Album Review: Liturgy – The Ark Work


Hunter Hunt-Hendrix cannot catch a break. With his work as Liturgy, he has crafted some of the most vivacious, jarring metal records we’ve heard in recent years. Take 2011’s Aesthetica as an example. The record operates between quiet and loud like little else on the market. Its use of black metal techniques (blast beat, tremolo guitar, banshee screaming) is juxtaposed with equal force by classical cadences of ritual chants and rounds. It’s pretty jarring, heady stuff that falls right in line with Hunt-Hendrix’s love of philosophy, particularly with respect to the black metal tradition. But Hunt-Hendrix isn’t popular in the black metal community for his efforts. Why? He refuses the play the game by the rules. And, for a genre that takes so much of the sacred and profane into question already, choosing to dance a different dance on sacred ground is a bold move. Yet, for all this, when Hunt-Hendrix decided to break from the genre and create the highly experimental new Liturgy effort, The Ark Work, the only press he gets for it involves his break from more traditional black metal. This is a real crime, because apart from all comparison, even apart from understanding all of the high-minded philosophy behind it, The Ark Work is a nonconventional record that pulls from a completely improbable number of influences to make a maximalist record unlike any other. Found somewhere between black metal, industrial, hip-hop, and classical, Liturgy find a new celestial kingdom worth exploring on The Ark Work, and it baffles and delights in equal parts.

The Ark Work opens with “Fanfare”, a track is exactly what it sounds like: a fanfare of horns that sounds like it’s welcoming royalty into a kind of somber ceremony. But in context of Liturgy’s journey up to this point, “Fanfare” means so much more than the sum of its parts. First, it’s a sample based track, production driven, not recorded, guitar-less, and drumless up until the last pound before “Follow” explodes into full flame. What’s interesting is that the horn fanfare lightly makes use of Hunt-Hendrix’s coined rhythm technique of burst beat, a modification on the traditional black metal blast beat that varies the rhythms. It goes from a straight blast to a split of rhythmical couplet from eight to triplet, and downwards – it kind of sounds like a snare drum soundtracking a building collapse. Here, it’s the horns that do the bursting, like a coin bouncing before it lays dead on the floor. The fanfare welcoming in the new era of Liturgy sounds nothing like what we’ve heard, and yet, it’s familiar.

Akin to the first track, Hunt-Hendrix is much more open to the use of production as a sonic and atmospheric technique throughout the record. The explosive textures of “Follow” are brought to epic, 300 type proportions with a wash that sounds like a screaming crowd and industrial double bass. The use of this production alongside the brutal textures reminds the listener a bit of The Downward Spiral, not as much in terms of cadence or mood, but in production. But as “Follow” spills into “Kel Valhaal”, the glockenspiel is joined by a full horn section and bagpipes. Seriously, when was the last time you heard bagpipes on a metal track and tingles on the back of your neck? “Kel Valhaal” uses the same exploding horn rhythm technique as “Fanfare”, now brought to full apocalypse level with help from the phenomenal drum work of Greg Fox. You wait a full three minutes before the track explodes into a driving march. Over this cacophony of anxiety, Hunt-Hendrix then comes in with a monotone, rhythm drone. It’s almost rapping, but it’s more like a sacred chant, help painstakingly at the same tone for the duration of not just the song but the album. Yes, Hunt-Hendrix’s delightfully blood curdling scream is gone, but it’s been replaced by something all the more haunting and impactful, in a way no one is going to replicate. After four additional minutes of droning raps and unstoppable walls of sonic assault, the song comes to close and you get a chance to finally catch your breath. Then the circular “Follow” theme returns on organ, soon echoed in the form of a round on the guitar, before the whole thing becomes a prog metal plus orchestra exploration of time and space. It’s not really worth trying to spell it out in words. Some things you really just have to hear to believe.

The first four tracks form such a perfect first movement on the record that even the respective five and six minutes of “Quetzalcoatl” and “Father Vorizen” both feel brief. As the eye of the storm, both showcase a very different side of The Ark Work – it’s these sides that we seem to explore in full depth in the opening movement and the closing third. “Quetzalcoatl” is the most cosmic, brutal thing on the record. An industrial drum is topped by equal parts tremolo guitar freakout and synthesizer, and as the two encircle each other, it almost feels minimal compared to the prior twenty minutes. But the track builds with ascending strings, and soon explodes into a heavier than lead battle between heaven and hell. Hunt-Hendrix’s vocals and lyrics both embody an internal struggle between transcendental selves. Taking its name from the Mayan snake god of fertility, the voice balances new creation and unrequited rage into an unending spiritual struggle. The latter track is made up all heavy, powerful fifth chords, echoing the unbearable brightness of some Aesthetica tracks like “High Gold”. But the same somber hesitation that haunted “Fanfare” echoes here, like a perfect knowledge of self somehow doubted. It’s this light and dark that permeate The Ark Work, with or without the listener paying attention. It’s this cosmic battle that gives the album a sensibility that all but swallows you.

