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All Consuming Darkness - 90%

Mad Madame, December 4th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Blood Music (Digipak)

I find it hard to talk about avant-garde music; the more difficult to talk, the more enjoyable is to listen to. Bold, atmospheric and assertive, eclectic UK metal band Lychgate awaited new studio album “The Contagion In Nine Steps” is a hybrid of genres and influences with a real demand to push the boundaries of avant-garde metal. “The Contagion In Nine Steps” is some sort of challenging cinematic experience for your ears and best served with your headphones on in a dark room when you have the patience to dig deeper into the concept. We can easily distinguish church-organ, piano and operatic vocals that carry the whole weight of the album, providing a huge solemn atmosphere through the whole record.

The song structure is very good. It is somewhat progressive, as the songs often change and songs often end quite differently from how they started. There`s little use of repetition and the transitions always feel natural, and none of the changes in tempos or melodies feel awkward or out of place. On to the music itself: it’s cold, harsh, dark, truly an album made for the dark night of the soul. The songs constantly morphs and changes its shape to something different every minute it goes on. The horror-film-like atmosphere, along with the mad genius that lurks behind Lychgate are perfectly blended and becomes extremely hypnotizing the deeper you go into the song. The church organ instrumentation present in many songs and the genre fusions works in an absolutely stellar way. “Republic”, the first song of the album, opens up unexpectedly delightful. Greg Chandler of Esoteric and Vortigern (James Young) of The One made the vocal parts and this is among my favourite element on the album as it is mournful, haunting and sometimes clean which can be rare for this kind of music.There is a distinct harmonious yet frightening atmosphere when the guitar tone and vocals crossover.

“Unity of Opposites” starts with a haunting guitar-riff and then transcends into a gregorian choir. This is the moment when the album really follows the "expect the unexpected" principle. On the third song named “Atavistic Hypnosis”, no matter how dense or frantic the music gets, everything can be heard and appreciated to its fullest potential. Here I was moved by the classical construction of the song. It's almost a classic overture. The darkest song of the album is “Hither Comes the Swarm”. The terror-bringing keyboards of Vortigern are as astounding as his emotionally nuanced style of singing.

“The Contagion” shows yet again the band taking new elements and transforming previous ones to paint new landscapes. It somehow has the feeling of a classic epic-doom song, somewhere between Solitude Aeturnus and Cathedral. While “Unity Of Opposites” will surely have an immediate impact, it was in tracks such as "The Contagion," and “Remembrance" that hidden elements began to surface. The drums sound is minimalist, but very well anchored in the theme and was provided by perhaps one of the most imposing drummers in black metal today Tom Vallely (Acherontas, Macabre Omen), and the bass part played by A K Webb is well integrated in the album structure.

Often have I sat with this album on repeat, and I never grow tired of it. There is so much to discover on this album that it will most likely require several listens that will demand your full attention. Lychgate seems to be striving to transcend the stereotypes of being a metal band.They really know how to create tones that have a wealth of character, melodrama and emotion. I see this album like a grand experiment that succeeded deeply.

Creeping through the air. - 70%

GrizzlyButts, June 22nd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Blood Music

In their earliest movements Lychgate were nothing short a flowing, heaving gust of black metal from the void-pulsing pump organ that fuels the vacuous nature of the abyss. Their self-titled album in 2013 was an instantly alluring ‘easy’ listen that collated the mystique and terror of post-‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk’ Emperor with the forceful grace of Dissection-spawn. It was a year of powerful new blood in extreme metal and Lychgate were tastefully unassuming in their strong debut statement. And why shouldn’t the project have been grand, considering the trail of dead and gasping-for-air projects it has left in it’s wake? Disoriented by the peaceful quietude, or stalemate, of their erstwhile active bands Greg Chandler of Esoteric, Vortigern (James Young) of Spearhead/The One, and perhaps one of the most impressive drummers in black metal today Tom Vallely (Acherontas, Macabre Omen) appear to have struck out into Lychgate with a creative fervor readily apparent beyond comparably stylized releases. Granted, each release has been considerably challenging since the first.

