I've been on the internet long enough to know when I am being fucked with, and this is an exquisite example of it: the fervent insistence that transcendental black metal is a thing; the burst beat vs. the blast beat; the manifestos; the glockenspiel.
Initially, I was torn, wondering if what Liturgy were trying to make with The Ark Work was a parody of a postmodern black metal record. Life-affirming and celebratory instead of grim and frostbitten! Abundant and clarion-clear instead of lean, starved and distorted! "Fanfare" hints at this possibility, with the swelling ambience and windswept sounds, but the artifice of it emerges quickly. The horns and samples seem to be deployed in a way that would evoke an aggressive positivity, but there's a ragged sterility around the edges that squashes the potential for real delight. "Follow" then drowns what was left of this possibility by smothering the bells in reverb the way a guitar tone might be warped and degraded, saturating with over-abundance instead of degrading through traditional black metal production. The way it is executed is so glib, so joyless, that their absolute devotion to irony becomes awfully apparent.
It's not that The Ark Work isn't smart; it's that it's cold, and mean, and loveless. "Kel Valhaal" leeches the wonder out of blackened noise and shiver out of Cascadian black metal, leaving something cruel and hollow. The gabber elements of "Quetzalcoatl" are incredibly clever, placed against intricate synths so as to be as wounding as possible, but it doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the record's aesthetic at all, except in that it also embodies a kind of cruelty. The spoken word on "Vitriol" has been portrayed as the most controversial part of the record (Is this rapping? Is that what is happening here?), but it just comes across as one more smartass trick to pull out.
I'm left not knowing entirely who this record is for. Liturgy seem to be absolutely miserable making it, and committed to mocking and maliciously wounding their imagined audience at every possible opportunity. It's executed incredibly well for what it is, but what we're left with is ugly, soulless and emotionally bankrupt. (Thrill Jockey)