) generated what seemed a comparable amount of criticism to the manufactured pseudo-pop darling (Del Rey) in 2011. Both contentious artists were saturated at various points throughout the music world, for very different reasons (not important now). In fact, the coverage was so skewed critics whined about that coverage itself almost as much as the music itself. Liturgy sold far fewer albums, proving that artistic merit and integrity do not always win out.
The ratio of vertical coverage on certain media outlets--meaning a high number of posts on one specific site--to Lana Del Rey's musical output is highly unbalanced, according to popular Los Angeles-based blog We Listen For You, when compared to other artists with more robust careers. Likewise, the horizontal coverage--meaning many sites posting one or two stories--about Liturgy was totally out of proportion through 2011. The band had been together for 3 years before 2011, had released two albums, and yet suddenly all we could talk about was how Liturgy had sold out on their 2011 Thrill Jockey Records LP Aesthethica, mostly due to front man Hunter Hunt-Hendrix's bold, erudite aesthetics. Hell, I even got in the fray. As a more respected critical benchmark for both, The New York Times' John Caramanica gave passing praise to Liturgy and a devastating critique of Lana Del Rey. NPR's Lars Gotrich had only good things to say about Liturgy; NPR's Ann Powers was less excited about Del Rey.
While it's hard to tell if the information distribution is even up or proportional between the two artists and their sales, one thing we've all but WLFY ignored is the concrete numbers behind this. So Liturgy's rep at Thrill Jockey gave me a call today. He couldn't answer any numbers questions that I had. He said the guy who could was out sick. Lana Del Rey debuted at #1 on iTunes. So there goes that.
But at the least in other numbers, particularly SEO terms, I must laud Pitchfork for giving equal front-page space to Liturgy and Lana Del Rey. Capitalizing on the same web-baiting traffic Spin's Christopher R. Weingarten lampooned in this post, in order to support the same music Pitchfork might actually care about is admirable. In fact, yesterday--the day Lindsay Zoladz gave a dismal 5.5 Pitchfork review of Del Rey's debut, Born to Die - Pitchfork's Brandon Stosuy printed his second long-form interview ever with Hunt-Hendrix. When Jayson Greene reviewed Aesthethica for Pitchfork, the album was given an 8.3 score.
As florid as Greene's writing got in that review, Stosuy's always written starkly about Liturgy and black metal. His Believer Magazine piece on the subject of American Black Metal, titled A Blaze In The North American Sky, is about as rich in objective reporting experience on the subject as Sasha Frere-Jones is succinct in argument for The New Yorker. However, in yesterday's particular installment of Show No Mercy Stosuy comes off as a Grimm gatekeeper, the unhallowed bearded challenger to Hunt-Hendrix's Transcendental Black Metal polemic. Stosuy's opening paragraph read:
I ended the previous Show No Mercy by saying 2011 will go down as the year I got sick of talking about black metal. Plenty of people have asked me about that. Basically: I'm tired of the same narrative being rehashed in features that focus on the story of Burzum's Varg Vikernes killing his bandmate Euronymous, something that happened in 1993 and is no longer central to the genre. I'm not necessarily interested in creating a new narrative, but we do need to push that older story into the background, where it belongs in 2012. It's also worth asking if black metal is just an adjective at this point, or something bigger.
However, he also writes he and Hunt-Hendrix corresponded in person and email. That is to say, thinking about what to say and then writing it. By acknowledging he's complained about think pieces, at the very top of a think piece, he's committing a grave disgrace against Liturgy's politics.
How can this interview be so blatantly self-referential to not even mention the Arkwork? This is a word Hunt-Hendrix coined, at the provocation of Stosuy, at the height of the blog mudslinging. The phrase Arkwork, Hunt-Hendrix explained to Stereogum, is meant to refer to not just his music but also the resultant conversation and fervor around the music. This analysis now that you're reading is as much a part of Hunt-Hendrix's Arkwork as the departure of Liturgy's burst-beat lynchpin Greg Fox is - there's no mechanically quantizing something that breathes. (My recognition of this infinite regression must end here - please do not analyze this piece.)
Regardless, whether we find that breath within Krallice or Tombs or Liturgy or Deafhaven or Wolves In The Throne Room, it's time we all just embraced Hunt-Hendrix's vision of the void. Listen, I read as much of Hunt-Hendrix's manifesto, Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism, as I could find on the web. It's poetic and wonderful and earnest, creating something as much a piece of art as Aesthethica is, an exemplifier of the Arkwork.
The inevitability of the discussion comes down to a concrete discussion of a morality. If we have to look at the numbers here, it would be about murders or church-burnings or number of gauntlets worn. I mean do we really want this murderous Luddite as the rubric for our art form? If a lack of artifice and violence is what separates American Black Metal from Hyperborean Black Metal, shouldn't Hunt-Hendrix be heralded as being able to instigate - or at the very least articulate - such a divide?
Is this Nationalist division among Hyperborean and American lines Hendrix's true Arkwork? It must be accepted as such. It's a moment of political aesthetic fervor not seen since Shostakovich visited the US at the Cold War's most terrifying. And to Stosuy's question: Is black metal just an adjective? No. It is still so much more. Now, the micro-genre must be drawn along those regional divides.
Lana Del Rey's massive failure is her inability to embrace her own Arkwork as central to the narrative.
Watch the video for Liturgy's True Will: