Ask the average music listener to define “heavy”. Perhaps chugging riffs, breakneck speed, grotesque and offensive lyrics gurgled through a phlegm lined throat that seems to only despise and hate? Yes, that is heavy. To those of us who live for this kind of music, it can be intoxicating, and we consume it with greater and greater ease, because we have become accustomed to this shade of heavy. However, this is only one interpretation of a word with a plethora of faces. That fact is made blatantly clear having experienced the raw horror of Lingua Ignota’s brand new full length, Caligula, which weaponizes a damaged spirit into something truly bestial. It is an unleashed heaviness rarely achieved, finally free from all boundary and constraint.
The musical shadow of Kristin Hayter, Lingua Ignota (latin for Unknown Language), defies absolute classification by genre, instead reaching far and wide through remote styles, founded on a bedrock of genuine rage borne out of Hayter’s experiences of domestic abuse in her own life. Juxtaposing the serene majesty of classical piano and orchestration with its overt antithesis in power electronics and primal chaos, a bizarre tension results, unfamiliar and incredibly dangerous.
The gentle stirring of the opener, “Faithful Servant Of Christ” serves as portents for what Caligula holds in its black heart. A symphonic assembly suddenly morphs into a brooding shadow, given life in Hayter’s ascending voice, which intones assuredly, as though from on high. All the while lingers an ominous presence, seeding discomfort and anxious anticipation for what is to come.
As the title of the song suggests, in Lingua Ignota, Kristin continues to weave her art using fragments of religious imagery and themes from Catholicism, as well as sonically channeling a canonist, sacred atmosphere in many places. While Hayter uses these topics as ways to parallel her own ideas or stand as metaphors, the nature of such a religious institution, especially in our current society, offers that perfect fusion of glorious/vile that is given life in a song like “Butcher Of The World”. Ethereal organ pipes cast golden rays in the mind’s eye, only so that those rays might illuminate the depraved bloodlust waiting close at hand in Hayter’s startling delivery of venomous shrieks. But what at first conflicts with the booming organ pipes is soon embraced, propped up in a display of holy wrath, until abaying, letting Hayter’s softer face shine through in the aftermath, becoming sublimely quiet in the wake of that earlier punishment.
It is clear that, with every track making up Caligula, Hayter is not merely gunning for a single effect. We are pulled along an emotional gauntlet in the course of every single song. Much of Caligula’s impact lies in the brilliant contradiction between form and content, specifically in the way of lyrics against their backdrop of instrumentation. For instance, “May Your Failure Be Your Noose” opens to the touch of serene piano, over which, Hayter sings, “Who will love you if I don’t? Who will fuck you if I won’t?” Thereby, what was first comforting is made crooked and displaced, like cracked glass. Vexingly, this strategy bears more weight than if the words were matched in equally dark sounds. This union of opposites has long been played to great effect in film, too. Kubrick’s, “A Clockwork Orange”, for example, sees a woman is defiled to the chorus of “Dancing In The Rain”.
Having come from a background of classical music training, that Hayter has diverged from a more conservative path and into the underground of power electronics, industrial, and overall harsh music seems to be a vital component, and in Lingua Ignota’s undeniable individuality. Hayter’s already striking compositions are elevated by her confidence and prowess as a vocalist, which explores a seemingly unfettered range. Between the barebones beauty of “Fragrant Is My Many Flowered Crown”, in which Hayter’s voice twists and leaps in the way of an acrobat, or the daemoniac hell of “Day Of Tears And Mourning”, it would seem as though several vocalists were at work.
Placed alongside the great majority of death or black metal vocal performances, Kristin wins out simply in her channeling of unbridled feeling. When she screams or wails operatically, it hurts us somewhere others don’t. When Kristin assures us that, “no shadow will darken your door like mine will”, we believe her without doubt, disturbed more than what any gratuitous gore porn spectacle could instill.
Lingua Ignota tackles much the same tone and thematic elements as swathes of extreme metal bands, though still it achieves a spectacle that few could ever achieve. Horror, rage, violence: all par for the course, but few can attest to a personal relationship with them like Kristin Hayter can. It’s her own relationship with these themes, and her grounding them in a sense of reality that allows her to penetrate to a deeper place of dread and frustration. Paired with her masterful hand as a composer, Caligula is a towering spectacle of human spirit under duress. As with All Bitches Die, before, Kristin Hayter reminds us that to be ‘heavy’ is not at all bound to tremolo picking, blast beats, and shocking stage antics, but can be harnessed by a painful vulnerability just as well.
CALIGULA the new album from LINGUA IGNOTA was released into the wild on CD/2xLP/Digital through Profound Lore Records