FITCHPORK: Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter, SAVED!
genre: Appalachian folk, hymns, noise (?)
Released October 20th, 2023
Warning: this review contains mentions of domestic violence and suicide. Reader discretion advised.
“No longer shall I wander / Ugliness, my home / Loneliness, my master / I bow to him alone.”
Sinner Get Ready, Kristin Hayter’s final album with the stage name Lingua Ignota, ends with these lines. It’s a bleak, crushing end to a bleak, crushing album, one that uses a fundamentalist devotion to God as a metaphor for domestic abuse. Hayter’s work as Lingua Ignota had always been concerned with abuse and violence, and reclaiming masculine and often misogynistic spaces for survivors. She started Lingua Ignota after being in several physically abusive relationships, and wanted to express the anger and pain and violence she felt she couldn’t properly express as a survivor.
Unlike her previous records, which were made after the abuse had taken place, Sinner Get Ready was written while it was still happening, which became clear after she made a public impact statement about the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse inflicted on her by her former partner, Daughters frontman Alexis Marshall, a few months after the album came out. The statement is detailed, and to put it lightly, horrific — she wrote that the abuse was so severe and she felt so hopeless, she attempted to take her own life.
They say all great art comes from pain, but sometimes a line has to be drawn. After years of making and performing art out of her past traumas, she said that she would be retiring the Lingua Ignota project, citing her emotional wellbeing: “It is not healthy for me to relive my worst experiences over and over through [Lingua Ignota], and my healing has finally allowed me to feel how painful that is.” However, she didn’t say that she wouldn’t be making music anymore.
After performing her final shows in London and going silent on social media for a while, Lingua Ignota was baptized and reborn as Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter, marking the first time Hayter has released music under her real name. It makes sense that she would want to go from the Latin words for “unknown language” to her real name for this new direction. It also makes sense, after a career of singing about being abused and trapped, that her first record under her new name would be about salvation.
Described as a “noise record without any noise,” using tape manipulation to make it sound like the music is falling apart, like it’s been gathering dust in an attic somewhere, never meant to be heard. Sonically, Hayter and producer Seth Manchester do a great job of capturing the stark eeriness of early 60s folk recordings — even the cover art is meant to evoke old televangelist records. In contrast to the maximalist industrial metal production of Lingua Ignota, Saved! is composed almost entirely of just voice and prepared piano. Instead of noise or screaming, the record uses other means of defying your expectations and putting you on edge, whether it’s the audio quality, the vocal performances, or the language of evangelical religion.
Let’s talk about that, too: If the evangelical themes of the album are off-putting to you, that’s intentional. If it makes me uncomfortable as someone who isn’t religious at all I can only imagine what it’s like for any ex-Catholics like Hayter. What’s someone who used to call herself an atheist doing singing about God, calling herself a Reverend? It’s both a metaphor for healing and an earnest attempt at soul-searching. In fact, Hayter describes the entire album as “the evangelical apocalypse as a metaphor for healing… solace is found in absolute retreat from the world, far from pain and sin, burning with the holy fire until the end comes.” The album is both ironic and deeply genuine, and the Reverend is both a character and her real self. (And she has been ordained, officially, as a Reverend). Hayter’s music, even without any harsh noise or gory lyrics, remains deeply challenging.
The opener, “I’m Getting Out While I Can,” is an ode to running away, encouraging all to pack your things and get the hell out before Judgment Day comes. “Farewell to everyone that I know / Judgment is coming, I’m ready to go / I won’t stick around to see where you all stand / Just get out, get out, get out while you can.” That apocalyptic feeling is aided by the fact that the song itself purposefully sounds like you’re listening to it on a faulty record player that is going to fall apart at any second — slowing down, speeding up, cutting out, panning from ear to ear — before it suddenly cuts to a frightening recording of Hayter speaking in tongues. And then it ends.
