Kristin Hayter has been through it. Like, been through it. It would take long to get into what ‘it’ is, suffice it to say listening to her previous albums as Lingua Ignota, CALIGULA and SINNER GET READY, offer a facet of ‘it’. Hayter’s made such a name for herself both as a sympathetic survivor figure who toils and contends with abject abuse and existential pain that many people relate to, but also as an experimental artist that has won fans from all over the musical spectrum. But that was then – this is now. Hayter has retired the Lingua Ignota name because it’s time for something different, something less steeped in a horrible past that drove her to make that music. Now ordained (for real) and on a path to healing that will no doubt be long and arduous, she is Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter, and she is SAVED!.
From the start, the process and concept of this album was very different from anything before under Hayter’s direction. Now, it wasn’t so important to convey a very real internal pain that had weighed not only her down as a person, but the Lingua Ignota name and work as well. To move on, you have to move on. In fact, older fans of Hayter’s work might find that while there’s certainly common threads and themes between the music on SAVED! and earlier work, there’s only really one song (maybe two) on here that could be comfortably attributed to the Lingua Ignota name as we knew it, and that’s “I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS”. Pretty much every other song has different approaches or affectations that make up the core of this album.
SAVED! is a sort-of ‘found footage’ album in the sense that it feels like something that shouldn’t exist, but does and has been found after years, maybe even decades, of navigating its own mythical Bermuda Triangle lost to time and even to itself. Going with that analogy, SAVED! is kind of like if A24 produced a film of Hayter’s doing, a deeply profound personal story using religion/spirituality as a key theme (not a first for A24). What it shows is a very unique kind of subtle horror: the progression of someone’s salvation, paradoxically at the cost of their inner peace, calm, and companionship.
It really digs its heels into the Evangelical fixation on doomsday – the prophesied return of Christ and subsequent rapture. Though Hayter’s words aren’t quite as explicit, the narrative arc is there, starting with someone who makes a choice to be saved, to be born again, who realizes they are surrounded by sin even by their friends who will assuredly go to hell in due time, so they isolate and remove themself from what we consider ‘life’, to foster the connection between them and God in preparation for judgment day.
In Hayter’s or someone representing her’s words, SAVED! is a ‘renunciation of life‘ and in that thesis is where the deepest sadness is found. Someone losing so much of themself until all they have is God – but to them, God is all they or anyone needs. In gaining God, they gain all things as stated in the forlorn, splintered album ender, “HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING”. On a few different occasions on SAVED!, you can hear someone speaking in tongues, some very jarring if you’re using headphones. It’s unsettling, lacking clarity from age and degradation, and the suddenness of it implies that it’s an artifact recorded over partially by Hayter. Who is it? Where are they now? SAVED! poses more questions than answers – unless you’re on board with its Evangelical teachings on a surface level – even putting the album overall up to our interpretation: ‘Whether this is enlightenment or insanity is up to the listener to decide.‘
Musically, this is Hayter’s most stripped-back, borderline minimalist affair, surely a conscious choice in service to its themes portraying someone with nothing but the love of God. There’s no striking walls of sound or cavernous chamber elements to bludgeon with, nothing to grate and tear at you except perhaps the guilt of denying salvation through God. Throughout the album, Hayter refers to us as ‘Sinner Friend‘ as she regales us with her accounts of feeling God-like in “MAY THIS COMFORT AND PROTECT YOU”:
‘His voice is heard in every song
And every waking hour
Each blade of grass and ringing bell
Repeats his glorious Name!
O Sinner Friend
Be not afraid
Your sorrows here shall end
Know that in death you’ll live again!‘
If Lingua Ignota was using the Lord as a weapon in search of divine retribution, then SAVED! feels as though the sword is now pointed inward, for as much as Hayter conveys the eternal life that God graces her with on this album, it’s at a great cost, and one that’s all too personally familiar to the point of almost triggering me. I’ve heard so many of the words, stories, and warnings found in SAVED! from people including my own mom, who would interpret this album much, much differently than me. I am stubbornly agnostic, something my mom takes great issue with as we careen toward what she is certain are the end times. She wants nothing more than for me to be saved, to accept God and the salvation that brings so that we may live forever together. Many times I’ve come into her room to find her crying and distraught because she believed we were mere days away from the rapture and she knew that I wouldn’t go with her because I’m not born again and saved. Despite my efforts to calm and reassure her, I’m no match for God and a prophecy that has yet to happen. It hurts my heart in a way that nothing else can.
In my own mom and life, I see the worst parts of SAVED!‘s themes actualized which makes it a special kind of harrowing and abrasive to hear the almost pained cries woven into “HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING” which to me represent someone at their lowest point of sanity, broken down by teachings of God and shown that the only way out of our hell of an earth is through salvation. This is fine enough – I recognize that religion and spirituality can give people a great sense of purpose and peace – but my own experiences show it to be the opposite. It does feel like a renunciation of life, a surrendering of any and all connection to earth, even threatening families and friends, all to accept a glorious new life that, objectively, could never come. Even in its more jovial moments like on “NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD OF JESUS” or “PRECIOUS LORD TAKE MY HAND”, the joy feels conditional and therefore insincere, but to someone so dedicated and devout, that’s the game – you display great faith against any and all reason in hopes of being saved from something that may never come, believing something with no logical basis or precedent.
In that alone, SAVED! is Hayter’s scariest feat yet, wielding a new, clawing sort of discomfort that’s based in enough reality to be a genuinely anxious time unlike before. I don’t like it for that. But when viewed is a distillation of where Hayter is as a person in her journey to heal, it shows as a direct result of a concerted effort to move on. Shedding the Lingua Ignota name was a must, leaving behind its bloodstained garments, taxing noise, and opulent divinity for something simpler, somehow rawer, and more despairing at least when it comes to this mortal plane. I… didn’t know she had it in her. Sometimes the most horrific things are reality itself. I can’t tell you SAVED! is good or bad because I think its purpose is far beyond those limited measures. All I can say is that SAVED! hit me in a way nothing else has on this earth and I don’t know how to feel about it; all I know is that if I am indeed going to hell, at least I’ll be going there with my friends.
Artist photo by Rev. Herschel B. Rutherford