On her torrential second album, Kristin Hayter creates a murderous amalgam of opera, metal, and noise that uses her classical training like a Trojan Horse, burning misogyny to ash from its Judeo-Christian roots.
Eight minutes into her torrential second album as Lingua Ignota, Kristin Hayter lets out a thundering, apocalyptic scream: “I don’t eat, I don’t sleep [...] I let it consume me,” she cries. Her voice is so ugly and shredded and maniacal and alive that it creates a witness of anyone who hears it. It is the sound of trauma, that which is by definition intolerable, and Hayter traverses its most upsetting depths on behalf of survivors, including herself. With Caligula, she has created a murderous amalgam of opera, metal, and noise that uses her classical training like a Trojan Horse, burning misogyny to ash from its Judeo-Christian roots.
From renaissance paintings to murder ballads and beyond, feminist revenge has charged art to cathartic ends—envisioning a world in which women do not only demand justice but see it through, in their work, by any means necessary. Caligula embodies that insurrectionary fury. Working with members of The Body, Uniform, Full of Hell, and others, Hayter crafts a 66-minute world ablaze with contempt for man, which, though divided into 11 all-caps tracks—with such imposing titles as “I AM THE BEAST,” “IF THE POISON WON’T TAKE YOU MY DOGS WILL,” and “SPITE ALONE HOLDS ME ALOFT”—plays out like one continuous, epic composition. More than songs, they feel like a succession of enraged suites, each one a threat, an intervention, an act of solidarity.
Lingua Ignota sparks fantasies of demonic avant-opera icon Diamanda Galás joining with industrial-metal titans Godflesh to create a horror soundtrack, or Maria Callas in hell. Her goal seems to be to deconstruct and destabilize, to discomfit. She situates death growls and strangulated vocalizations amidst orchestral strings, choral singing, and chimes—like a hex on the whole social order. “Everything burns down around me,” she sings with incantatory grandeur on “MAY FAILURE BE YOUR NOOSE,” atop the incendiary counterpoint of Uniform’s Michael Berdan.
Near the beginning of Caligula, Hayter beckons Satan to come to her side, to “fortify me”—things get darker from there. Her invocation recalls Galás’ own definition of the devil in 1991. “When a witch is about to be burned on a ladder in flames, who can she call upon?” Galás asked in the book Angry Women. “I call that person ‘Satan.’” Hayter summons this original insurgent on behalf of a society that rarely believes embattled women. “How do I break you before you break me?” she seethes on “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR.” The savage “SPITE ALONE HOLDS ME ALOFT” culminates in her disarming, boiled-over prayer to “Kill them all/Kill them all/Kill them all.” For her enemies, she wishes, “May your foes be many/May your days be few.” Unsparing would be a way to put it. Caligulawants abusers dead.
Occasionally, Hayter breaks into fragments of traditional melody and balladeering, but it is never long before she incinerates them. And though she draws on the embittered atmospheres and theater of metal, Caligula’s unwieldy, behemoth-like sprawl practically laughs at the concept of riffs. Hayter said it was her goal to “recontextualize that phallocentric format for people who need it,” and she crafts a sound that, if not feminine, feels decidedly unmale, and crucially vulnerable. The solemn highlight “FRAGRANT IS MY MANY FLOWER’D CROWN,” for one, finds Hayter singing of how “the bitter blood of many foes sustains me” with a low, chilling resolve. She pushes her voice into unsettling gurgles before declaring, with shocking clarity, “I have learned that all men are brothers/And brothers only love each other,” like an ornate rewriting of the Jenny Holzer maxim “Men Don’t Protect You Anymore.”
On Caligula’s closing track, in a final turn, Hayter quotes the poet Frank O’Hara: “All I want is boundless love.” The line is from his 1957 collection Meditations in an Emergency, but Haytner undercuts it with her own devastating experience: “All I know is violence.” This brutal ending reminds us that if Caligula is too taxing to bear, that’s because it is a work of realism. When Hayter calls herself “the butcher of the world [...] throatslitter of the world” on a cold-blooded hymn titled “FUCKING DEATHDEALER,” I think of the artist Artmisia Gentileschi, a protégé of Caravaggio, who was tortured in court in 1612 after she opened a case against her rapist. Gentileschi spent the rest of her career painting depictions of violence against men. Women have been seeking this revenge forever.