The hard truth is, no matter how many albums we review each year, there are always countless releases that end up overlooked. That’s why, this month, we’re bringing back our
No Album Left Behind
series, in which the Paste Music team has the chance to circle back to their favorite underrated records of 2021 and sing their praises.
We tend to view most forms of art with diminishing returns. A life-changing film or album will only hold up for you through a sense of nostalgia for the first time it really rearranged your brain. But for Lingua Ignota’s game-changing third album Sinner Get Ready, context is key.
Ever since the release of her first album All Bitches Die, the project has been a cathartic artistic vessel in order for singer and songwriter Kristin Hayter to exorcise demons surrounding her thoughts on religion and her own experiences of sexual assualt and domestic abuse. From that album to her 2019 breakthrough Caligula, Hayter had mixed attributes of doom and black metal, kitchen-sink instrumentation of early no-wave and Berlin art-rock, a flair for classical composition, all with her astounding vocals that could at one moment send ripples through your skin with her intense shrieks and leave you breathless with her emotive, operatic pipes the next.
On Sinner Get Ready—her first release for Sargent House—she leans more into the droning classical, chant-based material from Caligula while introducing a more minimal, Appalachian-folk influences to her orchestrations. Rather than building over slow, ornate swells of strings, many of the songs use a similar arsenal that would be used to soundtrack the unceremonious roadside burial of a disliked bootlegger in the Prohibition era. On certain songs, you hear the death dirge of a church organ and the buzzing of bottles and chimes being clanged together with high frequency, while a muddy banjo thuds along as its chords are plucked out in slow motion. All of this could be a product of her environment while creating the album: After moving to a very rural and isolated region of Central Pennsylvania, Hayter became fascinated with the history of the Mennonite community there, which inspired her to mix some of the Gothic imagery into Sinner’s slow-bubbling cauldron. On first listens, the lyrical content and vocal presentation of the album show Hayter staging her own religious revenge opera, stepping in as the surrogate mouthpiece for both a cruel god and those pleading for justice from on high.
Throughout the album’s nine tracks, she strategically places audio of disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who, after preaching a very fire-and-brimstone approach to the gospel, was caught in a series of scandals involving sex workers in the ’90s, resulting in a famed cue-the-waterworks televised confession. In press surrounding her album, Hayter has explained that she wanted the album to be a takedown of figures who maintain a righteous persona in their public lives, but were anything but when the shades were drawn. It was a tremendous narrative through line to dig into when the album was released back in August, but something shifted earlier this month when Hayter was invited as a guest on Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop’s livestream for a lengthy interview.
In their talk, Hayter shed more light on something she had previously alluded to while interacting with fans on Twitter, which was that she had recently escaped a mentally, physically and sexually abusive relationship with Daughters frontman Alexis Marshall—allegations she later detailed in an extensive written statement. One horrific moment of abuse that she cited resulted in a back injury that required surgery. In her and Fantano’s discussion, Hayter explained that this horrific experience was the main source of pain that she tried to explore on Sinner. Not only was she looking to famous figures like Swaggart who are ingrained in pop culture when we think of snake oil salesmen, but she also used these intense meditations as a way to shine a light on a dangerous wolf who had been running around unchecked in our supposedly supportive musical community.
Knowing what we know now of Hayter’s heartbreaking experiences with Marshall, many of the album’s secrets have been revealed. It’s easy to wonder if it was a deliberate choice on Hayter’s part to start the album’s opener “The Order of Spiritual Virgins” with a similar elastic synth drone to You Won’t Get What You Want opener “City Song.” As the song unfolds with plaintive piano chords, Hayter layers her angelic and rich vocals until they become a terrifying force for retribution. “Hide your children, hide your husband,” she sings, later demanding, “and all who dare look upon me, swear eternal devotion.” As the song reaches its bombastic apex, all who have wronged her must cower and beg for forgiveness.
The following track “I Who Bend the Tall Grass” sounds like the logical conclusion if Steve Albini’s “Prayer To God” had gone unanswered. “He has to die, there is no other way!” Hayter proclaims before a mournful chorus of voices calls out the lord for being all talk and no smite. “Where does your light not shine?” they ask. Next, on “Many Hands,” Hayter spells out the album’s modus operandi: “Sinner, you better get ready,” she warns as all hell breaks loose, with bells ringing and detuned instruments poking out from all directions.
In the album’s emotional centerpiece “Pennsylvania Furnace,” Hayter spells out her time with Marshall directly. “Do you wanna be in hell with me?” she asks over delicate and resonant piano chords, “I know you wanna stop but you can’t stop / I watched you alone in the home where you live with your family / And all that I’ve learned is everything burns.”
With Hayter’s intentions fully understood, Sinner Get Ready not only gains more gravity acting on the guillotine blade as it comes down, but the head that it intends to decapitate has a face that we all can now recognize. These are people who walk amongst us. They make great art that in turn can lure us in with a sense of security, but it’s never any less tragic when we walk into their traps.
As the album reaches its final stretch, its most mesmerizing moment comes with the seven-minute “Man Is Like a Spring Flower.” The song begins with a recorded interview of one of Swaggart’s followers admitting that his tears of forgiveness seemed faked and pre-rehearsed. After the song builds, it races like a carriage on fire through an autumn night, with its propulsive banjo strums and Hayter’s layered vocals concluding, “No love is enough … The heart of man is impossible to hold.”
With the album’s conclusion “The Solitary Brethren of Ephrata,” Hayter ends her opera with a funeral procession memorializing the person she was and all she has overcome. With a beautiful melody akin to a church hymnal, she harmonizes with herself, sounding resilient and unbound by an abuser who no longer has authority over her. “All my pains are lifted … All my wounds are mended,” she leads the choir. “Paradise is mine.” Now the rest of the congregation knows the full truth: Sinner, get ready.
Pat King is a Philadelphia-based journalist and host of the In Conversation podcast at Ears to Feed. He releases his own music with his project Labrador and is a tireless show-goer and rock doc fanatic. He recently took up long-distance running, which he will not shut up about. You can follow him at @MrPatKing.