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 long 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 chant. 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.