The Rickety Old Shack

Liturgy — H.A.Q.Q.

album cover

One of the most unique projects in the American black metal scene is back, following-up their critically maligned 2015 release The Ark Work with a brand new collection of material that is no less bizarre and jarring. This new record, H.A.Q.Q., continues the extreme experimentation Liturgy began on its predecessor, but executes the genre-bending concept much, much better, producing a late entry on the list on 2019's best releases.

The shortest description of the sound featured on H.A.Q.Q. is like if you combined Botanist, Death Grips and the more traditional black metal aspects of Liturgy's earlier material, put it all in a blender, and somehow didn't cause an electrical fire or otherwise injure yourself. The influences and sundry instrumentation on H.A.Q.Q. are mind-blowing and take more than a few listens to fully process. Despite how busy the material is, however, the experience is actually quite enjoyable — the polar opposite of my reaction to The Ark Work.

Conceptually, H.A.Q.Q. is a musical summation of project mastermind Hunter Hunt-Hendrix's personal philosophy and understanding of god. The title is an abbreviation of "Haelegen Above Quantity or Quality," which — aside from including a made-up word in 'haelegen' — is a mouthful and no more explanatory than just H.A.Q.Q..

I'll be really honest here: I have no interest in the details of the man's beliefs, and just reading the words "...Hunt-Hendrix's uniquely Marxist and psychoanalytic vision of God" elicited an eye-roll so powerful I now know what the back of my skull looks like from the inside, but Liturgy wrote some really engaging tunes and I have no qualms with the source of their inspiration. Hokey, pretentious backstory aside, H.A.Q.Q. is an amazingly coherent mixture of ecclectic influences and sound elements that arguably have no right co-existing as well as they do.

The record opens with a choppy, heavily edited piano piece, and things only get weirder from there as the drums, glitchy audio and aggressive guitars enter the mix. "HAJJ" and the 3 purely piano tracks (each titled "EXACO" and numbered) are responsible for the bulk of the Death Grips vibe I get, but they maintain a melodicism that still makes them both enjoyable and a reprieve from the sonic assault of the rest of the tracks. The whole record swings back and forth between cacophonous, discordant rage and glistening beauty, without completely running off the rails.

The black metal influences are minimal at this point, but still present; tortured screams, caustic guitar chords and sparring use of blast beats retain hints of that identity, but Liturgy have moved deeply into the experimental territory and H.A.Q.Q. is affirmation of this fact. Aside from the shorter, instrumental cuts like "EXACO" 1 through 3, the bulk of the album is comprised of lengthy cuts like "HAJJ," "PASAQALIA" — which features an amazing contrast of a crunchy breakdown and vibraphone — and "GOD IS LOVE," each running between 7 and 9 minutes.

H.A.Q.Q. is a peculiar record, impossible to categorise with any sort of ease, but a rewarding listen for fans of experimental and extreme music. Liturgy have released their best work to date, a unique amalgamation of disparate sounds and styles that pummels the listener with sonically dense, rewarding material. It took me a number of listens to find my footing and several more to fully grasp what was going on.

Summary

One of the year's most unique, mind-boggling releases, H.A.Q.Q. sees Liturgy fully commit to the new direction established on their previous album, but with much more enjoyable results. This record is an amalgamation of a multitude of genres, a synthesis of the extremes of metal and melody, and ultimately the band's most varied, interesting offering to date. H.A.Q.Q. may have been released in the twilight of the year, but is still one of 2019's best metal records.

Album Information

Release date: November 12th, 2019
Record label: Independent

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix — guitar, vocals, piano (tracks 5, 7, 9)
Bernard Gann — guitar
Tia Vincent-Clark — bass
Leo Didkovsky — drums, glockenspiel (tracks 4 and 6)
Eric Wubbels — piano (track 2)
Charlotte Mundy — voice (tracks 1 and 3)
Cory Bracken — vibraphone (tracks 4 and 6)
Marilu Donovan — harp (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
Tadlow Ensemble — strings (tracks 4 and 6)
Lucie Vitovka — hichiriki (track 1)
Adam Robinson — ryuteki (track 1)

Track Listing

  1. HAJJ
  2. EXACO I
  3. VIRGINITY
  4. PASAQALIA
  5. EXACO II
  6. GOD OF LOVE
  7. EXACO III
  8. HAQQ
  9. . . . .

Link: liturgy.bandcamp.com

—by Derek

Published: January 8th, 2019.