Sound — 7
Though at face value, calling Liturgy a black metal band is a no-brainer, plenty of people would opt not to starkly place Liturgy in the black metal category - including the band themselves. Founder and frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix had categorized his project's sound in particular as being "transcendental black metal," so while the murky screaming, blastbeat and tremolo are the adhesive that keep that black metal sticker on their sound, he strives to make Liturgy much more than that. And even though it's that kind of branching out sonically that inevitably upsets the black metal purists (oh, the irony of "sonic sacrilege" in a music genre embedded in blasphemy), the project's interest to be unconventional earned them praise by critics. Their debut album, "Renihilation," would garner warm reception, and their follow-up, "Aesthethica," would end up being recognized as one of the best albums of 2011 by numerous publications. But despite this critical lauding, Hunt-Hendrix would see the success of "Aesthethica" as a half-empty glass. Feeling that black metal was now considered a "safe zone" from a compositional standpoint, Hunt-Hendrix made it clear that the next Liturgy record would deviate further from the conventional concept of black metal, in the interest of difference.
That vow would ultimately be upheld, as displayed in Liturgy's new record, "The Ark Work." All things considered, the album focuses more on the experimental deviations than the black metal sections. Synthetic elements play the biggest element in this sonic expansion, and in some cases are the only element utilized. The aptly-named introductory track "Fanfare" consists only of horn-timbre analog synths, the interlude of "Haelegen" pairs a deep and glossy synth melody with a synthetic harpsichord, and the most experimental song on the album, "Vitriol," takes the band's penchant for acapella moaning ensembles and loops them throughout - turning them into the main melody - as heavily-distorted synth kicks supply the rhythm, making the song best described as being "acid rap." Strangely enough, a hip hop feel is felt throughout the album, though, because of Hunt-Hendrix's new vocal style, which is another integral deviation in "The Ark Work." Completely abstaining from his former black metal shrieking, he employs a monotone chanting style, and his purposefully-clambering delivery of vocals (which contrasts the constant monotone quality) plays a polyrhythmic role to the pace of the instruments in songs, like the droning riffage of "Kel Valhaal," and "Quetzalcoatl."
That, as well as synth elements, are employed to juxtapose the inherent ferocity of the black metal aspects of songs: the resonant chiming of bells and sampled crowd cheering in "Follow" stand stronger in the mix than the blastbeat/tremolo; "Quetzalcoatl" is augmented with gabber-style kicks and a number of peripheral synth elements; and "Total War" employs a tempo-manipulating industrial loop with an ebbing and flowing rapidity. Even though the black metal sections of the album have a place on the album - being the traditional black metal aspect of Liturgy, but more importantly, being the peanut butter to the jelly of these new sonic elements - ultimately, the black metal parts mostly feel like a token part of "The Ark Work" - an inference that, given the context of Hunt-Hendrix's aired feelings towards black metal, is probably true.
Lyrics — 6
Even if you were to only gauge Liturgy based on their lyrical matter alone, one could tell that the band was evolving from their black metal beginnings. As the conventional dark and doomy themes in the lyrics of "Renihilation" would grow into a more diverse and abstract set of lyrics in "Aesthethica," the lyrical matter in "The Ark Work" further ventures into the abstract. Perhaps taking a page from Cedric Bixler-Zavala's lyrical style, Hunt-Hendrix shows just as much a penchant for flexing archaic, Google-search worthy vocabulary as much as he shows a penchant for ranting about modern-day topics - the leap from the draconian aura of "Father Vorizon" to the post-modern radical poetry of "Vitriol" shows how dynamic the range of subjects can feel. Stream-of-consciousness rhyming (or rambling, for the more critical) also plays a big factor, and paired with Hunt-Hendrix's trance-like vocal style, the best way to sum up his output on "The Ark Work" at face value is to imagine if someone started free-style rapping in the middle of an ayahuasca trip. But notwithstanding the few cases of recurring patterns (like the short verses of "Follow" and "Follow II") and foreshadowing ("Kel Valhaal" previews one of the choruses of "Quetzalcoatl"), most of Hunt-Hendrix's psychedelic musings on the album are scatterbrained, and feel mostly like rhymes for the sake of rhyming.
Overall Impression — 7
Whether you opt to call it "transcendental black metal," stoner-appropriated black metal or something else (epithets included), "The Ark Work" is an undeniably daring leap into new waters for Liturgy, and its boldness certainly resonates strongly. In terms of stirring things up, "The Ark Work" accomplishes that with flying colors, and duly makes for the most colorful album of their catalog, but this intrigue comes at the cost for the visceral energy of Liturgy's more black-metal-centric music from before. As enthralling as its deviating qualities may be, "The Ark Work" is more enjoyable to dissect than it is to listen to.