One of the most enduring Greek tragedies, Sophocles' Antigone, tells the tale of the titular heroine who defies her uncle, the king, to give her brother Polynices a proper burial and is ultimately condemned to death as a result. It's a story of martyrdom, civil disobedience and tension between tradition and the State that still manages to resonate even today. As a result, Antigone has gone on to be a popular muse for artists and philosophers alike and serves as the namesake for Liturgy and LEYA's latest single.
A collaboration between transcendental black metal outfit, Liturgy and NYC-based avant-pop duo, LEYA, "Antigone" is in essence a cinematic collision of the two groups' sound. Featuring angelic harp plucks over top of an almost mournful lament that is then book-ended by churning, perpetually ascending guitar swells and piercing metal wails, "Antigone" sweeps in like an apocalyptic storm, the clouds parting only momentarily before the listener is plunged back into its throws.
Photography: Erin Krimian
Liturgy's first new track since the band's leader, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, came out as trans in May, the song was initially intended to promote their tour with LEYA before the global pandemic forced them to cancel. The track marks a slight departure from Hunt-Hendrix's cerebral philosophy-driven strain of black metal with more of an emphasis on visceral impact and emotion. LEYA's ethereal mix of harp and violin idiosyncratically grounding the controlled chaos that swirls around it. Explosive and sublime, the song certainly lives up to the Antigone name.
Ahead of the PAPER premiere of "Antigone," we caught up with Liturgy's Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and LEYA to delve a little deeper into the story surrounding the track's origin and what it was about the tragic heroine that resonated with them.
What initially drew you to the story of Antigone? What resonates with you about her?
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix: The story of Antigone embodies an ethical attitude that I think is connected to the "true vine" that Jesus talked about. Maybe a true authentic life involves a recognition that there is something that "must be," but only because it comes from a random encounter that has made you what you are. A lot of political and ethical life is working through the consequences of these encounters, allowing them to bear fruit. They deserve to be universal when they matter to civilization as such — when they widen its scope of intelligibility or compassion. Meaning comes from fighting for a truth like that, especially when it doesn't make sense, isn't practical and appears impossible or illegal. Antigone's willingness to die over breaking her city's law by burying her outcast brother is an archetype for this.
How did you go about translating that into music?
Hunter: We recorded the song in late February before 2020 got so insane. Originally its purpose was as a single to promote a tour we were going to do together last April that ended up getting cancelled. The track had a different name originally, and we would have put it out in early April, but held off, because we were hoping to postpone the tour and just use it for the later dates. When it became clear in April/ May we simply had to cancel it outright, we decided to just put up the track — and we'd gotten as far as uploading it to be released before I came out as trans.
The actual decision to decisively come out was really sudden, and involved a week of basically sobbing every day during the lockdown — though I'd been building towards it for a long time. I was feeling unsteady about releasing the song at all after that, but we decided to go through with it though it became important to me to change its name, which was sort of a surrogate for me changing my own name (my name was and is still Hunter).
Liturgy's part of the track started out as a string passage for the score of a film I had co-written and co-produced over 2018 and 2019 along with composing the score (unrelated to my opera Origin of the Alimonies, a different project entirely). The film was all about the depth of feminine subjectivity. The whole project kind of fell apart in this really sad and tragic way and a major reason was that I wasn't out yet. The experience was part of what proved to me I had no choice but to face my gender squarely. In the film the motif comes in at a climax when the protagonist breaks free from an imaginary traumatic framework she's been living in. It symbolizes waking up in an experience of simultaneous joy and mourning. It's kind of become the leitmotif of my own womanhood, to be honest. I identify it with pushing through all the rationalizations, like explaining away my sense of womanhood as coming from mental illness, or it being too late, or too dangerous in various ways — and just sort of obeying God's will, which is that I am a woman. I thought Antigone was a fitting name because that experience had the character of the contingent necessity that I was describing in reference to Antigone above. I'm still working out variants of the motif and a third version will also appear on the next Liturgy album.
LEYA: As Hunter mentioned, we had changed the name of the track, corresponding with her transition. We are overjoyed to see her moving forward in her existence and re-naming of the track obviously celebrates this in part.
One of the major themes that runs throughout Sophocles' adaptation of Antigone is that of civil disobedience and political dissent. Do you find any parallels or takeaways from Antigone that feel applicable to the ongoing civil rights movement that is taking place across the country?
