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Madness spurned by the task of finding oneself. - 91%

ConorFynes, August 19th, 2015

Whether you have heard the name Lychgate, or heard their solid 2013 self-titled before, I have no doubt that the coming months will see the extreme metal community gurgle with joy aplenty at the release of their second album. An Antidote for the Glass Pill is an unlikely masterpiece, and I might have to look as far back as last year for an album that has chilled, spooked, and otherwise frightened me as much as this one. Thantifaxath's Sacred White Noise, perhaps? I think fear from a presumably 'harmless' medium like music can only be felt when a listener is experiencing something unfamiliar to them. That sense of confusion is the calling card of the avant-garde, and to meld that confusion with inherently dark styles like black or doom metal is to effectively weaponize it. I am no less provoked each time I listen to An Antidote for the Glass Pill. Lychgate have crafted a completely immersive experience with their second album, boldly realizing the vision they set out for themselves, with the substance to temper its madness, and no cheap tricks used to satisfy their ends.

Though previously a one-man act known as Archaicus, the story of Lychgate didn't start until the release of their self-titled full-length in 2013. Multi-instrumentalist Vortigern was joined by a host of well-travelled musicians, best known of all arguably being Greg Chandler, known for his resonant howls in the legendary Esoteric. While Lychgate is marketed foremost as a black metal band, the influence and association with (arguably) funeral doom's most astounding monument informed the way the band carried their atmosphere on the debut, which otherwise tended to carry itself in an (albeit extreme) melodic light vaguely reminiscent of Dissection. While I really enjoyed what Lychgate did on their debut, my lasting impression was that they hadn't yet realized their destined style, choosing instead to imply it via the smoke and mirrors of other, less outlandish black metal bands that inspired them.

An Antidote for the Glass Pill takes the unique threads hinted at on the debut and have realized them completely. Lychgate's style here is full-bodied and imposing; such as it is, it makes the excellent debut look underdeveloped in contrast. Lychgate's teetering between black and doom metal has collapsed in favour of the latter. Much like Esoteric, they convey the unmistakable atmosphere of funeral doom at a variety of tempos. The discussion of genre in metal describes none but the most generic bands, but this confusion between two styles that aren't commonly mixed should offer a vague indication, at least, that Lychgate are onto something strange with their style.

Undoubtedly, the most distinctive ingredient to Lychgate's sound is their use of organ. Church pipes are a common sight in avant-garde metal, but I don't think I've heard them take such a heavy role on a metal album before. On its own, it is possibly the most imposing instrument in the Western musical arsenal, and Lychgate make full use of this potential. Where most use of keyboards in metal is relegated to the role of auxiliary support, Lychgate's organs are vast and thunderous, truly befitting the scope of classical composers, without necessarily drawing so close to any one of them to betray the influence. Although the full extent of Lychgate's atmosphere is only apparent after giving the album due patience, the effect of the organ is thick and immediate. There is an unprecedented weight to one's music when you have centuries of musical tradition bellowing alongside you, and the organ's ecclesiastical connotations mesh well, if hauntingly, with the band's tormented atmosphere. If ever a portal to hell opens up amidst the pews of St. Paul's cathedral, it's a relief we'll already have the perfect soundtrack ready for the occasion.

Lychgate's penchant for the organ may have even pinned them as a gimmick, had they not channelled that same uncompromising innovation into every other part of their style. The guitar riffs are equal parts playful and disquieting, and they way they constantly tempt abstraction compliments the historic familiarity of the organs. One of the weirdest, most potentially divisive things about the album is actually the tone of the guitars. Although everything is played relatively 'live', it's as if Lychgate went through the extra trouble of making their guitars share the cold voice of a MIDI file. This isn't the sort of detail I noticed until a few listens in, after the indulgent organ display had grown familiar. There is an inhumanity to the way Lychgate's guitars sound that makes one feel immediately uncomfortable, as if the 'uncanny valley' reaction towards androids or 'fake humans' may now apply to a musical instrument as well. This "MIDI" sound, paired with the unsettling horror-inspired atmosphere, actually had me thinking of classic 8-bit video game soundtracks more than once, namely the spooky sounds of Castlevania. Whether this was an intentional association or not, it adds even greater alien novelty to their sound, and Lychgate enjoy the compositional chops to make that novelty last a long time. The way Blut Aus Nord took the drum machine from a budgetary setback to an integral artistic statement, I believe Lychgate have done the same for this weird guitar tone.

Greg Chandler's howls are immediately distinctive, and all existing Esoteric fans will find a shred of welcome familiarity among this project's more alien prospects. Clean vocals also make their appearance here, albeit occasionally, and sound reminiscent of other avant-metal like Age of Silence and Solefald. Lychgate's vocals (clean and growled alike) are buried slightly below the mix, which means the human element bears little chance of tampering with their conjured insanity. It's to Chandler's credit, then, that his vocals, however quiet, yet manage to send chills down my spine throughout the album. Looking at the lyrics doesn't bring one any closer to comfort. These lyrics are filled with expressionist imagery and mentions of obscure apocrypha. Whether there is a clear meaning to be taken from all of it is beside the point; most of the time, it reads like the chattering of a bona fide madman, caught in thought loops without resolution or development. Is there sense to be made of it? Cryptic mentions of a "We" and "OneState" hints their madness may be rooted in the individual's struggle to distinguish himself from the collective, but interpretations will vary. The folly of insanity is that whatever revelations that are gleaned from such an uncommon frame of mind are made intangible through their lack of clarity. It's quite conceivable that all minds behind Lychgate were perfectly sound order while making the album, but the fact that they can liberate themselves from a need for proper meaning offers an opportunity for the listener's own mind to project their own neuroses upon it.

An Antidote for the Glass Pill should spark some controversy in the coming months, and I'd like to think it'll become an album that only grows in reputation as time goes on. Lychgate have crafted a work of expressionist horror in the fleeting space where matters of genre become clouded and irrelevant. If I may any parting words on it, it's that the album takes some time to grow, even on the most attentive set of ears. Where many overly frightening, or avant-garde works get their point across in bold, loud ways, Lychgate's dread grows with each listen. If they started out as a promising black metal band. they've now become the sort of act capable of crafting masterpieces in none but their own image.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical