‘Pennsylvania Furnace’ and the ascension of Lingua Ignota

With the Appalachian folk, classic & gospel-hymn mood of ‘Pennsylvania Furnace,’ Lingua Ignota is as soul-bearing as ever, refusing to copy herself.

In 2019, Lingua Ignota released ‘Caligula,’ one of my favourite records of the 2010s, but it’s an album that I’ve only heard about a half dozen times since its release. Beyond its creative death-industrial and noise-metal soundscapes, the lyrical content of that record was so powerful, that bleak and harrowing, you had to be in the right mindset for it. It was a body of work so deeply personal to her – she has its title tattooed below her neck, which served as its cover – that it was quite uncomfortable. Which was the point: to take such dark themes of violence, trauma, vengeance, and abuse, bundled with a metaphor for the sadistic and debaucherous Roman Emperor Caligula, and turn it into genuinely inventive art to process it. The incredible results spoke for themselves.

This time around, classically trained multi-instrumentalist Lingua Ignota, real name Kristin Hayter, is rebelling against convention: the expectation for her to replicate that 2019 album. To quote the woman herself: “I knew I could do the same thing again – that’s why I didn’t want to.” I love that, as to recreate ‘Caligula‘ would water down not only that record but anything trying to copy it. It’s better to move on and be creative in other ways. As such, the harsh industrial and washes of noise and darkwave from that 2019 masterpiece are passed on, as she and collaborators Seth Manchester and Ryan Seaton instead evoke evangelicalism, Appalachian folk, classical, and gospel hymns on the isolating haunter that is ‘Pennsylvania Furnace.’ I don’t want to say that it’s a more “real” song in terms of arrangement or instrumentation – metal/noise is just as legitimate as any other style or sound – so I’ll concede that it’s more “traditional.”

Written about an old 18th-century legend of an ironmaster that threw his dogs into the furnace only for them to drag him to hell – this piano-ballad piece both starts and ends with the lyric “me and the dog we die together” – this is a minimal, gripping track about Kristin’s relationship with faith and religion. About not finding God in what is supposed to be “God’s Country.” Or, at the very least, about the rhetoric used by religion. (The line “there is victory in Jesus” doesn’t so much sound like her own words, but of those used by converting-hungry preachers.) Given that the title of her upcoming album is ‘Sinner Get Ready‘, which is out August 6th through Sargent House, I feel like either reading or maybe both could be correct. ‘Caligula‘ itself was also full of many Catholic and Christian connotations.

The Tarkovsky-ish art-house visuals of the video to ‘Pennsylvania Furnace‘ – all shot alone by Kristin on-location in rural Pennsylvania where she lives, near Three Mile Island and the actual Pennslyvania Furnace via drone – evoke the same strong emotional response as the track. Both the video and the song are in perfect synchronicity. So when things begin to practically ascend to the heavens from 4:11 onward, due to her stunningly controlled and palpable voice, some tearful violins, and a piercing self-baptism scene, it’s heartbreaking. A personal favourite song of mine for 2021; genuinely soulful stuff.

Leave a Reply

You must be registered and logged in to comment on this post.