LEYA: The story is of course relevant in times of social change. The formative seeds of dissent in stories like hers are embedded in who we are. But Antigone is a tragedy and ours are not times of martyrdom, these are times of change. Although the song was written before our place in the movement, Antigone feels relevant to BLM. We need to stand up and demand equal treatment for all people in our society — what we all know is right — despite the fact that there are forces in power that want just the opposite.
Hunter: Yeah absolutely. So, after taking down the song to change the name, we took it down a second time, because the day it was scheduled to come out ended up being the week of George Floyd's death and the initial uprising. We were hesitant about even scheduling it for a later date at all out of respect for what was happening, but became convinced that people need art right now. So even though the song had no connection to what's going on now originally — except to the degree that expanding trans awareness is part of that conversation, which is in there but not the main thing — it sort of can't help but be connected by virtue of the cultural moment in which it is appearing.
I think the lockdowns due to COVID really gave people time to think about what's really important. I was a little pessimistic about the capacity of the protests to achieve anything at first, because I'm mostly pretty red-pilled about woke media's surreptitious exploitation of authentic social justice to deceptively sustain the reigning order, especially after experiencing Occupy. But as they've continued I've been more and more inspired by them. Part of what I like is how specific yet impractical the demands are — defunding the police, tearing down statues. Like it's technically correct that all these things are "unreasonable" from a certain perspective — but that's how it always goes with emancipatory politics — a new state of consciousness doesn't appear because of careful calculation or compromise, it just violently blossoms when the time is right. Hopefully that's what's going on now and we can find constructive and creative ways to keep it alive and then more carefully refine the overall vision of what our world can become.
What do you hope people take away from the track?
Hunter: LEYA might answer differently but something that Liturgy and LEYA share, which makes me such a big LEYA fan, is that for both bands the music presents a lot of sincere emotion, and has a really sophisticated flow and pacing that is challenging in a way that's similar to classical music, and also exists in DIY and has that ethos. I've always been very interested in the influence of music on states of mind, like at a formal level. Certain chord changes and structures influence consciousness, and influence morality and behavior as a result. The way the current culture industry is set up sort of selects for mean spirited self-righteousness, and in its most pernicious form it hijacks what is best about intersectionality and transforms it into a certain scapegoating and cancel culture that sinks to the level of what it's fighting against. There's a place for some of that too, but I personally hope this track helps add to the supply of loving thoughtfulness in the world.
LEYA: We always hope that our music can push people deeper into what they are feeling and closer to one another.
How did this collaboration between Liturgy and LEYA come about?
LEYA: We love working with other artists, and had been talking with Hunter about a collaboration for some time. From a distance you wouldn't think the two bands could sonically work together, but when you look up close, it's obvious.
Hunter: We think of the track sort of as a LEYA song (with Adam on vocals) surrounded on either side by a Liturgy song (with me on vocals) that LEYA also bleeds into. We've known each other for a while and have done some collabs in the past. In the years between the last two Liturgy records I was working on an opera called Origin of the Alimonies. I performed an early section of my opera in a music-art space Adam used to run, and Marilu played harp in the final version of my opera in 2018 and on the (forthcoming) recording, and also played the harp parts on H.A.Q.Q. The two bands played a show together in 2019 and were planning to do a tour together this past April in support of both of our recent albums. LEYA suggested we make a track together to release in promotion of the tour, and I was wrestling with this material and thought it would be cool to use. The original context seems like a whole different universe.
What was the process like? Were there things that surprised you or unforeseen obstacles?
Hunter: It was seamless, pretty much. The Liturgy material is a lot less complex than anything we've put out in a long time. Marilu, Adam and I got together once to work through ideas, then the two bands worked separately — I worked with Tia, Bernard and Leo to build the string passage from the film score into a metal track, and the two bands passed demos back and forth. Then we went up to Providence for a day to record it at Machines with Magnets and tweaked some of the compositional elements while we were there. Also, this is the final Liturgy track with Bernard playing guitar on it. There's a long meaningful history there, he was the first person to come on board when I expanded Liturgy from being a solo project, and he's played on every Liturgy song except for the first few cassettes and the first EP. We are still close friends — so that's yet another unintended punctuation mark for the track. We have a new guitar player now named Mario Miron who will be performing on the next record. It's a gentle transition, both sad to see Bernard go and happy to be working with Mario in the present and future.
LEYA: Basically, just as Hunter said, it was pretty much seamless. All of us have been friends for awhile, and it happened very organically. We (LEYA) started writing our next album this past January, and after initially fucking around with the three harp chords (in the LEYA part of the song) we thought it could sound cool as a collab with Hunter. We texted her and set up a session for the next day.
Photos Courtesy of Liturgy/ LEYA