Willie Reviews Lingua Ignota’s “CALIGULA”

Willie Reviews Lingua Ignota’s “CALIGULA”



Singer and instrumentalist Kristin Hayter’s project Lingua Ignota translates to “unknown language,” a name which implies her music is conceived as intelligible, but not readily so. Those willing to learn the musical vocabulary of her new album, CALIGULA, will read dirges, throaty screams, and black metal as patterns and associations within a work that examines abuse and the treatment of abusers. Here’s RPM’s review:

The idea of the real Roman emperor Caligula looming over CALIGULA is true to some extent, but also a misdirection. Caligula was an absolute power whose life is often told in anecdotes of exceptional cruelty—any number of men who solemnly lower themselves into the annals of Roman history will tell you. But Kristin Hayter uses a figure somewhere between myth and legend as a jumping off point into a broader pool of men in power. His name is in all caps because he’s already teetering on the edge of fiction. The real power in him, and the one that is productive and realistic to examine, is the common variety that has infected his world and ours.

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The story of the album is the story of all abuse in the world—two simultaneous stories, one of which mimes the language of truth and appeals to that power which is safely entrenched. When the abuser presents themselves to the world, their words are hollow casings of sentiments that obscure the truth in a way that can make real accusations of abuse feel like pushing against a brick wall. The words Hayter uses on the album are always spoken from two mouths: from the abuser easily backed by every conceivable institution despite their wickedness, and from the abused, who sees the behavior not only continuing, but easily thriving in an established environment. “FRAGRANT IS MY MANY FLOWERED CROWN” speaks to the fraternal sentiment that weaves a web of complicity in men, saying “For I have learned that all men are brothers / And brothers only love each other.” DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR,” faux-biblical lines are most obviously uttered as threats. The speaker asks “How can you doubt me now?” and insists “Every stone on every mountain is etched with my name.” The all-presence of the aggressor is evident, and if they are to be believed, it would take a monumental, otherworldly effort to think otherwise. But the “How can you doubt me now” also cuts the other way, as a question to the church and the state that is so eagerly supporting someone fortified by Satan. It illustrates the pain and suffering that occurs when things are so out of step that the distance between the truth of the situation and the bold-faced lie is too vast to comprehend.

The bubbling rage on the album picks moments throughout to explode musically. Upon the vague terror of the left hand piano progression, a swirling field of noise descends. Full-blown howls and roars replace Hayter’s hitherto careful vocals. It’s the kind of noise that sounds loud at any volume, seeming to cut across your ears in a way recorded music shouldn’t be able to. It seems to have every intention of being unlistenable while still commanding you don’t stop listening. The roars return on later tracks, and when it happens, it feels like the destruction of marble floors and decorative cabinets. The images of opulence contain horrors, and whatever shroud that keeps them going also has the capability to fall.


In addition to screams and complete releases of oppositional power, the folk elements of black metal and related mysticisms seem to offer a path forward, if only in the slightest way. “FUCKING DEATHDEALER” is a duet for psaltery and voice, taking the sound as far back as ancient Greece. Many of the songs on the album make reference to the complement of restrictive power structures that breeds successful opposition. The Lingua Ignota project is named after a Latin term meaning “unknown language,” which was used by medieval writer and composer Hildegard von Bingen to write in a hidden notation. The conceit of going back in time to restore what should have already existed is especially helpful in Hayter’s project.

Songs like “SPITE ALONE HOLDS ME ALOFT” make use of the more well-known black metal idiom that is loud and scratchy. Though a relatively recent musical invention it also intends to call back to pre-civilization. Hayter’s vocals feature raw power, but also virtuosic runs and textural experimentation. By pure force, she succeeds in breaking through the clutter, at least in the music. The “more is more” philosophy is often very effective, and you’ll hear sections that approach throat singing.

The theme Hayter returns to most often is that of religion and religion’s attachments. Lines from the Latin mass are sung verbatim and the opening track repeats “Most glorious and holy light / Faithful servant and friend of Christ / Most glorious and holy light / Bow before unending night.” All that Hayter needs to do is evoke the moral ideas espoused by Christianity. There’s the sense the church endorses moral ideas they know full well will never see real execution. The use of dirge and procession, as well as the singer as cantor show the deep sense of stuckness everywhere within the religion. The continual repetition and ritual echo produces that great evil that becomes a near impossibility to challenge.

Score: A storm sweeping through a cathedral.

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