Kristin Hayter has already made her statement. With her 2017 self-released debut, the one-woman powerhouse behind Lingua Ignota parlayed her church choir roots and classical vocal training into a monolith of monstrous noise. A year later and the excellently-titled ‘All Bitches Die’ might have needed a rerelease on Profound Lore to get the attention it deserved but it was a smart, searing sophomore effort that both expanded and defined her sound. So now the element of surprise is gone, right? And yet it’s hard to imagine a record better equipped to stop you in your tracks than ‘CALIGULA’.

This is an open wound of an album (even without knowing the history of abuse that in-part inspired it), a record that grabs you by your collar, by your ears even, and refuses to let go, it’s a concentrated, bubbling melting pot of twisted metal, ominous noise, in-your-face electronics, gothic opera, experimental extremes and Hayter continuing to push her voice from alien lows, past pained yells to beastly shrieks.

It starts with cinematic strings, not the stirring, saccharine kind but like the soundtrack to some lost horror movie, before moving on to incorporate multi-tracked vocals that conjure up images of cult worship gone wrong (‘DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR’), murder ballads with anti-melodies (SORROW! SORROW! SORROW!), and folk baroque mixed with belligerent rage (‘I AM THE BEAST’). And while ‘CALIGULA’ is an oppressive and striking journey that’s worth experiencing (enduring?) in a single sitting, you could step in anywhere along the 11-track, 66-minute runtime and hear something special and unique and interesting and worthwhile.

Members of The Body, Uniform, and Full of Hell assist here and act as further solid signposts for the sounds within. Like their oft-indefinable output, ‘CALIGULA’ is not a metal album but it is heavy, it’s not a noise rock album but it is so incredibly noisy at times, and while at other times it’s deathly quiet, it demands your attention throughout. It should be obvious by now but bears repeating, this stands out in almost every way.

Hayter’s vocabulary feels unique too. Lyrics like “Life is cruel and time heals nothing” could feel base and ineffective in lesser hands but here they are given raw, painful life. She reinterprets bible verse, quotes classic poets, uses words like “etched” and “slaked” with grace and ease and even busts out a “Satan, get beside me” with a straight face and it all makes perfect sense. The song titles do demand the all-caps treatment. You hang on every word.

It’s tough to put a piece of work as complex and uncompromising as this into simple terms but while ‘CALIGULA’ is hard to listen to, it’s impossible to ignore. It’s an essential experience for any fans of experimental sounds, a truly rare feat, and one of the albums of the year.

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