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Album Review: LINGUA IGNOTA Sinner Get Ready

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Lingua Ignota announcing Sinner Get Ready got many responses like: “Get Ready? We’re still recovering from Caligula!” If that seems hyperbolic, check out “Do You Doubt Me Traitor.” Kristin Hayter’s 2019 album Caligula is an emotional blunderbuss spanning neo-classical, death industrialist and apocalyptic folk. The self-proclaimed “butcher of the world” reached once-in-a-generation levels of raw intensity, forming her anguish into a weapon against her aflictors. After such a colossal exercise of trauma, Lingua Ignota’s followup strips back its harsh electronics, harnessing acoustic ruin for a harrowing spiritual journey.

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Sinner Get Ready paints a grim, desolate picture of the Pennsylvanian outback. Hayter makes use of over 40 instruments—with help from multi-instrumentalist Ryan Seaton and co-producer Seth Manchester of Machines With Magnets recording studio—along with some localized field recordings, including the incessant chirps of Cicadas. Lingua Ignota in 2021 may not favor distortion and screams, but Hayter’s art is no less arresting. Opener “The Order of Spiritual Virgins” sets the stage with an ornate tapestry of strings, woodwinds and piano, as Hayter’s reinstates her voice as a layered, ferocious, virtuosic force of nature. Themes of zealotry and isolation take effect as ethereal choirs and piano chords contrast against clattering percussion, catastrophic low-end and operatic belts.

And yet, Sinner often comprises an easier listen than Caligula. The minimalist “Pennsylvania Furnace” takes its time to delve into introspection on God as the inescapable arbiter: “Me and the dog we die together.” Singing Becomes Lingua Ignota's Dynamic source, as she seems to juxtapose “Victory in Jesus” with her personal hell. By contrast, Lingua Ignota re-invokes tortured terror on “I Who Bend the Tall Grasses,” an organ-driven imprecatory psalm in which Hayter demands God kill her abuser (“If I cannot hide from you/ neither can he”). Her tearful pleadings turn to rasping rage as she refuses to be victimized to uphold the Christian doctrine of self-sacrifice. It's like Sinner's equivalent of "Do You Doubt Me" in its awe-inspiring vehemence.

To this effect, the quasi-Gregorian dronescapes of “The Sacred Linament of Judgement” and the powerful orchestral crescendo of “Man is Like a Spring Flower” dismantle the church’s misuse of Christ’s teachings. “Linament” samples the infamous confession of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, while “Flower” samples the scathing interview conducted with the prostitute he was found with. It’s telling that Hayter follows a lyrical depiction of redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice with an admonishment about the deep-seated corruption with man’s heart. Lingua Ignota sets Jesus’ unconditional love against the whitewashed tombs of organized, patriarchal religion, illustrating how a pretense of grace can shroud true evil. The fact the latter cut accomplishes this with an air of catchiness is, frankly, dumbfounding.

Sinner’s resonant acoustics bring out yet-unheard facets of Hayter’s singing. Though not always as bombastic, her voice breaks and croaks in her commitment to unfiltered passion. Lingua Ignota certainly benefits from that melodic centerpiece in a cut like “Many Hands,” which otherwise sounds like the Appalachian musical pantheon melting in the fires of hell. She grapples with the forgiving and reckoning aspects of God, which carries over onto the dreary guitar-and-piano ritual of “Repent Now Confess Now.” “I can’t say I don’t deserve it,” she sings. “He will take my legs and my will to live/ Gods will be done, no wound as sharp.”

Indeed, Hayter correlates her reverence toward Jesus as the virtuous sufferer with her own woeful experiences. “Fear is nothing when the path is righteous… Mine is the venom of the snake of Eden,” she sings during the mournful procession “Perpetual Flame of Centralia.” Adopting an expressive, intoxicating tamber, earthy piano chords and a tremolo-picked mandolin carry her lamentations on life's chaotic storm of evil, sin and martyrdom. This blend of ontological pondering and vulnerable storytelling reflects in Lingua Ignota's music, offering a singular blend of mysterious austerity with intimate nuance.

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It’s strangely fitting that the closing cut “The Solitary Brethren of Ephrata” resembles a hymn that could’ve been sung in the 18-century religious community it’s named after. Adorned with warm, swelling orchestration and euphonic harmonies, Lingua Ignota channels the reclusive piety of Pennsylvania's own Ephrata Cloister, resolving to both acknowledge and transcend her sorrows: “Paradise will be mine… Ugliness my home/ Loneliness my master/ I bow to him alone.” Could “him” refer to God? Jesus? Her own axioms? This ambiguity allows Hayter to reject the church’s damaging, hypocritical dogma while internalizing Christ as the long-suffering saint.

Lingua Ignota remains a cathartic trial by fire for Kristin Hayter, inflating her depictions of arduous strife to biblical proportions in an attempt to actualize herself in a cruel world. Disquieting and beautiful, this third album offers some of her most impactful music to date. If Caligula represented a declaration of war, then Sinner Get Ready represents the process of reorientation during the aftermath. It becomes a monumental step in Hayter’s pilgrimage from casualty to ruler of her own distress.

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