By Venus Rittenberg, Editorial Director
[Sargent House; 2021]
Key tracks: “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES,” “MANY HANDS,” “PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE”
I am writing this in early July, even though it is only just now coming out. The overturning of Roe v. Wade is still very fresh, and the anger towards the Christian right is very raw. This album, while not explicitly anti-Christian, definitely conjures up imagery and thoughts about the Christian right, something I feel negatively towards. As this movement continues to swell and gain more power, something it already had and has had a lot of, this album becomes more and more significant in my eyes. It is my opinion that due to what it says about religion, abuse, and subsequently America, SINNER GET READY is one of the most important albums to come out in the 2020’s thus far.
SINNER GET READY is the fourth Lingua Ignota album, and my personal favorite. While ALL BITCHES DIE and CALIGULA are perhaps more intense, with their industrial influences and graphic depictions of violence and abuse, SINNER GET READY offers a different type of intensity. This album was a change of direction for Lingua Ignota, taking less influence from industrial music and more from folk genres; neofolk, avant-folk and Appalachian folk are all relevant to the music of this album. Appalachian culture, specifically that of Pennsylvania, set the tone of this album. Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota) was living in Pennsylvania during the making of this album, and the lore and the religions of that area were a major influence for the role religion and folklore take on this album. While “CALIGULA” had heavy Catholic imagery, Hayter is herself an ex-catholic. Hayter has said that Mennanite and Amish religion had more of an influence on the imagery in SINNER GET READY. In addition to those religions, there are also samples throughout this album, including several alluding to Jimmy Swaggart and his related scandals; Mennanite and Amish are clearly not the only Christian sects to influence this record.
One cannot talk about this album without addressing the elephant in the room. This album does not vary from other Lingua Ignota albums in the sense that it is ultimately about abuse. Time and time again, Hayter utilizes metaphors to compare a relationship with God to an abusive relationship. Hayter has explicitly said that this album is about her abusive relationship with Daughters frontman Alexis Marshall. In December of 2021, several months after the release of this album, Hayter released an impact statement that went into details of the allegations. They are shocking and horrifying. With this context, the album takes on a new meaning. The album goes from being about religion to being about abuse, and being a much more intense experience. This will be further dissected when talking about individual songs. Speaking of which, let’s get to it.
The second song, “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES,” is the most like previous Lingua Ignota efforts. It features an impressive vocal performance from Hayter, as well as some pretty dark lyrics. The song is a revenge song, like several previous Lingua Ignota songs. It is almost biblical in nature. It sees the narrator calling on God to kill someone, presumably an abuser. This varies from perhaps Lingua Ignota’s most popular song, “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR,” which sees Hayter calling on Satan to assist with revenge. The song features a motif of “I can’t do it again,” coming at the end of two separate but equally devastating lines: “I have never loved him more than I do now / But I can’t do it again” and “I don’t care that he can’t help it / I can’t do it again.” With the context of abuse that this album is framed within, these lines are perhaps some of the most upsetting lyrics Hayter has ever written.
“I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES” ends by fading into background noises of a rural area, such as bugs buzzing. This flows into the following track, “MANY HANDS.” “MANY HANDS” starts the metaphor of God as an abuser. While not every monotheistic religion views God in the light in which he is described throughout this song and album, it must be noted that many sects of Christianity do indeed view God as cruel. Hayter’s background as an ex-catholic provides additional context to this song and album in general.
