Listening to Aesthethica, the second album from Brooklyn black metal group Liturgy, one wonders what the proverbial shit storm is all about. The album, like The Body’s All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood and Shining’s Blackjazz, attempts to stretch the boundaries of black metal by incorporating more streamlined influences and generally polishing their style. Aesthethica still very much sounds like a black metal album, but its vague optimism in both instrumentation and lyrics has garnered much criticism from people who believe that black metal should not be taken to such impure places. Call it the gentrification of black metal and suddenly the oft-used “hipster metal” epithet makes a lot more sense.
Honestly, though, fans of black metal won’t have anything to worry about in terms of Aesthethica encroaching upon their beloved subgenre, or even All the Waters or Deathjazz for that matter. Although these albums try their damndest to contort black metal into disfigured shapes, they are not particularly worth the time spent mulling over their genre implications, because they’re not particularly good albums. While it featured some of the greatest instrumental performances of 2010, Blackjazz was fractious and uncomfortable with itself, showing in songs that frequently felt incomplete. All the Waters was just tuneless buffoonery that’s refusal to tether to any remote song structure made it borderline unlistenable and its influence inert. Musically, Aesthethica sounds like an improvement on All the Waters, but it still lacks cohesion, the group’s distortionless power chords and singer Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s disemboweled shrieks providing a shaky base through which the group can test the rigid limits of their genre.
What is interesting about Aesthethica, though, is its use of repetition. Many of the album’s tracks boil down to the stubborn replication of a few guitar chords with bass and drums following in lock step. It’s a very interesting way of making music, but a full album of it gets tiresome quickly, and, eventually, it becomes so numbing, it straddles boredom. The repetition in “Generation” and “Sun of Light” is invigorating in doses and an excellent display of Liturgy’s musical skill, as the group maneuvers through sharp turns with great ease. However, it’s just too much. At a certain point in the album, you start to treasure the rare moments that flow instead of shove like the keyboard line in “Helix Skull”, the linear riffing in “Veins of God” and even the obnoxious, layered hums of “Glass Earth”.
All in all, the purpose of Aesthethica feels like stale provocation, and provocation without substance is pretty meaningless. While I do not dislike the sentiment of what Liturgy is trying to do, it is clear that, through their and other groups’ recent albums, the all-out expansion of black metal is still in the embryonic stage. Critics have been hailing this album particularly as a groundbreaking metal release, but I’m starting to think in this case innovation is being confused with aimlessness. This movement to confound the boundaries of metal, black and otherwise, will probably gain a better footing as more albums are released that improve upon Aesthethica, but, if this album is any indication, that movement will take a lot longer than expected.