Writing by Elli Efird, photography by Isabela Caramico.
“Oh, sinner, you better get ready, hallelujah.”
In all its tragic vibrato, the (ev)angelic lines echo through the public masses for the last live time, laying a final resting place for unknown language to return to the eternal abyss from which it arose. Quicker than she came into my life, avant-garde musician Kristin Hayter’s project Lingua Ignota (2017-2023) signed off with a fittingly haunting warning – an unrepentant goodbye on the back end of her REPENT NOW tour, which I, repentantly, did not have the blessing of attending.
I first listened to Lingua Ignota (Lingy) when the scaffolding of Christian tradition, architected within me in the style of the American gothic and deep Appalachia, was beginning to crumble. Songs from the final album, SINNER GET READY, plucked at the edges of my fraying faith, thread by thread, until I stood defenseless amidst the whirlwind of Hayter’s dark hymnal tones and jarring harmonies. I remember crying at the softer songs of the album – PERPETUAL FLAME OF CENTRALIA and THE SOLITARY BRETHEREN OF EPHRATA – due the raw, guttural emotions they evoked. The experience was reminiscent of the church services I was no longer attending, the worship I no longer threw my hands and soul heavenward for. The songs came to symbolize the peace of parting with my reliance on the Christian narrative for guidance, comfort, and forgiveness. They propelled me to be my own spiritual savior from my sins.
You can imagine my surprise when I found that the album was written through “the process of getting saved…of religious conversion through the evangelical tradition,” as Hayter details to the self-declared ‘internet’s busiest music nerd’ Anthony Fantano in an interview this past October. It’s ironic how one person’s salvation can inspire another’s fall from God. Holiness begets unholiness. Sin begets salvation as salvation begets sin. A song begets the silence which follows.
Part religious documentary, part ethnographic fieldwork, and part creative experiment, SINNER GET READY captures the simultaneous fear and love of God lurking in the undusted corners of the American Christian body and of the sinner’s psyche. While writing her third and final album as Lingy, Hayter threw herself into Pentecostal culture, attending countless services and reading piles of doomsday literature. The evidence of such studious immersion is so uniquely and artistically on-par, causing the record to sound, as Fantano remarks, akin to an “anthropological project” which “stumbles across some Christian cult in the sticks'' – something not difficult for me to imagine, having encountered the likes of some fundamentalist circles whilst hiking through the Appalachian woods.
However, Hayter’s quest leading to SINNER was as personally spiritual as artistically anthropological. On the back end of events of immense suffering, Hayter found solace in the “madness” which hymns could create within her, leading her to actively try and evoke “personal transcendental experiences” through her own music. Lingy captures the religious fervor which taps into the realms of cosmological catharsis, mirroring those seemingly accessed when speaking in tongues. Vocals which range from screaming to weeping, and instrumentals which range from stripped down keys to industrial noise, serve as her transcendence of popular music culture in tandem with her spiritual transcendence.It is this juxtaposition that gives her music an incomprehensible grandeur and otherworldly quality nearly impossible to fit into mortal frameworks (cue: THE ORDER OF SPIRITUAL VIRGINS and I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES).
I find the idea of writing music about spiritually transcendental experiences I’ve had in the past nearly impossible. Perhaps this is because they are isolated events in which supernatural forces are at play, be it a legitimate intersection of the cosmological and earthly planes or a frighteningly convincing figment of psychic imagination. To this day, I cannot fully explain such personal instances with philosophy or rationale, but have positioned them outside of the constrictions of Christianity and attributed them to a wider, enigmatic spirit realm.
Pentecostalism centers on the belief that the more of these personal transcendental experiences one has, the closer to God they are. Is this a fleeting heaven one can create on Earth? A temporary escape from the perpetual burden of sin? Or some sort of fiery alternate personality evoked and stoked by the institution of evangelical Christianity? Is a sinner who attains more of these transcendences somehow less of a sinner than she who spends her whole life on the earthly plane?
We are all in purgatory – teetering on the edge of inferno and paradiso on this ball of dirt, spinning circles round and round and round in the milky way until we die, or until we cause the sixth great extinction. No wonder people want to escape this perpetual orbit, both in this life and the one beyond. SINNER GET READY can be read as Hayter’s painful wrestling with such themes and attempts to escape. It is her quest for paradise after being put through multiple hells. It is no coincidence that she chooses to end her six-year avant-garde project with the repetition of:
“Paradise will be mine.”
If Lingua Ignota was Hayter’s purgatory, Perpetual Flame Ministries – her subsequent project under which she performs by her full given name – is the documentation of her pilgrimage into paradise. SAVED!, her first full-release album under Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter which came out earlier this year, boasts an even deeper sonic immersion in the Pentecostal tradition underlaid with “musicological antiquity”. SINNER GET READY to be SAVED!, I guess. Being “saved” and “sinner” are far from mutually exclusive states of being.
I bid adieu to the haunting enigma yet open book which was Lingua Ignota//unknown language. I owe a part of my journey to reclaiming my own spiritual autonomy to her music, and though we were experiencing opposite progressions in our journeys with Christianity, I reckon she would appreciate my takeaway. Love thy neighbor, after all.