“MANY HANDS” references a previous Lingua Ignota song, “ALL BITCHES DIE,” which is itself referencing “Sinner You’d Better Get Ready,” a traditional Appalachian folk song. “MANY HANDS” is the first on the album to make the analogy between a relationship with God and an abusive relationship. Hayter sings from the perspective of “God:” “Upon your pale, pale body I will put many hands / And rough, rough fingers for every hole you have.” This line is graphic and disturbing when considering the context of how Marshall treated her. The song continues to nail in this metaphor, “The Lord spat and held me by my neck / ‘I would die for you, I would die for you’ he wept.” The line that follows this one echoes it’s sentiment, but also kind of ties back into the previous song’s concept of wanting an abusive relationship to be different (“I can’t do it again”): “The Lord spat and held me by my neck / ‘I wish things could be different’ he wept.” Whereas “I can’t do it again” acknowledges the victim’s inability to put up with abuse, “I wish things could be different” shows the abuser’s unwillingness to change.
The following song was the lead single, “PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE.” “PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE” is another heartbreaking song, but admittedly less violent than the previous two. The song is set to a lovely piano and features a beautiful vocal performance from Hayter. The second verse kills me. “Do you want to be in Hell with me? / I know you want to stop but you can’t stop / I’ve watched you alone in the home where you live with your family / And all that I’ve learned is everything burns.” “I know you want to stop but you can’t stop” once again ties back to the themes of the last couple songs, echoing the sentiments of “I don’t care that he can’t help it” and “”I wish things could be different” he wept.” These sentiments are also mirrored in the line “I wish things could be any other way.” “I’ve watched you alone in the home where you live with your family / And all that I’ve learned is everything burns” perhaps references Hayter’s relationship with Marshall, who is a father. Hayter attempted to get him to connect with his children (his family) but he simply wasn’t willing to take those steps. Hayter “watched” his family, and perhaps became pessimistic about the situation, “All that I’ve learned is everything burns.” The song transitions to a second segment about halfway through which features the repeated refrain “I fear your voice above all others / I fear your name above all others.” This works for both the relationship with the cruel God and the relationship with the abuser, and the obvious connection between the two.
Track five is the most graphic with what happened between Hayter and Marshall. One line in particular sticks out: “The surgeon’s precision is nothing / No wound as sharp as the will of God.” This references a particular event in their relationship. Marshall physically injured Hayter during sex to the point that she needed surgery. “He will take your legs and your will to live” refers again to this situation, without the surgery she could have lost the use of her legs. This song is unrelenting as Hayter sings, “I can’t say I don’t deserve it.” Victims frequently blame themselves, and this line shows Hayter deep in that mindset.
The album has a strong end with a powerful back to back in “MAN IS LIKE A SPRING FLOWER” and “THE SOLITARY BRETHREN OF EPHRATA.” “Spring Flower” could be considered the “climax” of the album, as it is much more energetic than “Brethren.” It ends with a fierce coda featuring the repeated refrain of “One is not enough / No one is enough / No love is enough / The heart of man is unbearable/impossible to hold.” These lines reflect Hayter’s disappointment in her relationship with Marshall. Marshall cheated on her many times, so perhaps that is what these lines are in reference to. “Brethren,” on the other hand, sounds like a Christian hymn. Hayter’s journey with God ends here, as she decides not to believe, exclaiming “Loneliness my master / I bow to him alone.” The song embraces a solitary lifestyle, which is perhaps understandable after the brutal abuse of the relationship described in the previous set of songs.
“SINNER GET READY” is an extremely significant album. What it says about the way certain sects of Christianity view God, as well as what it says about abusive relationships, and the comparisons it makes between these two types of relationships is genuinely mind-blowing. It took a while for the album to click for me. It is a different direction from “CALIGULA,” a little softer, although equally brutal in other ways, but once it clicked? An instant classic, and that is a term I am always hesitant to use, because there is no way to predict how an album will be viewed in the future. However, “SINNER GET READY” came out at the perfect time. It illustrates the current culture of America in the early 2020s perfectly, and thus will always hold a special place in my heart. There are components of “SINNER GET READY” that very much reflect experiences I also had in the early 2020s, and it makes this album hit like a truck. It feels like a perfect signifier of this time, as bleak of an outlook as that may be. I cannot recommend giving it a listen or two enough, it’s too important to ignore.