On record, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is one of rock’s more unrelenting band leaders, capable of maintaining a raw, howling scream-sing that would wreck the vocal cords of lesser men. In conversation, though, the Liturgy mastermind is a calm, reserved spokesperson for his band, and seems refreshingly aware of the place his band holds both in and outside the so-called “metal scene.”
Since forming in 2008, Hunt-Hendrix has watched Liturgy blossom from solo project to full-blown Brooklyn buzz band (which now includes guitarist Bernard Gann, bassist Tyler Dusenbury, and drummer Greg Fox). In addition, he’s coined the phrase “transcendental black metal” to describe his shtick, which pulls heavily from the genre’s traditionalists but also incorporates an oddly melodic quality. Liturgy makes hybridized metal music, and Hunt-Hendrix is not afraid to call it like it is.
Of course, when messing with the mandates of anything as dogmatic as black metal, you’re bound to ruffle some feathers, and in the two years since the band’s debut full-length, they’ve found more than a few dissenters. But they’ve also become critical darlings, thanks in part to the recently released sophomore effort, Aesthethica, a grinding and explosive 12-track collection that mixes electronic elements with Fox’s merciless “burst beat” drum work to create an exhilarating and strikingly non-metalhead–friendly record.
“I watched a lot of MTV when I was a little kid and thought that grunge bands were amazing,” said Hunt-Hendrix, via phone and en route to a gig at Pittsburgh’s Brillobox. “But I wanted to pursue philosophy, too: I wanted to put them together.” Though, nowadays, the frontman admits that his initial plan was to become a classical composer, not a metal musician. “It would have made way more sense to pair those two together,” he laughed.
So, then, why metal? Hunt-Hendrix explains that he’d always been attracted to brutal music, from Nirvana and Metallica to Stravinsky, but that the draw is also biological. “This type of music is so male-dominated,” he said. “It has to be partly a male-aggression thing.”
As for the record, which saw its official release in May, Hunt-Hendrix says it’s the most refined thing Liturgy’s done yet. Filled with grinding guitar lines and frantic drum work, Aesthethica is undoubtedly a close relative to the band’s debut, but production-wise, it sounds polished. The percussion sizzles, the riffs are intricate, and the vocals feel at times downright atmospheric.
“It’s a more thought-out album, it’s more complicated, it has a lot more variety in it,” Hunt-Hendrix asserted. “It definitely explores a lot more territory.”
He also understands what sets Liturgy apart, and approaches both his music and the black metal genre with a sincere understanding of what came before. “We play in a very chaotic way, and we’re incorporating elements of minimalism; that’s something we’re very conscious of, blending techniques of minimalism with techniques of black metal.”
And while appreciators are quick to sing the band’s praises (Pitchfork graced the album with a respectable 8.3 score), purists are less inclined to jump on board. “The stuff on blogs … I don’t know, it’s hard to know how many people an angry blogger represents,” Hunt-Hendrix laughed.
No matter, though, as the band is currently winning over fans in the live realm, playing shows throughout the country to metal fans and non-metal fans alike. (One New York Times reviewer cited that theirs is one of the few black metal shows where you can spot “young men with tote bags, [and women] in pink pants and costume pearls” in the audience.) And those who attend leave happy.
“Not everyone falls in love with really heavy brutal music, but if you do, it’s so obvious, and you get so much satisfaction out of it,” said Hunt-Hendrix. “There’s a catharsis that comes with playing it or listening to it.”
Liturgy plays Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) this Friday, July 22, at 8 p.m. Call 966-9328 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.