Lingua Ignota: Beauty and Terror


Evan Hamaoka, Casual Contributer

(Content Warning: Discusses a musical artist that describes her experiences with domestic abuse and misogyny. References to murder and revenge.)


“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”

     Howling into the void, Hayter calls for Satan to fortify her in the nine-minute epic “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR.” Her voice sounds like serrated glass as the song crescendos, the violin-led musical textures behind collapsing into a black hole of noise. “How do I break you?” she roars, sounding on the verge of tears. “How? HOW? HOW DO I BREAK YOU BEFORE YOU BREAK ME?” 


     Yet her vocals carry the song ever-forward, through the roaring darkness. The background noise turns into one steady, pulsating low note–like a heartbeat. It perseveres. Multilayered, choral singing floats upwards from under the utter ruin and carries the song to a melodic ending. It’s haunting, poignant, and in my opinion, beautiful. Now, if you’re thinking her material sounds dramatic, crazy, and downright unpleasant at times, you would be completely right. However, it’s hard to not be completely rapt and at attention upon hearing her. You cannot deny the utter passion she has while delivering her vision. 


     Kristin “Lingua Ignota” Hayter is an artist difficult to do justice to through a review. Classically trained in voice and utilizing an immense mezzo-soprano vocal range, her voice is her driving force and main weapon. And good lord, it is destructive. She draws from seemingly disparate styles, from angelic crooning to operatic, falsetto highs to Tuvan-esque throat singing to folk singing to desperate, hateful spoken word. Often, she harmonizes clean vocals with herself—this creates both lovely choirs and terrifying dissonance. Her most abrasive style, however, is an inhuman, wailing roar drenched in layers of distortion. Sometimes she skillfully uses metal techniques such as fry-screams. Sometimes it sounds like she tears her vocal folds apart. It’s impressively horrifying and I almost threw up attempting it. No matter what vocal style she employs, every word is full of emotion and highlights her in all her rapturous glory.


     The instrumentals vary immensely across her discography, but all complement the vocals. Though often categorized as such, she’s not a metal artist, at least not in the conventional sense. She has some metal influence, but rather than using distinct riffs or choruses, her songs generally build atmosphere and tension through ambiance and a wide range of instrumental choices–piano, metal-esque guitar chords, silence, violin leads, banjo, even overwhelming walls of feedback. Many songs are in free time, and much of her music and themes give me the same feeling as the psychological horror movie Midsommar. Sinner Get Ready, with its combination of liturgical vocals and rustic Appalachian instruments, creates so much atmosphere that you feel you could just crawl inside and sleep. 


      To add more musical texture, she heavily samples other media. On the religiously-themed Sinner Get Ready, infamous televangelist Jimmy Swaggart makes an appearance, as does the prostitute he was caught alongside. The record’s final song includes audio from a recent news clip about Ohio’s COVID lockdowns. In it, a woman claims she’s protected from the virus because she’s “covered in Jesus’ blood.” Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute turned serial killer who murdered seven men who allegedly tried to rape her, floats among the distorted, ethereal soundscapes of Let the Evil of His Own Lips Cover Him and All Bitches Die. Unlike many metal bands who overuse serial killer interview samples to sound “brutal” or evil, Hayter somehow manages to make them sound tasteful. 


       While most of the best extreme metal bands don’t write misogynistic lyrics, some others fall into the same tired, immature tropes. Hayter, as a survivor of domestic abuse, describes what she writes as “survivor anthems.” Unique in the largely male-dominated genre of extreme metal and noise, she acknowledges this (with a sharp sense of humor) in interviews. “My thoughts were to flip th[e] whole paradigm [of misogyny] and to try to make it meaningful, to reframe extreme imagery for survivors of violence, upon whom very dark shit has actually been visited, and who may have been confronted with the possibility of committing homicide in self-defense to survive an attack.” Her “interest in performing extreme music…stem[med] from her relationship with her abuser.” He was an extreme musician, and “as soon as he was gone, Hayter used Lingua Ignota to process what she went through.” 


     Reportedly, she first tried reading books about surviving domestic abuse, but found their themes of “gentleness [and] self-love” as “enforced patriarchal models of civilized femininity.” Thus, she uses Lingua Ignota as a form of catharsis. Her lyrics subvert these aforementioned tropes, with common themes of power, misogyny, and revenge all draped in a tapestry of grandiose, horrific religious imagery. Sometimes her lyrics delve into the abstract, but her sense of power is always visceral. In “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES,” she begs her God to kill her abuser. “I have made my body your vessel. I preach your word in every room. I have walked the earth weeping. I whip my back with my many sorrows. Are my sacrifices not extravagant? Where does your light not shine? “HOLY IS THE NAME…” is about the aforementioned Aileen Wuornos killing her abusers.


       “With a single word, every mountain shall crumble,” she declares on Woe to All. “Every tree shall fall, every field shall be razed, every crop shall rot, every home shall be painted with blood, every lung shall be flooded with bile. And woe to all who inhabit the earth.” In some songs, she takes the perspective of an abuser: “Who will love you if I don’t? Who will f••• you if I won’t?” Many times she screams with no discernible words at all, only raw emotion–but the audience knows exactly the message she’s getting across. It’s a catharsis against all the injustice in a system she hates, one that perpetuates domestic violence, acquits abusers, and puts victims through hell for speaking up. Her rage blazes through her music, every word an onslaught against misogyny. 


     It’s also not easy listening in the slightest, but I’ve never heard anything like her. Fittingly, she takes the name Lingua Ignota from an ancient sacred language. “She chose this name because of her interest in glossolalia [speaking in tongues]…relating it [to] the idea of a “possession” or God speaking through a body.“I’m trying to construct something that speaks the unspeakable,” she says. “I use this sort of amalgam of musical devices to make my own sonic language, which is meant to also be ecstatic or outside the self.” And oh, is that language glorious! 


If her music interests you, I’ve reviewed and recommended her albums here.