The subtext of this album starting with, “get out, get out, get out while you can,” after Hayter herself just left an extremely abusive relationship isn’t lost on me — It’s a reminder that for those who have abused and exploited that, sometimes, running away is the bravest thing you can do.
There’s more to that metaphor seen after the opener: “All Of My Friends Are Going To Hell” initially reads as a cautionary tale, a fire-and-brimstone Louvin Brothers-inspired song chronicling the soon-to-be-damned people around her. Underneath it, you can see how it reflects the experience of uprooting your life to escape abuse, the realization that your “friends” are all enablers, bystanders, and two-faced liars: “Sisters turn their backs when you’re down and out / They’ll talk about you out both sides of their mouths,” she warns. “Better fear that fire in all you do / Better pray what fell upon me won’t fall upon you.”
A demon in the night speaks to her on the ballad “I Will Be With You Always,” arguably the centerpiece of the record. A previous Lingua Ignota song contained this lyric: “Abandon your body so no man can break it.” Here, she begs her demons to give her body back to her, straining and twisting her voice as she wails, “Release me, release me, release me.” Despite the pain and tragedy detailed in this song, by the end of the song it seems the demon itself is hope, one she wants to pass on to others who suffered. The will to be freed was always within her.
Half of the songs on this album are original material, and the other half are renditions of hymns. Despite not being written by Hayter herself, the choices of hymns to cover are very purposeful in part of the narrative. “The Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole” confront loneliness, sickness, lostness, all trying to find redemption and seeking solace from pain. There’s two short interludes, both of them about the blood of Jesus Christ, a motif that has been present since her last record. The minimal production on the album allows Hayter to put her voice front and center, and she delivers some truly harrowing performances. “I just touched the hem, I just touched the hem of, of his, his garment…” she howls. Even though these hymns weren’t written by Hayter herself, she sings the words like they’re her own personal truth, deep from the soul.
The final song, “How Can I Keep From Singing,” is a finisher that’s both show-stoppingly beautiful and deeply upsetting, the one I find myself returning to the most out of all of the songs on this record. Hayter delivers a slow, peaceful rendition of the hymn, undercut by a recording of glossolalia, that grows more intense and feverish as it goes on. Glossolalia, also known as speaking in tongues, or lingua ignota, is present throughout the album, but especially so on this song. They say that glossolalia occurs in moments of true enlightenment. It feels like both a final goodbye to her previous name, and a genuine attempt to commune with God.
As the final notes fade out, the glossolalia continues. Her voice grows hoarse, and it starts to sound painful. You can hear the sounds of physical motion, her hands slapping her body, as if possessed. After doing so for nearly 8 full minutes, she coughs and breathes heavily, exhausted. It’s over.
Listening to the sound of her strained, hoarse breathing at the end, I can only wonder, is this enlightenment? Have we really been saved? The tranquil music implies she has found peace, the desperate glossolalia implies the opposite. The point of this record isn’t to try to bring you to Jesus, but to try to process and heal the pain of the past through something archaic and forgotten, comparing freedom from abuse to salvation and religious ecstasy. There’s pain and horror on this record but there’s hope, too, lots of it — when you listen close you can hear more of that joy and ecstasy than you can
Sinner Get Ready was an album about searching for God and finding nothing. She remarked once in an interview with Anthony Fantano that once she finished the album, her belief in any higher power was completely gone. In a recent interview with Kerrang, she was asked if she succeeded to be saved on this record, and she said, “I don’t know if it worked or not. I’m not sure.”
As bizarre and as frightening as this record is, you can hear its message in those final moments. The road to healing from past traumas can be lonely and terrifying and painful, but the mere fact that you can search for peace means the demons are gone now. You can yet be saved.
Best songs: I’m Getting Out While I Can, All Of My Friends Are Going To Hell, Idumea, I Will Be With You Always, The Poor Wayfaring Stranger, I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole, How Can I Keep From Singing
Junior Berkeley Frost is a Staff Writer. Their email is email@example.com.