After the small, melancholy reprieve of “Haelegen” and before the apocryphal prophecy of the last two tracks, we get to the record’s crown jewel: “Reign Away”. Truly, this is maybe the best Liturgy song to date. The twelve minute monster operates on every emotional level, going from its reserved Ocarina of Time intro to the insurmountable bagpipe ending. The movements of this piece work like a grand opera. First, there is the struggle, described by Hunt-Hendrix over another brilliant glockenspiel and tremolo guitar motif. Then after building to a climax, the center declaration of action is a dark, fiery chorus of a thousand. Then there’s more struggle – insane blast beat drums from Greg Fox (it will make your arms hurt for him) and tremolo on all parts, be it glockenspiel, guitar, bass, there might even be some strings in there. Hunt-Hendrix’s mantras talk of damnation, salvation, and everything in between – the totality of the immortal soul’s cosmic experience. But none of this compares to the final seven minute mark break where the bagpipes slice through the track like seeing the sun break through clouds for the first time ever. The four and a half minutes of brilliant euphoria never feel like enough – the feeling at hand is truly indescribable. You can’t bottle what Liturgy have done on this track. It is without a doubt one of the best tracks we’ll hear this year.

With The Ark Work, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix blew off the critics and made the record he wanted to make. It doesn’t sound like anything else out there, and that’s a good thing for us. The result is a mind-bending, speaker-melting masterpiece, and easily the best Liturgy record we’ve heard to date. The Ark Work is out this week on Thrill Jockey. Grab it at your local record store on CD or limited edition clear vinyl. Liturgy are headed out on tour in support of the new record. On April 28, you can catch them at Neumos co-headlining alongside labelmates and noise gods Lightning Bolt, who are also gearing up for a new record. If that doesn’t sound like a good time to you, I don’t know what does. Grab tickets here.

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Music That Matters Podcast: The Morning Show Rock Block

Check out some of the KEXP DJ’s favorite artists from the Pacific Northwest and around the world on-the-go. KEXP’s Music That Matters weekly podcast brings you an exclusive mix of new music from the world’s best independent artists.

PINS // photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

Currently, you’ll hear:

Music That Matters, Vol. 453 – The Morning Show Rock Block
Join Morning Show host John Richards for a mix that’s loud, new, and full of rocks.

1. Beech Creeps – Times Be Short
2. Cloakroom – Starchild Skull
3. Male Bonding – A Kick to the Face
4. Darlings – Gardone
5. The Crush – Someone For You
6. Zebra Hunt – Delaware
7. Title Fight – Chlorine
8. Feedtime – Flatiron
9. Grooms – Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair
10. Novella – Land Gone
11. PINS – Too Little Too Late
12. Radical Dads – Slammer
13. Killer Ghost – No Denyin’

Listen here: (MP3)

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You can subscribe to all of our podcasts here.

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Sub Pop’s 2015 Loser Scholarship


Hey kids! Time is running out for you to be a loser: the deadline for Sub Pop’s 2015 Loser Scholarship is Thursday, April 2nd.

Every year, this highly-respected local label offer a scholarship opportunity for graduating high school seniors who reside in Washington or Portland, and are on their way to full-time enrollment at an accredited university or college. Sub Pop looks for applicants who are involved and/or interested in music and/or the creative arts in some way. There are three scholarships up for grabs — one for $7,000, one for $5,000, and one for $3,000. Think of how many pizzas that will buy. (We kid, we kid!)

To apply for these scholarships, just submit an essay, no longer than one page, letting Sub Pop know about one or more of the following topics:

• What are you doing in the arts/music field in your community?

• How and/or why did you become interested in artistic outlets?

• How would this scholarship money help you to progress in your chosen field?

• What are your influences and/or who inspires you? Who are some of your favorite bands or artists?

Click here for more information on how to apply, and don’t dilly dally: all submissions and attachments need to be sent to by April 2nd, 2015. Scholarship winners will be announced on April 15th. Good luck to all teens on being a loser!

