Liturgy: 93696

For over a decade, Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix has cloaked her shapeshifting metal band Liturgy in a dense matrix of symbology. Diving into her Substack and YouTube channel, where she connects dots between Marxist thought, the Upanishads, Thomas Aquinas, and Aleister Crowley, can be as enlightening as it is mystifying. For all of Hunt-Hendrix’s theorizing, though, the music has always been thrillingly physical. It’s one thing to read about her concept of the “burst beat” and how her rapid-fire rhythms are intended to induce a state of awakening and transformation. It’s another thing to simply feel it.

Devotees willing to trawl through Hunt-Hendrix’s countless diagrammatic wireframes may notice a recurring theme, perhaps best encapsulated by the title of one of her videos: “What Will Heaven Be Like? (Part 1).” Hunt-Hendrix’s music reaches toward utopian catharsis, reshaping the craven and nihilistic timbres of black metal into blissful, glowing pillars of sound. In her manifestos, she’s described a desire to create music that pushes listeners toward self-discovery and actualization, a goal that’s taken on more personal weight after she came out as trans in 2020. “Gender dysphoria is a huge part of what made me make this music,” she told the Needle Drop. 93696, whose title is intended to mean “heaven” according to Hunt-Hendrix’s interpretation of Thelemic numerology, plays as its name suggests: This is Liturgy in their purest form, tapping all of their strengths to reach their most radiant incarnation yet.

Across 80 minutes, 93696 incorporates elements from throughout Liturgy’s evolution. The mathy riffs of 2011’s Aesthetica, the glitch-hop of 2015’s The Ark Work, and the baroque orchestration of 2019’s H.A.Q.Q. and 2020’s Origin of the Alimonies are all accounted for (even riffs and motifs from previous songs reappear here in new shapes). 93696 may not present anything Liturgy haven’t done before, but it connects their many zigzagging roads into a rich cartography. Take “Djennaration,” whose vicious symphonic assault smashes through the gates in the album’s opening minutes. As its melody unfurls, drummer Leo Didkovsky batters his snare within an inch of its life. When Hunt-Hendrix’s shriek finally emerges, surrounded by chirping flutes, she sounds as if she were trying to tear a hole through the sky. After three continuously crescendoing minutes, a hip-hop bridge suddenly drops in, its rumbling bass and coarse handclaps finding a more natural interplay than her previous dalliances into the genre.

There’s a tenderness coursing through 93696, even when the band pushes its sound to extremes. As “Haelegen II” swells from its gloomy piano intro to a sludgy, tremolo stomp, the track comes off like Hunt-Hendrix’s version of a power ballad, with Didkovsky’s rapid blastbeats intensifying its melancholic sway. On the soaring 15-minute title track, the band’s thundering riffs and head-spinning polyrhythms come laden in glockenspiels and shimmering strings, lending their violent thrashing an elegiac, mournful resolve. In between the multi-suite epics, Liturgy include an array of brief interludes that restore an eerie calm. Following the short-circuiting final attack of “Caela,” the choral voices of “Angel of Sovereignty” undulate with a yearning, baptismal tranquility. The brittle ocarinas of “Red Crown II” tremble softly, as if illuminated by the glow of a post-apocalyptic campfire.

Liturgy have always brought a proggy, sprawling ambition to their music, but rarely have all the pieces locked into place so elegantly. 93696 can be pulverizing, but it’s also gentle, and amid the brutality lie some of Hunt-Hendrix’s prettiest and most ornate songs yet. As time has gone on, Hunt-Hendrix has discussed her interest in undoing conceptions of metal as a masculinist enterprise: “We’re ripe for a feminization of metal,” she explained in a 2020 video, going on to suggest that this may be a vital path forward for the genre. Listening to her band in full command of its sound, weaving between passages of chaotic release and delicate beauty, it sounds as if Liturgy have finally found some kind of promised land.

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