Liturgy | Interview with Hunter Hunt-Hendrix

Over the years black-metal as a musical genre and philosophical interpretation of life was largely misunderstood by folks who’ve interpreted Nietzsche's thoughts towards individuality and will to power as merely following some dress codes that could be considered repugnant to some conservative societies and proclaiming some blasphemies against Christianity and religion. Nowadays it’s becoming increasingly common to encounter musical collectives that don’t seem to care for none of that and firmly refuse to follow the herd -see Wolves in the Throne and Krallice for an American example- choosing instead to create their own and individual vision of black metal. Brooklyn’s Liturgy are one of such bands, a brief look over their promo shots reveals four normal-looking individuals wearing casual clothes. Yet it was these four that crafted a minimalist, grim, dissonant and blizzardly fast black-metal sound exhibited in their debut recording “Renihilation” that could rival with the grimiest and disgustingly-looking band coming out from the depths of Norway.
Intrigued by the nature of this American black-metal, António Matos Silva quizzed guitarist and vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix to get a clear insight into the inspirations and driving forces behind Liturgy. Read on…


First of all I have to thank you and congratulate you for one of the best records I've heard in the last years. I mean, if there's a "modern black-metal" thing going on, you are it. Your sound, so thick, so intense and beautiful, how did you got there?

“When I was a teenager I was crazy about the classic Norwegian black metal bands. Then I found out about black metal in Eastern Europe and in France, but I never liked USBM very much. It seems to me like America has never developed a distinctive black metal of its own. Even though there's so much of it, most of it is just a pale imitation of the European model. So part of the idea is to create a genuinely American black metal. I've always listened to lots of other style of music, stuff like minimalism or free jazz, not to mention the arty experimental punk that we've had now in Brooklyn for so many years. It seems to me there could be a black metal that's spontaneous, chaotic and free, but that leaves out a lot of the clichés. For me, black metal became a container to put in all sorts of other stuff, and since I wasn't socially connected any black metal scene, there wasn't so much pressure to play in a certain way. I don't know. That probably had something to do with it.”

One thing I find extremely interesting is that you have no lyrics in your songs. Instead we have these high-pitched screams, which kinda rips one apart. Why is that?

“There are lyrics in fact, though they're only included in the vinyl release. But you're right that the screaming is pretty free-floating. But then there's a lot of black metal like that. Generally in black metal the vocals have more to do with adding intensity than something like conveying lyrical content. So as far as vocal style goes, I don't know if we're doing anything new.”

You have to explain two things to me: Renihilation and Pure Transcendental Black Metal. Pretty huge both, right? What are you going for there? Is there any ideology, philosophy for you?

“I can't speak for the rest of the band, but yes, for me there is a philosophy behind the music. Philosophy and the question of ethics are very important to me; because it's very easy to fall into despair or anxiety. The idea of a ‘no’ to nihilism, which comes from Nietzsche, is very meaningful to me. So I call that renihilation. Whether or not Liturgy is post - black metal musically, it certainly is biographically. Misery is what originally made me want to make black metal. For me, personally, I needed to transform black metal from an expression of nihilism into a transcendence of nihilism. That's the personal reason, but I think it also translates into a question for culture at large, and especially counterculture.”

You have violence and also ecstasy in your music. Sometimes, I like to compare it to a phoenix rebirthing from its ashes. It kinda sounds a bit gay, I know, but it really feels like something beautiful coming out of all that chaos. How do you manage doing it, how is your composing process? Any rituals, any particular inspirations...?

“I actually haven't written anything for years. The music on ‘Renihilation’ was composed between 2006 and 2007. This was my process at the time: I'd sit with my guitar plugged directly into headphones through a distortion pedal. I was living in a dorm room, so couldn't make too much noise. I'd improvise tremolo chords, basically waiting to stumble upon something that sparks a feeling of ecstasy. There is a sort of trancelike state that goes along with that, but it's hard to explain. Anyway, I record it then loop the recording, and do the same process for guitar and bass. Then I'd record the whole thing on my laptop. The last thing I'd do would be record a drum machine track. At first the drum machine was just an afterthought. But with the ‘Immortal Life' material, I began to modulate the tempo expressively to complement the arc of the harmonies, which I thought was very exciting. Now I call that the "burst beat".

