Some gigs become more than simply a band playing their music for an audience. Some gigs reach beyond mere entertainment and become part of the fabric of your being. Some gigs break you down and rebuild you. This happened to me during Roadburn 2019. In a darkened room – packed so tightly that today my hyper-aware pandemic-paranoia starts to kick in at the very thought of it – I stood mere inches away from Kristin Hayter as she invoked the howling demons of Lingua Ignota. Close enough to be almost knocked unconscious by the flailing lamps that provided the set’s only illumination, I spent the next hour or so adrift in sound and fury. How I felt during that too-brief time is hard for me to explain. I rarely get the chance to use the word ensorcelled so I will use it here.
After that, Lingua Ignota’s recorded output has not only been music that is very dear to me, but also a way to return to that state; sorcerous gateways to a different time and space.
Sinner Get Ready, Hayter’s fourth full-length as Lingua Ignota, seems to intentionally play with this sorcery; opening track The Order Of Spiritual Virgins could easily be a direct continuation of previous album Caligula while both Many Hands and the album’s title invoke the gospel refrains of 2018s All Bitches Die. A simultaneous coda to previous work and overture to the album at hand, these tracks re-introduce us to the signature components of Lingua Ignota’s sound: clanging, bell-like piano; banshee vocals; and sinister samples.
Then we get to Pennsylvania Furnace and something happens, some great and infernal gear grinds into position and everything changes. Pennsylvania Furnace is a song of great simplicity that hides a depth of sorrow and loneliness and almost unbearable yearning. Hayter admits that ‘I watched you alone in the home where you live with your family” and that ’above all / I feel your voice / above all others / above all others’ as a gentle piano melody slowly takes up swelling choral voices. This is a song that is astonishing by itself, especially when set to its unsettling promo video, but after the more clamorous opening tracks, it feels like walking into the coolness of a lonely church set high in sun-seared mountains, the smell of dust and incense and tears hanging in the echoing spaces.
If Pennsylvania Furnace is the church, then Repent Now Confess Now heralds the coming of its congregation. What sounds like plucked banjo builds up a lurching march for the wailing souls and their complaint of ‘I can’t say I don’t deserve it / he’ll take my legs and my will to live’. The once-empty church is now filled with fluttering ghosts, pale memories of small lives with their heads bent low and their faces covered. Yet even a ghostly congregation needs a preacher, and the voice of disgraced evangelist Jimmy Swaggart pervades The Sacred Linament Of Judgment, grating and monotone strings seeming to mock his crocodile tears and snivelling as he apologises less for frequenting the services of prostitutes and more for having been caught.
Sinner Get Ready creates a sense of vastness that seems almost denser than its brethren’s overwhelming noise…
Although initially, if less than convincingly, remorseful for the ‘sexual immorality’ which saw him defrocked, Swaggart eventually told his followers that ‘the Lord told me it’s flat none of your business’ when he inevitable reoffended. Hayter follows this by repeating Swaggart’s invocation of the blood of Jesus – which represents both guilt and forgiveness – in Perpetual Flame Of Centralia. In 1962, an ill-advised attempt to burn landfill rubbish ignited a coal seam underneath the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. The seam would smoulder for over ten years until locals noticed that something was wrong, eventually culminating in the ground literally opening up and swallowing twelve-year-old Todd Domboski. The fire still burns today, and this ‘perpetual flame’ has been used as a metaphor for, sometimes a literal example of a gateway to Hell itself, yet here it can be seen as the barely-covered, still-smouldering sins of men like Swaggart.
At the closing of the album, Hayter takes us down into this inferno as the descending refrain of Man Is Like A Spring Flower mimics a giddy, uncontrolled downhill rush to the voice at the beginning of the hymn-like The Solitary Brethren Of Ephrata who claims, as Hayter too has claimed throughout the album, that she is ‘covered in Jesus’ blood’. Here, Hayter’s layered vocals work with a simple piano line to create an elegiac lullaby that wouldn’t sound out of place wheezing and crackling from the horn of a country clergyman’s Victrola. Eventually we drift into silence and our own thoughts.
For many listeners Sinner Get Ready might come as a surprising album when compared to the previous Lingua Ignota discography. It is, for the most part, a far quieter record with extended sections relying on the silence between instrument and voice, rather than the walls of discordance, found in tracks like Do You Doubt Me Traitor. Yet, strangely, this quietness is no less demanding of its audience and Sinner Get Ready creates a sense of vastness that seems almost denser than its brethren’s overwhelming noise; single piano notes are allowed to reverberate undamped until they collapse in on themselves and Hayter uses the mournful softness of her voice to perhaps greater effect than her screams. I’m brought back again and again to the feel of churches and barns echoing with hymns and folk songs from long, long ago. To the feel of time and the sadness that persists through generations. I cannot bring myself to think how this will feel to experience in a live setting.
The lyrics to Perpetual Flame Of Centralia, perhaps my favourite of Sinner Get Ready’s many highlights, repeat the lines ‘life is a song, a song / and the fires of Hell burn on and on’. This blend of what could never be called hope but might be thought of as persistence tempered with the inevitability of destruction, has pervaded all of Lingua Ignota’s work but it’s here, in this quite beautiful and harrowing record, where it’s most clearly stated.
‘And all that I’ve learned is that everything burns…’
Scribed by: Daniel Pietersen