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Friday Music News

photo by Dave Lichterman

  • Jamie xx, aka Jamie Smith, has shared the music video for his new track “Loud Places (featuring Romy)” from his debut solo LP, In Colour. The album features collaborations with Four Tet, the xx’s Oliver Sim, Popcaan, and Young Thug. In Colour drops on June 1 via Young Turks. [Pitchfork]

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Friday on My Mind: April Fools!

It’s time again for Friday on My Mind. Our weekly blog post where we look at videos centered around one common theme. This is a collaborative effort between KEXP and King 5 News.

We’ve come almost to the end of March, and we want to give you a little time to prepare for April Fools’ Day this year. This annual prank-a-thon falls on Wednesday, so trust no one, and have a few tricks of your own up your sleeve. It’s not exactly clear when the first of April became a day of jokes and hoaxes, but it goes back hundreds of years. And Wikipedia notes it is not a unique holiday, “The custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon one’s neighbor is recognized everywhere. Some precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, the Holi festival of India, and the Medieval Feast of Fools.” Whatever the origin of April Fools’ Day, we’ve put together a playlist of songs about fools and foolishness. Not surprisingly, many of them center around themes of love and loss. But there are many ways to make a fool of yourself and your friends. Come up with a few fun new ways this year!

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Song of the Day: The Fascination Movement – The Ones You Love


Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on the Morning Show with John Richards, is “The Ones You Love” by The Fascination Movement from the 2015 self-released single.

The Fascination Movement – The Ones You Love (MP3)

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Thursday Music News

photo by Brittany Brassell (view set)

  • Run the Jewels have released a powerful new music video today for the track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).” Director A.G. Rojas shows actors Shea Whigham (“Boardwalk Empire”, “Agent Carter”) as a cop and Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Snoop Dogg in the upcoming N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton) as an unarmed man in an exhausting, brutal, extended fight. In a statement, Rojas states, “When Run The Jewels sent me this track, I knew we had the opportunity to create a film that means something. I felt a sense of responsibility to do just that. We had to exploit the lyrics and aggression and emotion of the track, and translate that into a film that would ignite a valuable and productive conversation about racially motivated violence in this country. It’s provocative, and we all knew this, so we were tasked with making something that expressed the intensity of senseless violence without eclipsing our humanity.” Watch the video below, and visit Spin for the rest of Rojas’s statement. [Spin]

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Review Revue: Barry Adamson – Moss Side Story


You might not know the name Barry Adamson, but if you’re a KEXP listener you’ve likely heard him – if not any of his excellent solo work, then as a member of bands such as Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. (Those are, in fact, the two things that anybody knows about Adamson, as one of the DJ comments below will make clear.) In 1989, Adamson was a once and future Bad Seed (he recently rejoined the band to play and tour on the 2013 album Push the Sky Away) who had just released his first solo LP, a soundtrack for a movie that didn’t exist. Since that time, Adamson has created many more cinematic musical soundscapes, some of which even had movies to go with them! (He made some vital contributions to the wonderful Lost Highway soundtrack, one of the few soundtrack albums I own.)

Albums like this are the perfect argument for why stations like KEXP (then KCMU) are and always have been so important, especially in the pre-internet era. Can you imagine this record coming into a commercial radio station and anyone having any idea what to do with it? “So, it’s a soundtrack? For what movie? No movie? Who sings on it? Oh, it’s mostly instrumental, but Diamanda Galas makes an appearance?” I’m so glad this passionate group of folks was there to listen to this record, write all over it, play it on their shows, make penis references, and draw giant H’s on it. Read More »

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Live Videos: The Sidekicks

photo by Alan Lawrence (view set)

Armed with a fine assortment of tracks from their new Seattle-recorded release, Ohio band The Sidekicks unleash their brand of hooky rock in the KEXP live room. On Runners in the Nerved World, they’ve branched out from their punkish roots and now take pleasure in crafting out songs that are invigoratingly fresh and full of wonder. From the catchy hook of “Everything in Twos” to the Blue Album Weezer-era inspired sound of “Deer” and “Jesus Christ Supermalls”, The Sidekicks take you on a freewheeling trip down the highway of cosmic youth music with its own stash of in-built natural highs along the way. So come along with The Sidekicks and watch the full set below.

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Song of the Day: Ivan & Alyosha – All This Wandering Around

photo by Veronica Coleman

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on the Morning Show with John Richards, is “All This Wandering Around” by Ivan & Alyosha from the 2015 album It’s All Just Pretend on Dualtone.

Ivan & Alyosha  All This Wandering Around (MP3)

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