We live in a strange time where we are always interconnected no matter how far apart we are. There’s a comfort in that. Friends who live far away, who are not near enough to see in person, can remain vital parts of our lives. World events can be seen and generate a reaction instantly. Ideas can be shared in real time. And, of course, dangerous behaviors also can be exacerbated. Plenty of evil with the good.
One of the dangerous things about being so closely connected to one another is the ability to gang up on people and ideas and bully them or violently persuade them to abandon their thoughts and actions. There’s even good and bad to that one. A group of Nazis gathering to spread ideology should be met with a combined force of people trying to prevent their poison ideas. However, same holds true for those who fight back against hatred in that they, too, become targets of a swam of attacks. This whole internet idea isn’t the whole idea behind Lychgate’s labyrinth of a third record “The Contagion in Nine Steps,” but the idea of swarm behavior they borrow from Stanislaw Lem’s 1964 sci-fi novel The Invincible. Along the way they also lean on concepts of other philosophers (Plato, LeBon, Canetti, etc.) on subjects ranging from civilization, crowd psychology, and consciousness and wrap them into these six tricks that will twist your brain repeatedly. The band— vocalist Greg Chandler (Esoteric), guitarists J. C. “Vortigern” Young (The One) and S.D. Lindsley, bassist A. K. Webb (Ancient Ascendant), and drummer T. J. F. Vallely (Acherontas, Macabre Omen)—create one of the most baffling, immersive records of their run, and it may take several visits just to absorb everything going on here.
“Republic” opens the record with guest player Vladimir Antonov-Charsky’s organ playing leading and dominating the first few minutes of the song. In fact, this track feels like three separate songs stitched together and entangled, as doom pounds away, the song drives hard toward your chest, and deep growls from Chandler make impact. Cleaner singing, almost power metal style, also steps in from time to time, as classical keys spread, and a final dose of heaviness pulls closed the gates. “Unity of Opposites” has inventive key work and a slinking bass line, as things take their time to get moving, and slow fires begin to build. Once the song truly opens, tricky guitar work confounds, while lurching growls and passionate singing expose different shades of the tale. Warm elegance rushes over the final minutes, with the song coming to a buzzing finish. “Atavistic Hypnosis” has keys dripping, with the band establishing a calculated, atmospheric ambiance. Whispers turn into growls, as the pace lurches, the synth hangs like a cloud, and darkness arrives along with smothering singing that reaches into the higher registers. The track gets mean again, darkening boldly before all the lights go out.
“Hither Comes the Swarm” starts with the keys hitting a deep groove, and growls partnering with hypnotic guitars to send you into hysterics. Windy chimes strike, while the keys lather, and the band suddenly hits overdrive with speed and menace. That keeps landing blows as the pace mystifies, throaty growls emerge, and watery keys wash away the violence. “The Contagion” is the longest track, running 8:48 and beginning in a pounding assault with the keys swimming. Clean singing begins the path, with sludgy growling taking over, and while the band is going for the throat, they do so in a way that comes to a cosmic prog mind-set. Eerie choral sections move in, wild cries explode, and the guitars cut through meat to the bone. The pace is strange for the final minute, as bellowing vocals strike, and a haunted music box serves as the outro. Closer “Remembrance” is practically a doom ballad, as the pace remains slow the entire time, and all the singing is clean. The track is slow and reflective, bleeding pain and sorrow, coming to a ceremonial final resting place amid showery keys.
Bands such as Lychgate are what is keeping black metal and doom constantly evolving, breathing beasts, and I doubt you’ll hear another record quite like “The Contagion in Nine Steps” all year. Or maybe not until this band comes up with something new again. It’s not an easy listen, and it will demand some patience, but you will be rewarded with a record that will rewrite your expectations about daring metal albums and might even inform some of your behaviors within society.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Lychgate
To buy the album (US/Canada), go here: https://www.blood-music.com/store-us/
Or here (rest of the world): https://www.blood-music.com/store-eu/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/