Whereas ‘Lychgate’ was mildly symphonic in style with some hints of dissonance and non-tradition peeking through, ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’ was a pipe-bomb to black metal’s uptight instincts with ranting church organs serving as a bold foil for this new cursed rant of insanity. In many ways the organ instrumentation evokes an odd reaction depending on your frame of reference; The type of organ sounds used certainly recall church performances for most but for the rare Americans versed in their own history and culture… a quick and jaunty organ blast recalls both traditional circus music and more vividly the long-dead accompaniment for baseball parks. To hear it writhing within the contraction-and-expansion of avant-garde black metal compositions was ultimately disorienting. ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’ was commendable for it’s obliteration of any musical ‘comfort zone’ provided by rock music permutation and in terms of actual modern progressive black metal few releases, up to that point, had produced such a genuine article. The record sits with a lower score from me because I felt it too challenging a listen from any approach and almost too impressionistic to enjoy. However hypocritical my enjoyment and disdain for Lychgate‘s second album might be in tandem, their third has offered something more measured in it’s movements.

Lyrics are so often a cheap afterthought in extreme metal that when I am face to face with well-written prose from a well-read fellow(s) it is almost debilitating. Without having read Lem’s The Invincible some of the references and language are lost on me but the writing within ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ at least had me musing over the inverted panopticon of chaos that the internet creates and the slow-burning flame it blasts upon sheltered societal constructs. As useless as my imagination might be under the belly flop of any well-read writer, I can appreciate the themes of groupthink and crowd psychology. The music itself is no less challenging and avant-black in nature but ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ more often arrests itself in poignant statement for effect, rather than expounding it’s concept with the runaway ranting of ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’. Likewise Chandler‘s vocal performances finally dive into some of his Esoteric tonality alongside some cleaner guest vocals from Alexandros (Macabre Omen, The One) and Chris Hawkins (Endeavour). I’ve seen Lychgate called black/doom metal before but I don’t think that tag has really fit snugly enough until this third record.

Though the atmosphere, composition and delivery of the record is entirely progressive metal in approach ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ dances out it’s marche funèbre redolent of funeral doom and modern black metal were it amalgamated in random throngs of opposition rather than harmony. This is inherently where the challenge lies in the listening experience; The sections I’m meant to grasp onto and ride a zip-line towards the next riff-driven moment are largely clean vocal chorale that do not resonate with me. Much of it oddly recalls late 90’s alternative metal vocalists like Burton Bell, who relied on studio sustain for effect without ever really landing a harmony. The exception isn’t unheard of, though, as “Unity of Opposites” shows the glom of vocal styles at it’s most effective. I was fine simply focusing on Chandler‘s distinct growling and the rest felt, perhaps intentionally, disharmonious.

I found myself shrinking away from ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ with further listens perhaps less than, but for the same reasons as, ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’. New textures, pacing, performances, and ‘room to breathe’ with greater guitar tones and less obtuse keyboard work all make for an undeniably better listening experience. Where I get a bit lost is in the avant-garde nature of the music and it’s necessity. If it is a natural evolution of musical personality providing the basis for a greater praise of individuality then I understand. If I’m meant to sit back and be challenged with every listen then I understand completely. If I’m meant to be drawn into the music with an intense fervor for any one particular moment that clings hopelessly to my mind, then I am lost. With the recommended reading in hand, and some further reflection, this could be a philosophical blessing for an idiot like me. Understood. For now it is simply a series of unpredictable twists and turns that excites and mystifies the senses with it’s delivery. ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ may be a challenging induction but I do believe Lychgate have hit upon a higher conception in progressive extreme metal with their third full-length.

For preview I’d suggest easing into the experience with “Unity of Opposites” to hear the broad range of the performances. My highest recommendation is for “Hither Comes the Storm”, for a decidedly Esoteric-ish progression with a death metallic collapse.


Alienation, the apocalypse, and You. - 87%

ConorFynes, May 29th, 2018

Insofar as music is concerned, 2015 stands in my mind as one of the very best years we’ve had in this new millennium; certainly the best of the decade when I account for all the life-changers and modern classics clustered within it. Of those, Lychgate’s An Antidote for the Glass Pill was one of those which hit the hardest. Based on that, you could ride the coattails of inference and assume (correctly) that I thought Lychgate’s second album was pretty god damned special.

