As of February 13 2020, heavy metal will officially be 50 years old. The crescendo of an almost two-decade arms race that had begun in the mid-50s when blues guitarists recognised the potential of electric guitars to create an unholy racket, the release of Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut marked the moment that noise went truly nuclear. Tolling bells and pouring […]
As of February 13 2020, heavy metal will officially be 50 years old. The crescendo of an almost two-decade arms race that had begun in the mid-50s when blues guitarists recognised the potential of electric guitars to create an unholy racket, the release of Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut marked the moment that noise went truly nuclear. Tolling bells and pouring rain proved a portent of what was to come, ‘Black Sabbath’ (the track) roaring to life with a heaviness that far outstripped what had come before, leaving the proto-metal likes of Coven, Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer in the dust. In its wake, it carved out an entirely new genre from the sudden redundancy of 60s rock. From there, everything could only go one way – darker, heavier and nastier than the guys before. So, they did.
Bands got faster, bands got slower; they got more gruesome, they got more emotional. At the heart of it all, each innovation was driven by the idea that the music could transcend what had come before it, each twist introducing a new subgenre to the metal canon, allowing it to spread to every corner of the earth. And inevitably, it stagnated. While metal continues to grow and thrive today, there’s no denying that the markers of ‘heaviness’ that usually measure the genre have become somewhat redundant. It doesn’t matter how slow, fast, heavy, technical or simple you go – somebody has probably done it before, and so now all that remains is to find a way to push beyond those limitations; to recognise the structures that constrain metal today and go further still.
Lingua Ignota’s third record CALIGULA is a dark, twisted masterpiece that harkens back to heavy metal’s earliest instinctual signifiers – to provoke, to awe, to terrify. It doesn’t do this through thrashing riffs, furious blast-beats or even glacial, ceaseless rumbles of low-end. Instead, it refers back to those nascent stages of heavy music before the forms had been set, eschewing even the traditional use of guitar, bass or drums in creating a cacophonous, suffocating sound that reaches deeper into the mire than almost any other artist around. That it achieves this whilst sounding much closer to a sonic descendent of The Velvet Underground or Swans than Black Sabbath or Death speaks volumes to just how different a flavour this is within extreme music.
And believe me, Lingua Ignota is extreme. Helmed by multi-instrumentalist Kristin Hayter, the project has previously shown inclinations towards industrial and noise elements, which whilst providing a heaviness in their own right, don’t quite do justice to the unyielding edge of this third record. Instead, what we have here leans more on Hayter’s background in classical music, which mixed in with conservative elements of her former sound have managed to come out with something so much richer and more immersive than what most extreme music fans will be used to. For one, when the sound hits crescendo, it feels like a suffocating wall of noise that oppresses the listener and puts every cell on edge.
That’s just the music. If the all-caps song titles weren’t indication enough, titles like ‘DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR’, ‘MAY FAILURE BE YOUR NOOSE’ and ‘IF THE POISON WON’T TAKE YOU MY DOGS WILL’ communicate the bilious nature that dwells within. Drawn around experiences of abuse and themes of violence and revenge, this record is unsettling and uncompromising. At times fragile, often hostile and filled with loathing directed both externally and internally, it focuses on emotional responses and atmosphere almost entirely whilst completely sidestepping the usual sensationalism and story-telling tropes that usually communicate (and, in many ways, trivialise) such topics.
That isn’t to say that CALIGULA shies away from making a statement – rather, its entire set-up is a statement in and of itself. Lines like “If you rise up to Heaven / I turn the sun to blind you / if you sleep deep in hell / I have chains to bind you” offer poetry and horror that few bands tread near, Hayter’s voice breaking as she howls the line “How do I break you / Before you break me” on ‘DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR’ to truly drive home the terror and discomfort. As opposed to the usual order of heaviness, wherein sound would become an all-encompassing blanket from which these lyrics are spat, here we have minimalist use of piano and building dread, the bass almost incidental to the scene unfolding.
By the definitions of extreme music, CALIGULA is a challenging and punishing listen. It is also, as with many other extreme forms of art, rewarding and cathartic in parts. The balance between harsh noise and vocal, and more operatic forms (accompanied by classical instrumentation) lend it a beauty that lures the listener in before flooding them with venom. It is this dichotomy that makes it such a compelling listen, pushing hard against expectations of what heavy music can achieve whilst incorporating just enough iconography to make itself familiar.
No review of this record I have read (nor would be able to write) can really do it justice. A trite thing to say some 860 words in, but truthfully the only person who can truly express Lingua Ignota is Kristen Hayter herself. This is a record built on personal experience and emotion, difficult to perceive but uncomfortably recognisable nonetheless. Some 50 years after it first emerged, the boundaries of metal are becoming mutable once again, allowing for greater experimentation and exploration. Just a cursory look at the shape of the heavy music landscape in 2019 (on the underground, at least) paints a picture of a scene finally happy to tear free from restraints. You need only look at the emergence of the likes of the above-mentioned artists to find a scene filled with artists determined to reshape it into something more nuanced and exceptional. CALIGULA embodies this spirit, embracing paths less-trod and expressing itself in a way that makes it stand out so starkly, reclaiming the sense of otherness that all alternative music forms should embrace.
Lingua Ignota – CALIGULA
Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
Venom Prison – Samsara
Dinosaur Pile-Up – Celebrity Mansions
Press Club – Late Teens
Indoor Pets – Be Content
Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Employed To Serve – Eternal Forward Motion
Death Tribe – Beyond Pain and Pleasure: A Desert Experiment