So, here’s the thing, if someone had said to me at the beginning of the year the following statement, I would have never taken them seriously, but here we are…
‘Lingua Ignota is going to change her pseudonym to the Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter, make a fucked-up gospel album, and you are going to review it’.
BOOM!! There we are…
Let me say, straight off the bat, I’ve tried to like Kristin Hayter’s previous incantation Lingua Ignota, but it’s always fallen quite flat with me. Maybe I’m not evolved enough, or I’m not pretentious enough, or perhaps I just completely missed the point, but I’ve always found those previous releases to be an elitists dream. This is the culture we seem to be living through, where if something gets released, and the majority don’t ‘get it’, then it becomes something of an entity to cherish, and scoff at your friends for, who maybe don’t get the fuss.
For me, it’s very much a case of that, I didn’t really ‘get it’. I did, however, appreciate its uniqueness in the world, and anything that elevates alternative music above mainstream pap is good with me, even if it isn’t necessarily my cup of tea.
So, when it got announced that the skin of Lingua Ignota was being shed, and very much like the caterpillar becoming the butterfly, there was to be a rebirth as the Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter, for me personally, it was met with some trepidation. Some artists seem to defy classification though, and genre, and Kristin Hayter is one of those entities.
Returning now with a gothic gospel incarnation, the new album is the stuff of dark hellscapes. It’s hardly a user-friendly experience, and in its uniqueness, resides quite a compelling warmth. It would be easy to write it off as just a collection of gospel songs, fucked up, and stylised to depths of hades and back, but it is so much more than this.
It is a visual work of art, portrayed sonically. It conjures up themes of rustic churches, backwater gospel choirs, and that creepy awkwardness that I always feel whenever I hear anything religious, be it in a church, or otherwise.
Through choice, I wouldn’t choose to sit through ANY religious themed opus, disregarding the style, genre, or situation, but this is so very different. What this is, or appears to be, is an old-time cleansing, a redemption of the soul, or even perhaps an exorcism of sorts.
I did read somewhere that this is somewhat a salvation for Kristin Hayter, a rebirth, and a chance to shake those shackles of her former incarnation, and while personally I have no religious sway, atheist by design, I can’t help but be drawn in by the whole experience.
The pain and sorrow is overwhelming, while livelier moments are uplifting and joyous…
I think that it’s in part due to the way in which it has been created, destroyed, and then reborn, much like the artist herself. This isn’t just an album of songs with no context, a standard experience which you would find if you went to any gospel service on a Sunday, throughout the world. What this is, feels like the disintegration of the joy, and more so an embracement of the angst and agony, released into the darkness, as a reminder of just how painful life can be.
As for the music itself, it’s a hard listen at times. The pain and sorrow is overwhelming, while livelier moments are uplifting and joyous. Add to the mix that while creating this work, Kristin deliberately fed bells and chains into the piano, to give a clunky and detuned sound to it all. It sounds painful at times, and bum notes are always in the mix, thanks to the additional elements in the piano’s guts.
If that wasn’t enough, it feels low-fi in recording, basic and boxy. These textures only add to the experience, and then, if that isn’t enough to get you all awkward, I read that the original recording tapes were then ‘damaged’ to add to an even more distressed sound. If that isn’t an accident waiting to happen, I then I don’t know what is.
At times it works well, while at others it makes it inaudible, and unlistenable. Maybe it’s for a more advanced palette than mine, but there are times where it doesn’t make me feel uneasy, as much as it does want me to stop the bus and get off.
An equal balance of tracks I loved, and others not so much, the standout for the whole album, for me, is track two, All My Friends Are Going To Hell. This is perhaps the most accessible, and as a casual listener, it was the breakthrough highlight.
Obviously, as with all this artists work, it will be polarising. I’ve found that it’s either ‘Oh I love her work’, or ‘Nope, I don’t get it’, but this is the same with all great art, it challenges your perceptions, and if nothing else, that is the beauty I take from the album.
Awkward and unnerving, if you want a challenge, then this will give you that, but even for its minimalist input, the outpouring is immense. Existing fans I’m sure will love this new direction, and for me, I find this more enjoyable than previous releases, but if you are new to the artist, take heed, it could be a rough ride indeed.
Scribed by: Lee Beamish