The Ark Work

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With the artful strategies Liturgy implemented on 2011's wonderfully excessive, brainy Aesthethica, they simultaneously alienated the purist black metal audience and attracted new fans whose tastes ran more to indie rock than extreme music. When guitarist/songwriter/conceptualist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix delivered his manifesto on "transcendental black metal," it became obvious that Liturgy's philosophical ideas (some emanating from Georges Bataille's notion of ecstatic spiritual nihilism) were as important as their sound. The Ark Work liberates the band from most of black metal's confines while retaining a few key elements -- the blastbeat drumming of Greg Fox and Hunt-Hendrix's own lightning-fast tremolo picking -- but to what end? The Ark Work utilizes an impressive if often questionable array of different instruments and sound techniques in a musical mess that interweaves metal, prog, indie, gothic rock, and even IDM. Its mix and songwriting are often interesting, but in the end it's mostly clumsy. "Fanfare," with its reedy MIDI brass, seems like a deliberately humorous intro with faux regal cadences. But there's no punchline. The bells and glockenspiel that commence "Follow" are a nice touch before samples of a cheering crowd underscore (with unintended melodrama) the entrance of Hunt-Hendrix's and Bernard Gann's guitars, and the former's wispy monotone vocals. Fox's drumming is forceful and dazzling, but so fluid it doesn't anchor anything. Meanwhile, Tyler Dunsberry's bassline overcompensates by merely playing the changes. "Kel Valhaal"'s structure resembles "Fanfare"'s: its chanted vocal is soulless. The bells and glockenspiel are appended by bagpipes and chimes to nice effect, but they're empty and go nowhere, thus making the first three cuts a monotonous suite. Others, such as the attempt at IDM and rap (no lie) on "Vitriol," are just embarrassing. But there are compelling tracks, too. "Follow II" contains an atmospheric, minimal synth painted by quiet, silvery tremolo picking for the first two minutes. When the bassline enters, it thunders. Blastbeats and spiraling guitars reach for the margins, building melodic intensity in an architecture that eventually breaks free into oblivion. "Quetzalcoatl" has a spiky guitar vamp, stuttered vocals, and glitchy, low-end electronic drums as well as treated organic ones. It all moves toward a majestic bridge before turning back on itself as instruments and sounds are exponentially multiplied until it cracks from the weight. At over 11 minutes, "Reign Array" is where all of Liturgy's ambition is realized. Quick-shifting time signatures and noisy textural juxtapositions grind hard against frenetic guitars and manic drumming. Its frenzied peaks erect a monolith to sonic annihilation as a "transcendent" experience. (Even the Eastern liturgical chants work.) These three tunes (out of ten!) provide an abundance of ideas and inspiration during these sessions. But such scant attention is paid to details on The Ark Work that the record never coheres around its sprawling excesses. Ultimately, it frustrates because the listener doesn't get much in the way of reward for the chore of endurance.

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