It’s one thing to look at a 2xLP sized record from Lingua Ignota and know that it’s going to be a rough listen. It’s quite another to actually listen to Caligula on repeat for the purposes of a review, for the purpose of trying to get to the same place Kristen Hayter enters into and draws upon when she performs or records as Lingua Ignota. That’s somewhat difficult in my case: the themes of abuse, fear, and rape which Hayter tackled with headlong ferocity on 2017’s All Bitches Die will perhaps always be closer at hand for women than most men. But Hayter is an artist capable of drawing nearly everyone who comes into contact with her work into the shadow of her agonized and venemous persona. Once again, through a combination of noise, industrial, and now even more ambitious neo-classical elements, Lingua Ignota invokes the vengeance of the wronged, the retribution of the abused.
Caligula is a richer record in terms of sonic range and texture than its predecessor, though there’s little change in the purposes to which those elements are pressed. Naked piano and enveloping orchestral passages take up just as much of the work as overtly distorted noise. But through it all Hayter’s vocals, alternately wounded and furious, remain the focus. On another record, the doom metal-styled breakdown which comes through in the closing moments of “Spite Alone Holds Me Aloft” or the swooping, warmth of distorted orchestral storm “I Am The Beast” would offer some catharsis, but Hayter’s vocals and lyrics are so unremitting that no sense of closure or finality is ever reached or even seems possible. The quick burst of noise, of glass shattering close in the mix, which punctures the vocals and piano of “Sorrow! Sorrow! Sorrow!” for just an instant with no explanation or follow-up is actually more arresting and actually frightening than any of the more sustained musical aggression. Horror and violence can arrive out of nowhere and disappear just as fast.
As with All Bitches Die, the closest parallel to Caligula remains Diamanda Galas. It’s an imposing point of comparison to be sure, but one which Hayter doesn’t suffer from, even beyond the musical and biographical similarities: the classical training (I’m hearing some of Purcell’s “Funeral March” in “Butcher Of The World”, for whatever that’s worth), the impossibly commanding vocal strength, the fascination with the multifaceted possibilities of liturgy. Like Galas, Hayter is up to the challenge her subject matter sets for her as an artist, and even finds ways of injecting wry humour and personality into her invective. Alongside Hildegard of Bingen, the mystic from whom the project’s name is taken, Aileen Wuornos haunts Caligula as its other patron saint: victim and vengeful killer all in one, she’s an ideal icon for Lingua Ignota, especially when Hayter’s deftness with liturgical fire and brimstone is considered. As she moves between actual liturgy and her own reinvention of it, Hayter often switches voices between victim and abuser. Is God being invoked to provide succor to the abused, or to justify abuse?
Speaking of double-edged metaphors, Caligula doesn’t just avail itself of religious ones. How does, say, a sample of Lars Ulrich discussing his anxiety over breaking from Metallica’s formula fit in? Is Hayter taking shots at artists like Ulrich who use signifiers of hatred and violence without substance beneath them? Or is she obliquely pointing to concerns about either straying from or being defined by the pain and hatred which lie at the heart of her own work?
Even by the standards of the theoretically “dark” aesthetic which unites the music we write about here, Caligula is violent, horrific, and disturbing. It’s not pretty, though it is, at times, beautiful. It’s not easy to listen to, though it is entirely compelling. But more than that, it’s important. Lingua Ignota is producing the sort of art and commentary which the various scenes and circles it’s connected to (metal, noise, industrial) are in sore need of, and Hayter has once again proven herself to be the excoriating voice we deserve.