Sometimes beauty can be found in the most ugly of places, for art occasionally needs to go into the darkened corners of the human experience in order to make sense of this thing we call life. With CALIGULA, Kristin Hayter (aka LINGUA IGNOTA) has delved deep into themes of control, domestic abuse, violence, vengeance, depravity, love and most importantly, transformation to create a truly unsettling yet hugely rewarding album.
Great art should have the ability to shock and shake, and Hayter grabs you by the collar right from the start and doesn’t stop shaking long after the album has finished. CALIGULA is as much an artistic statement as it is a mere album, and it has the ability to affect anyone that comes into contact with it.
Following on from 2017’s All Bitches Die, Hayter has refined her attack. Impossible to pigeonhole, CALIGULA draws on influences from a host of genres to create something entirely unique. An operatic approach screams over industrial crunching, electronic flourishes underpin Black Metal screes, gargling throat singing cuts across a twisted pop sensibility, and thunderous bass tones rumble underneath choral cries of murderous intent. Hayter has the ability twist these influences into a coherent, cathartic narrative that cuts entirely its own furrow. The key to this album is that you don’t just hear it; rather, it is felt at a deep emotional level. This is something beyond music as a listening experience.
It’s no coincidence that the blurb that accompanies the album insists that the artist’s name, the album title and all song titles should be in CAPS. Even in its quietest moments, this is an album that screams from the depths of its soul. BUTCHER OF THE WORLD for example fades in gently before exploding into a rasping Black Metal scream accompanied by a sample taken from Henry Purcell’s Funeral Music For Queen Mary. The allusion to A Clockwork Orange is surely not coincidental as themes of violence, power and abuse run through both works.
IF THE POISON WON’T TAKE YOU MY DOGS WILL starts with the Kyrie elsison (a Christian prayer that translates as “Lord Have Mercy”) set against a cacophonous noise that drops away leaving only Hayter’s vocal and an ominous tone. Here she explores themes of friendship, support and manipulation by re-working sections of the final moments of the Jonestown tapes. Hayter’s ability to twist the concepts of love and hate into a confusing mush are central to the album’s success.
On MAY FAILURE BE YOUR NOOSE she appears to show some kind of sympathy to her abuser, asking “who will love you if I don’t, who will fuck you if I don’t?” It’s a startling window into the psychology of a survivor and when coupled with the imagery of nooses and the line “everything burns down around me” completely lays bare the sheer weight of emotional turmoil that lies at the heart of not only this song, but the entire album.
SPITE ALONE HOLDS ME ALOFT rejects love completely and revels in the power of hatred. “Let them hate me, as long as they fear me” intones Hayter as the song moves from beautiful piano accompaniment through to unbridled anger. Eventually she settles on a repeated incantation of “kill them all”. This might not be a direct reference to Metallica, but during SORROW SORROW SORROW, Lars Ulrich does make an appearance, ruminating on “20 years of hatred” whilst chomping noisily on a sandwich. It’s a moment of self-effacing comedy that offers a brief moment of respite.
Closing the album is I AM THE BEAST. Again, the most powerful moments of CALIGULA come in the quietest sections. Led by piano, Hayter states “All I want is boundless love, all I know is violence,” summing up the endless loop of grief and violence set in motion by acts of abuse. The song might explode into life with feral energy at its mid point, but the real impact of the song is all within those first few seemingly languid moments.
For all its expression of hate, vengeance and violence, CALIGULA is a positive work. There is love and humour to be found here too. Its very existence is an optimistic and creative act. It might not be an easy listen at times, but make no mistake, this is a vital an important record and one that needs to be heard in order to make sense of it. A definite contender for album of the year and one whose impact will stand alongside Lou Reed‘s Berlin for years to come.