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Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, besides having an alliterative name, also has a reputation for words. The bandleader of Brooklyn-based Liturgy has written numerous times on music, and his take on what he has termed "transcendental black metal" has earned him a reputation for loquaciousness that has resulted in a few back-and-forth exchanges with other musicians and fans, not all of them positive. En route to a visit of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, though, he's as relaxed as one could want.
"I really enjoy thinking about and writing about music, but not just that. There's an aspect of the band that isn't just music; there's an urge to express that stuff," he says. "In rock, people value not being very articulate. Yet a lot of the classical composers also wrote and write at length—that's maybe an inspiration. I used to spend a lot of time reading Stockhausen's writing, while Xenakis has this beautiful vision that inspires his music; he wrote an entire book about it. Every new Steve Reich piece comes with a neat essay about where he thinks it fits into music history. There's definitely a tradition of writing about your music, but maybe it's not the same tradition in rock."
Hunt-Hendrix is partway through his band's latest tour, a nationwide trip that includes a stop in Costa Mesa on Sunday. Liturgy's second and most recent album, Aesthetica, released earlier this year on Thrill Jockey, has been caught up in a wider debate within American metal that is this year's recurrence of a now-endless argument about real vs. "false" metal, however described. Seemingly lost in the whole exchange is whether the album is any good; with songs such as "Harmonia," with its dramatic chanted opening shading into bursts of exultant guitar and drums, Aesthetica is no slouch.
"It's been different for the past two records," notes Hunt-Hendrix. "For the first record [2009's Renihilation], we recorded quickly after having learned the songs, and over time, we performed them in a way that sounded like the record. This time around, we played the songs a whole lot before recording the record—I spent more time writing this record, and the songs reflect that. It's basically a replication of the live experience. We're not doing anything in the studio that wouldn't be possible live."
Ultimately, the drive he finds in performance is something that can be seen both in how he writes about music and how he performs it—no question that he and his band mates don't stand stock-still onstage. When it comes to concerts, action and activity are key.
"The music is meant to be very physical; the joy we get in playing it comes out of that," he says. "The idea of transcendental black metal—a big part of that is having sort of an organic quality, as opposed to an atmospheric quality. That's not something we think about too much, but the physical playing and us syncing together are definitely really important.
"I aim for that impossible transcendent space," Hunt-Hendrix concludes. "You asymptotically draw close, but never quite to it. But sometimes, there are definitely ecstatic experiences where you feel you're inside it."
This article appeared in print as "The Triple H of Black Metal: Liturgy's Hunter Hunt-Hendrix on Stockhausen and the goal of reaching that 'impossible transcendent space.'"