Here we have an interesting album. I want to rant about this album simply because it’s so interesting.
The Ark Work has several flaws, and I’d like to cover that part first. Firstly, MIDI instruments. They literally start to get annoying less than 30 seconds into the opener Fanfare and pretty much stay annoying throughout the entire album. Secondly, the production. While it isn’t the most atrocious I’ve heard, it sure as hell did make me grimace when first listening to it. Doesn’t help that there are a million different instruments + applause (???). Thirdly, the vocals. Speaking instead of screaming? No thanks. These are three most apparent flaws that severely handicap this album from the first second onwards.
With that being said, what are the good things about this album? Firstly, the album art is superb. Two statues of angels in an ordinary setting. The contrast here is subtle (way more subtle then in their previous work Aesthetica) and truly does set the tone for the whole album. (i.e. expect strange things that shouldn’t be there) Secondly, the purpose of this album, and Liturgy is a whole. In a tl;dr, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the band’s leader, has a philosophy for music, and, on a very abstract level, he intends to convey this philosophy through his music, (pretentiously) declared as “transcendental black metal”. While the creation of a new subgenre using large words seems like a superficial, hipsterish attempt to distance oneself from the original genre, the band, or at least HHH, seems to take it seriously. And with that comes the ambitious attempt to crystallize the emotions of this transcendental philosophy through the creation of music. That deserves credit, and it definitely shows in the music.
And that’s the third great thing about this album: the music. Don’t get me wrong, certain choices made are quizzical and downright weird. Quetzalcoatl, deemed by even those who hate The Ark Work as one of the best tracks of the album, unnaturally stands out when listening to the work as a whole. But musical chaos does sound great at times. It’s for this very reason that I find Kel Valhaal, a chaotic concoction of Fanfare and God knows what else, to be the best and most interesting song in the album. There’s just something about that main riff. Annoying, but strangely enchanting.
The strange part is that, despite all the tracks being part of the same “transcendental” subgenre, there is great musical variety. While this does not work in favor of some songs (Quetzalcoatl, Vitriol), it does for others (Kel Valhaal, Reign Array). As a whole, despite the “transcendence”, there is a certain inconsistency that some might like, but I definitely don’t. When listening to the album as a whole, it has to be said that interest generally diminishes halfway through.
As a whole, The Ark Work is a musical manifesto that demands to be acknowledged, but ends up being shunned. HHH has a vision for Black Metal, and a vision for his band. Who knows? Maybe his manifesto (both written and musical) would be accepted as a pioneering work in the realm of “transcendence”. Maybe all of metal would undergo a dramatic schism, forming the hyperbolic and transcendent strata. Or maybe not. In fact, probably not. But for what it is, The Ark Work is worth checking simply because it demands to be treated differently.
Revised Rating (Sept 2017): 4.5/5