ALBUM REVIEW: Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter – SAVED!


 

Kristin Hayter is perhaps better known by her erstwhile pseudonym Lingua Ignota, under which moniker she has released several albums that combine dark experimentalism with the influence of classical and folk music. Stating that it is “not healthy for [her] to relive [her] worst experiences over and over” through the music of her previous project, she has now recast herself as Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter, under which name her new album SAVED! (Perpetual Flame Ministries) arrives.

 

Hayter’s new nom de plume and the record’s title hint at the themes therein: SAVED! deals with Hayter’s apparently earnest attempts to reach salvation through Christianity — specifically the Pentecostal-Holiness Movement. The album cover also embodies this idea of religious redemption: it resembles an old-fashioned and faded poster for an evangelical church service, featuring a sepia-toned image of Hayter in front of an elaborate flower arrangement beneath a bold text layout.

 

The cursory glance at the song titles for SAVED! suggests even more about the record’s thematic direction, with examples such as “There Is Power In The Blood”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, and “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole”. It turns out that the majority of these selections are in fact rearranged covers of traditional hymns, gospel songs or old blues pieces, with only four of the tracks being original compositions.

 

Hayter, along with longtime collaborator Seth Manchester, apparently recorded the material for at high quality before feeding the results through a four-track tape machine, then intentionally damaging the resulting tapes before feeding them through small “half-broken” cassette players. This treatment is taken to varying extremes on different tracks. At times the recordings seem to collapse in on themselves as the tape falters and the playback speed fluctuates, and the songs almost transform into disturbing noise collages. Many of the tracks stop abruptly as though the recording has been cut off part-way through. In other places the effect is less obvious, but the production of the whole record is characterised by lo-fi scratchiness and nostalgic analogue warmth.

 

Underneath the unorthodox sonics are sparse but impassioned renditions of songs performed entirely by Hayter herself, usually with just piano (often prepared with added bells and chains) and voice. In many places she harmonises with herself to create a one-person Gospel Choir. Hayter’s own songs take a traditionalist approach drawing from Blues, Folk and Gospel, and as such they nestle in cohesively with the traditional covers.

 

The tracks vary in form from upbeat old-time country (such as the short and scratchy versions of “There Is Power In The Blood” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”), to the slow catharsis of stirring and poignant songs like the self-penned opener “I’m Getting Out While I Can” and a cover of “The Poor Wayfaring Stranger”. A lot of the music is in a major key and the songs’ themes generally revolve around ostensibly uplifting ideas of redemption and deliverance.

 

But that’s not to say SAVED! is devoid of darkness. Hayter’s commanding vocal delivery, faultlessly graceful as it is, drips with naked emotion. When she sings lines like “may this comfort and protect you” (from the original song of the same name) with a melody that could quite happily belong to a nursery rhyme, she invokes the deep sadness and suffering that this album is perhaps supposed to be a kind of antidote to. There are also several genuinely unsettling sections in which Hayter can be heard “speaking in tongues” — babbling and chanting incomprehensibly and uncontrollably.

 

Pain and joy seem to be in constant flux throughout the songs here, as though Hayter is between two worlds, looking back at the Hell she is escaping whilst wishing herself towards the Heaven she seeks.

 

SAVED! does not represent a complete dismissal of Hayter’s work as Lingua Ignota. After all, particularly on her last album under that name, 2021’s Sinner Get Ready, she explored some similar themes and styles. It is, however, a more overt embracement of traditional music and Christian ideas. And whilst the music here is certainly further away stylistically from anything resembling metal, in many ways the approach of SAVED! is more radical than that of Hayter’s previous work. It is an album that brings together age-old tradition and avant-garde experimentalism, and sees the shoots of sublime beauty grow against a backdrop of sorrow and torment.

 

Whether listening to SAVED! will provide the experience of transcendental redemption that characterises its subject matter is uncertain, but regardless, it is an deeply emotive listen, often strange, sometimes difficult, but always utterly compelling.

Buy the album here:

 

8 / 10

DUNCAN EVANS