Lingua Ignota Montreal

Lingua Ignota held a hypnotic black mass in Montreal that spelled the end of an era

The high priestess of a particular brand of goth is retiring her project in the new year, but her show at SAT on Dec. 18 will be remembered forever by the hundreds of fans in attendance.

Many Montrealers may have been in a state of harmonious glee or woe from that absolute nail-biter of match between Argentina and France during the FIFA finale last Sunday, but the alternative music crowd got a taste of gothic sanctuary from Lingua Ignota’s two-part — and probably final — performance at the SAT.

Fans waited in anticipation, eyes glued to the front stage of the SAT, that housed a Steinway & Sons grand piano and four standing lights, but Kristin Hayter (who has performed under the alias Lingua Ignota since her debut in 2017) appeared out of the darkness near the back of the room, donning what looked like a custom-made, emerald sea-witch dress. 

The tears started early for a few of her clear super fans as she performed her first song, an eerie A cappella version of the traditional Appalachian song “O Death.” And with that, we sinners — some who pulled out their fishnets, rivets, studs, chains and, in one woman’s case, latex suit, for just this occasion — were ready for Lingua Ignota’s experimental and calamitous hymns. 

Lingua Ignota
Lingua Ignota at SAT in Montreal, Dec. 18. Photos by Stephan Boissoneault

“Hello Montreal,” she said in a hushed tone as she sat down at the piano before driving into “Satan’s Jeweled Crown,” by the Louvin Brothers. This obscure, darkened country gospel track about repenting and redemption has been covered by Emmylou Harris and Bruce Spingsteen, but both decided to tweak the lyrics to make it more “safe” for the audience. Lingua Ignota did not, accentuating certain words like “Satan,” “God,” and “Soul,” with her untouchable voice, which switched from operatic tenor to calculated whisper, blazing valkyrie to bog witch. Her range is really a marvel, and all I could think during her live vocal acrobatics was, “Jesus.”

The first half of the show was all piano renditions of a few songs from her widely acclaimed Sinner Get Ready album and a couple other traditional hymns that are still sometimes played in Catholic churches around the world. It really did feel like mass, an aphotic mass, down to the uninterrupted breaks between songs, and Hayter’s trancelike stage presence (she seemed almost dissociated from reality) — as she created a hypnotic drone with the keys and her voice. It seemed she was almost at the point of sobbing during “May Failure Be Your Noose,” a song from the powerful Caligula album, a song about gut-wrenching self-sabotage and abuse.   

The relationship between faith and Lingua Ignota’s music is an interesting and complex one, especially live. Her songs all seem to form around this deep-rooted love/hate relationship with Catholicism, especially when it serves as a coping mechanism for things like isolation, abuse, self-harm, as well as touching on the insanity of liturgical practices in society — the second part of her show incorporated projections of warping televangelist worship services. It’s unclear whether her approach to faith as an artist is more aesthetic or intellectual. She clearly respects spiritual teachings, but is she a true believer? Who knows. This relationship with faith feels more like a personal dread that hangs over Lingua Ignota’s music, yet she does revel in it. During her shows, she invokes an almost celestial power — like a priest during mass — and capitalizes on her sway over the audience. 

One memory that I will cherish from this show is when she knelt while singing “I Who Bend the Tall Grasses,” and a fan, in tears, reached out to touch the draping sleeves of Hayter’s dress. That same fan pulled out a rosary and began praying with Lingua Ignota throughout the song. It was a bit disorienting, and obviously not staged, as Hayter herself seemed a bit shocked but went with it, eventually wearing the rosary around her neck. 

In comparison to the videos and a friend’s summary of Lingua Ignota’s past Montreal show at la Sala Rossa in 2019, where she choked herself with her microphone cord (leading to the cancellation of her New York show) and whipped lights at the crowd, the show on Sunday was quite tame. But this makes sense as the whole performance on Sunday felt like a dirge — the close of a chapter in Hayter’s life. 

These songs are, yes, cathartic bolts of release for Hayter, but force her to remember her pain as a survivor of abuse, something she was very vocal about around the release of Sinners Get Ready. (Let’s just say I was never really a fan of the band Daughters, but now, I’m really not and let’s leave it at that.)

This is definitely one of the reasons Lingua Ignota will be no more in early 2023. She announced her retirement from the project a month ago, but Hayter has other creative plans we will have to wait for. 

Her Montreal show will now go down as being one of those special performances that hundreds of fans will no doubt hold dear.

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