Album Review: Liturgy — “93696”

Brooklyn’s Liturgy has never lacked for ideas or ambition. Each of their previous five albums saw frontwoman Haela Hunt-Hendrix push herself into new territories to fully express these ideas. Each new album is a progression and refinement from the last. Their sixth full length 93696 again pushes forward from their previous album. Hunt-Hendrix described 2020’s The Origin of the Alimonies as an “opera,” an ambitious description but not an inappropriate one. 93696 may not be an opera but the band incorporates more symphonic compositions into their trademark brand of transcendental black metal.

Haela Hunt-Hendrix uses the term “transcendental black metal” to describe the sound of Liturgy while every release seemingly redefines the use of that term. 93696 continues to do that. On previous albums and songs, Haela Hunt-Hendrix composed songs, such as “Sun of Light” and “God of Love,” that sounded like sonic cathedrals, songs designed to reach the heavens in exaltation to her idea of God. On 93696, Hunt-Hendrix makes an album that’s a sonic cathedral. Each song on 93696 is an integral part of the whole, filled with details that requires multiple listens. Previous albums use of chamber music, flutes, vibraphone, and skittering electronics get incorporated even further than in previous albums. The album makes room for quieter pieces in between the heavier songs. Hunt-Hendrix is in full control of her compositional abilities on this album.

That said, the heavy metal elements here see the band play with complete ferocity. After the choral opening track “Daily Bread,” Liturgy explode out of that into “Djenneration.” Black metal shredding and blast beats are buoyed over the haunting chorus that surrounds them. The title track might open with a vibraphone but then Leo Didkovsky’s thundering drums and Haela Hunt-Hendrix’s black metal howl and frenetic guitar quickly overtakes it. The song becomes a 14-minute thrash epic where the more delicate instruments and the more experimental sounds play a game of tug of war. The penultimate track “Antigone II” has the chorus front and center while the band crashes and collides with each other in the background before leading everyone to an ascension. Thanks to engineer Steve Albini, 93696 is the heaviest Liturgy has ever sounded.

What makes this album remarkable though is that none of these elements compete with one another. There’s always been a tension between Haela Hunt-Hendrix everything and the kitchen sink approach to making black metal. Sometimes one thing might overwhelm something else on an album and put off listeners. Yet Hunt-Hendrix’s great strength as a songwriter is her ability to gauge what works and what doesn’t. There are lessons to be made in experimentation and going for broke though. 93696 is the payoff for the many experiments that she’s made throughout her career.

93696 is the most complete vision of Haela Hunt-Hendrix’s idea of transcendental black metal on a Liturgy album to date. This is an album that does not lack for ambition or ideas. Yet the same could be said of H.A.Q.Q. and The Origin of the Alimonies too. What sounds like their best album to date might only be a stepping stone towards their next masterpiece.

— D. Morris

93696 is available now on Thrill Jockey Records. For more information on Liturgy, check out their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

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