Avant-garde metal usually sounds like a colourful toybox of kitchen sink accessories mashed together by musicians with more technique than taste. There’s always a self-contained elation in hearing a band that comes through on the promise of pushing boundaries. Between the maelstrom church organ (leading the band) and the eerily tone-perfect guitars, Lychgate’s was a sound dredged out from some uncanny valley. Ghostly, arrogant, cerebral, and completely unique. It was a deal made grander by the unmistakable presence of one Greg Chandler, who long since established himself in Esoteric as one of the few vocalists in metal to vindicate the art of growling with range and expression par virtuoso.

Around the time An Antidote for the Glass Pill was released to the public, I predicted that it would go down as some kind of underground classic. Alas, this was not meant to be, not least of all considering the sum of people I’ve heard profess variations of “I can’t get into it, Conor-- why don’t we put something else on instead?” Sure thing, let’s go ahead and listen to that spooky Watain record and pray to Hanna-Barbera their wild hunt isn’t foiled by some meddling kids.

I won’t make the same mistake with The Contagion in Nine Steps. Lychgate have released another fantastic body of material that comes impressively close to the awe of An Antidote for the Glass Pill without relying on the same tricks. Still, I’m not so naive now to think this one will do much better than the mixed-bag reception of its predecessor. Lychgate remain-- and likely always shall be-- challenging, unique, and reeking with demented genius.

Lychgate are once again different-sounding than before, this time with rebalanced emphasis on theatricality and the apocalyptic undertones of the last record. Most significantly, the church organ no longer plays magistrate in Lychgate’s sound, having coiled back to a more conventional support role. Gone too are the alien clocktower guitars, replaced in turn with something similar but less garish. The black metal-imbued frantic pacing of Antidote has been followed up here by a self-assured momentum I half-assume drew some influence from Esoteric. Similar in a sense to the doom-shifting evolution manifested by The Ruins of Beverast, it’s hard to say for sure where the foundations in one genre ended and the other began. It’s up for debate how far tags like that could really go to pin the sound here when there’s such a blurred divide between disciplines.

If that second album was apocalyptic fanfare from a stark cathedral, Contagion serves the same dish in an opera house instead. Theatricality was part of the band’s framework before, but it’s been such a core part of my impression this time around that I can almost imagine the stage direction. The emotional dynamics can be downright wild, careening between clawing malevolence and hysteric Romanticism several times within certain tracks. The expressive range owes itself to the album’s regard for strong song structures. Predictably dense atmosphere aside, I was first taken aback by how vocal-oriented these arrangements are. Greg Chandler’s growls have the sort of resonance you could naturally imagine filling up the rafters in some grimly inverted opera, interspersed with deep booming vocals, haunted whispers, moderate tenor cleans and, most strikingly, bombastic earpiercer falsettos typically reserved for prog and power metal.

The diversity of vocalists comes together very nicely. Alexandros Antoniou of Macabre Omen (coincidentally the culprit behind another reason I remember 2015 so well) grounds the atmosphere with something recognizably human. The soaring wails of guest Chris Hawkins are, perhaps ironically, the ballsiest move Lychgate makes here. I think it works brilliantly as a counterpoint. Then again, maybe I can just count myself uncommonly suited for this album as the stale adult continuation of a 15 year old who once fumbled at a record store between buying the Rhapsody of Fire album in his one hand or the one by Gorguts in the other, and fortunately had the good sense to go broke and come home with both.

An Antidote for the Glass Pill was too one-of-a-kind to suffer the ease of a direct comparison. I suppose The Contagion in Nine Steps makes this part easier in that I could ask you to imagine what Lychgate’s funeral doom cousin project would sound like were they possessed by the playful mania of Arcturus. Weirdly in some ways I think this album is bounds closer to the average palate of the types of people who felt strongly averse to Lychgate’s eccentricism; the glaring quirks have been shaved down enough for me to initially speculate if it had in small part influenced (read: discouraged) by the murmurs from the gallery. Then again, those same underground metalheads that called the organs “pretentious” would be none too pleased for the operatic power metal wails this time around. So scratch one theory if I first supposed Lychgate were softening down at all.

The Contagion in Nine Steps is challenging in precisely the sort of way I hope to hear from the avant-garde keep; precisely the sort of experience I’ve stopped realistically expecting from a metal record. This really is as jarring and uncompromised as the one before it, and while your mileage may vary too much to give a recommendation whole-hearted, those with the ears to hear the brilliance will have something special to behold at the end of time.