Living in NY, you have a lot of inspirations from various backgrounds. Seems to me that Swans, Sonic Youth, Krallice, Glenn Branca and why not John Zorn were influential to you guys. Do you also want to break some barriers with your music?

“I don't think breaking barriers can ever successfully be an end in itself. I think when you resolutely follow your interests you automatically break barriers, just because everyone's an individual. So if you're really honest and resolute, you'll automatically do something original. No one has ever had quite the same constellation of influences as me, so if I'm true to what I think is beautiful, it's probably going to sound new."

Religious connotations are also something that goes along with the band: from song titles to album covers... How come that black-metal and religion can be connected? Are you guys religious in some way?

“Yes, religious in some way. It's hard to say what way that is. It's more of an artistic spirituality, a belief in transcendence through music. The Romantic composer Scriabin wanted to write a symphonic work that would spark the apocalypse. He died while working on it. The title was ‘Mysterium’, which is also the title of one of our songs. There's something like that; it's hard to express. The transcendence in Branca is similar.”

I know you started as a one-man band/project but then changed to a four-piece. How did that happen? I imagine you wanted to start playing live...

“Yeah, I mean I went for years without showing my music to more than a few people, my closest friends. There wasn’t much of an audience for black metal in the music scene in Brooklyn. In any case, I needed to be making the music. Then I began to perform live, solo, but it was of course very different, lots of loop pedals, chanting, experimentation and improvisation. Eventually I wanted to be able to play the actual music I'd composed for the records. Then Greg, Tyler and Bernard all moved to Brooklyn at the same time, and were happy to join the band, and all of a sudden we were playing shows. It was very sudden and spontaneous.”

I really need to ask you this: where the hell did you found Greg Fox? I mean, that's a hell of a drummer. And he only uses a snare!!

“We met early in high school. I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt that said "drummer", and asked him if he played drums. He did, so we started a band, which we had for all of high school. We split up to go to different colleges, and I started Liturgy as a solo project. That's where I developed the burst beat, the accelerating blast beat, by turning up and down the tempo knob on my drum machine. I didn't think a real drummer would ever be able to play the burst beat, but when Greg came back from college he rose to the challenge. It worked out really well that I had this unique vision of a way to play drums and that he had the feel and stamina to pull it off. I think the burst beat is almost impossible to play. I'm in awe when I watch him do it.”

How do you react to accusations that Liturgy are part of an invasion of metal by pretentious Brooklynite hipsters?

“I don't know. It's basically true, so if that's upsetting to anyone they'll just have to choose not to listen to us. It's hard to say what a "hipster" is, but the members of our band are attuned to art, have eclectic taste, dress in a certain way, and in any case are not really metalheads. It's only because of where we're from. I'd only protest against an accusation that this meant that the music is somehow ironic or disingenuous. All you have to do is listen to hear that it's totally sincere black metal.”

So much of the message of traditional black metal explores themes of individuality — the individual’s hatred, his sorrow, his isolation, his triumph over god and government. Is any of this in Liturgy's ideology or inspirational themes?

“Yes, but only as something to transcend.”

I profoundly believe that you created something that will change the way people listen to black metal and how many people will play black metal from now on. Do you feel like conquering the world after this?

“I'm very curious about the future of black metal. I mean on the one hand it's the most esoteric genre in extreme metal. Then on the other hand it isn't even really metal at all, and there's something universal about it. And it's this global cultural phenomenon because of Varg, the church burnings etc., though that has nothing to do with the true black metal listenership. I think the culture of black metal is so fascinating, almost like it's important historically in a way that I don't even understand. I just think it's a lot deeper that most people realize, especially the people who keep copying the surface aesthetic of the second wave in Norway.”

Do you already have plans for a second full-length? Don't forget Portugal on a next tour!

“Yes, I'm working on new material right now. The main plan for 2010 though is touring. We plan to tour extensively in 2010. We will definitely come to Portugal as soon as we can!”

António Matos Silva

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1 comment:

  1. HHH's symposium presentation on "Transcendental Black Metal" is available for download at the Black Metal Theory blog.