THIS MONTH IN METAL No. 9: Lingua Ignota’s “Caligula”

The Legacy

Jesus Christ.  If Kristin Hayter of sound-defying experimental music project Lingua Ignota has taught us nothing else, it’s that you don’t need to adhere to a category.  With enough emotion and vast cultural inspiration, you can create a terrifying force of nature that can deeply move, and frankly upset anyone.  Lingua Ignota’s CALIGLUA was released this July, coming out on top as my favorite album of 2019.  As such, I’ve decided to pay homage to this masterpiece as opposed to the anniversary of an album or event in the metal genre.  Perhaps this is a strange contrast, but it’s worth prefacing that Billie Eilish listed every track on her hit 2019 debut release in all lowercase letters (no shade, great album as well), while CALIGULA’s tracks are in ALL CAPS.  Speaking of genres, CALIGULA manages to simultaneously adhere to none yet still be one of the heaviest albums to date.  Bold, but true.  It’s an emotional monster of gothic, operatic, classical, medieval, baroque and even black metal essence on a biblical scale.

CALIGULA cover. Photo: Lingua Ignota via Bandcamp

Since it’s impossible not to get biblical here, the closest thing I can compare CALIGULA’s sound to is God’s apocalyptic wine press in Revelation 14:19-20:

“So the angel swung his sickle over the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God.  And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.”

There are few emotions not present in this record.  CALIGULA is just as beautiful and loving as it is ugly and torturous.  A common theme in both sound and lyrics is a wide range oppression, but seemingly always followed by triumph.  Hayter has spoken to the personal nature of CALIGULA, of abuse and private struggles.  She thus implements multiple Christian parallels, everything from direct psalms to samples of the Jonestown suicide tape.  The resulting effect is polarizing, bringing to mind direct and distant interpretations of the biblical text to create further tension that hardens the arteries.  I am barely scratching the surface for context here, so please check out her track-by-track breakdown in her own words via Louder Sound, especially due to its personal nature.

Kristin Hayter of Lingua Ignota Photo: Lingua Ignota via Louder Sound

While it may seem a bit out of order, it’s important to delve into the overarching title of “Lingua Ignota” and how it reflects the music.  Translating to “unknown language,” Lingua Ignota is the language created by 12th century German mystic and Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen.  To say the very least, Hildegard is known famously for musical compositions, texts and illuminations.  For those who have followed my recent work, she can be attributed to a depiction of Ecclesia, the personified Catholic church birthing the Antichrist of which I featured in my TMIM for Behemoth’s Evangelion.  Her quintessential illuminated text, Scivias, is a manuscript detailing accounts of her direct visions from God.  From when she was a child, however, Hildegard suffered terrible migraines which have been speculated to inspire such visions.  Regardless, she was able to express her message and purpose through a spiritual vehicle of creative brilliance.  Although not technically a Christian music project, Lingua Ignota likewise triumphs over struggle to express a fearsome message through what I can only describe as the sonic wrath of God.

Reliquary of the Deathdealer

Best album of 2019 tribute artwork

Deathdealer Reliquary
Lingua Ignota – “Caligula” as best album of 2019 // January 2020

With so many medieval themes from subservient God-fearing to triumphant wrath, I knew this would give me an opportunity to directly reference the art of the time period.  I have been illustrating an ongoing series medieval body part reliquaries, Evidence of Faith, that inspired the direction of this work.  The mere concept body part reliquaries make a great parallel to CALIGULA.  The reliquary is a beautiful work of decorative art that speaks to the spiritual power of the rather macabre memento mori that is the bodily fragment or garment which it holds.  Likewise, CALIGULA omits a majestic, enlightening sound yet contains a confrontation of trauma and struggle, leaking into heavier tendencies throughout.  The Deathdealer reliquary thus contains fractured arm and hand bones in addition to real hair.  Medieval decorative arts appear to be dropped from the heavens, but can instill fear all the same.  The stark contrast between God’s love and his wrath is ever present, bringing both enlightenment and bloodshed to humankind.  The bottom chamber of the Deathdealer is plated with five ivories detailing accounts of God’s killings.  From left to right, we witness the great flood, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, God’s wine press (as quoted before, in the event of John’s Revelation), the death of the Egyptian first-born sons, and the slaughter of the wicked as promised in Ezekiel’s warning.  The wine press stands somewhat separate, as it is the only New Testament event and, at the time of writing was not considered a previous account.  It speaks more to to the warning of God’s wrath that Lingua Ignota exudes on CALIGULA.  In accordance to themes of betrayal and as homage to the still lives defining the album’s visual identity, flowers begin to overgrow but are burnt by the right hand of judgement to signify triumph over their infestation.  The Deathdealer reliquary depicts struggle but not defeat, just as relics of the saints depict transcendence beyond death.  Few works of contemporary art have captured such an essence as Lingua Ignota’s CALIGULA.  God only knows the wrath she will bring next.

See more heavy hitters in the MONTHLY METAL GALLERY

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“LET THEM HATE ME, SO LONG AS THEY FEAR ME.” –Emperor Gaius “Caligula” Caesar

–NCM