Not so long ago I did announce that I’d put an end to the album recommendations / reviews section and today, I’ll do it and hopefully you’ll remember it to be with grace and honour. Those years of active scribbling were an integral part of my life and I had to choose a CD that summarizes all the magnificent shades of a genre that I care about so damn much. Although this task appears to be challenging at first sight, it was, in fact, for the first time so easy like never before. No matter where I looked, the directions always pointed towards Lychgate’s latest album “The Contagion in Nine Steps“. In this installment, I’d like to take you on a ride beyond the materialistic paradigm and plunge into a dystopian fiction of utter madness.
Lychgate are no strangers to SBM. Back in 2015, I featured their sophomore record, which turned out to be a significant mark in regards to how I would perceive avant-garde / experimental black metal from that moment on. The intelligence behind their craft reaches significantly higher levels of understanding about creativity. Therefore, it would come as no surprise that such a musical manifestation would be a tough cookie to crack, unless you are a very, very open-minded individual. As such, you should be stripped off of any prejudices and willing enough to let yourself flow into a spiral of mind-bending experience. So, are you in?
The will of the inner heart is the secret lying suppressed.
– Atavistic Hypnosis
Very much like its precursor, “The Contagion in Nine Steps” comes through Blood Music’s frostbitten forge, whose digital output is available for free download. This time, however, the track list is slightly shorter in comparison, packing 6 tracks that sum up a total of 42 minutes playtime. Given the critically acclaimed releases of Lychgate’s past, I was beyond than curious of how this CD would turn out to be; reaching a whole new level or expanding the foundation laid down before, which I kinda anticipated to be the case.
In some respects my expectations were met, however Lychgate have let themselves roam completely detached from their past releases leading to some wild explorations with this full-length. What surprised me in the first place was the way each piece was constructed, taking a rather progressive turn. Unleashing the potential of multiple genres fused into a surrealistic outcome in a lighter and more inviting production took me by surprise. The menacing essence of the lyrical themes, which I’ll discuss later, have not been reimagined musically to the magnitude that I’d expect, making this album a whole new chapter. The one that I embraced with some more effort as I missed that suffocating oppressiveness that grips me every time I replay their self-titled debut or “An Antidote for the Glass Pill“.
Experimental and variable to such an extend that it borders disorientation manifested in a truly creative fashion requiring hard work to discover its full charisma. As weird as it sounds, this is exactly how I felt having spun “The Contagion in Nine Steps” multiple times. It is essential to commit to each track in order to let that demented genius crawl under your skin and spread its insanity, uncovering a spectacular picture like never before.
Fundamentally, this record goes head on avant-garde, leaving behind the black metal-infused arrangements and the omnipresence of the organ that dominated the previous record profusely. Instead, I can only half-assume that the complexity of the instrumentalship is meant to be matched with the intricacy of the topics that deal with metaphysical constructs dissolving into pure sinister consciousness. Technically advanced, written with a plethora of twists that evoke images of the fall of human civilization in sporadic order. This is where it gets extremely complex.
The texts of this 6-piece extravangaza are fuelled by deep philosophical views on consciousness, existence as well as fictional exemplification of swarm intelligence; I would say some of the conceptual traits in here speak to me of collective AI behaviourism but carried through a macabre prism. Such as Stanislaw Lew’s SI concept exhibited in his sci-fi novel “The Invincible”. Other than that, understanding of the crowd mechanics, the power of manipulation and rule over the masses, necroevolution against human degradation, inanimate mind evolving into a swarming mega organism shed light unto reality as most people fail to see. Just look around and see where things are heading for. In that regard, there is an enormous dose of pessimism that persists and the more you look into it, the more frightening it becomes, filling the gaps in this grand dystopian puzzle.
Fun fact: SI or swarm intelligence was probably the first notion of cellular robotic systems that was presented by Stanislaw Lew in 1964 in the form of a fiction. Who would expect that later back in 1989 Gerardo Beni and Jing Wang actually employed this concept in the field of artificial intelligence.
Other influencers such as Thomas Hardy, Elias Canetti, Gustave Le Bon and Georg Hegel largely impacted the rich fabrics of the lyrics. They are composed in an eclectic fashion; without an additional research into the work of the above mentioned authors, it will be a haul to distill the conceptuality all the way to the core meaning. That, I reserve for the curious individuals among yourselves.
Note: J. C. Young “Vortigern” handled all music and lyrics.
As I hinted somewhere above, the levels of intricacy in the music are pretty damn high in comparison to what you might be used to listen to. Even though, “The Contagion in Nine Steps” borrows elements from multiple sources of both extreme and non-extreme sub-genres, it all flows cohesively. Initially, I was kinda startled as to the occurrence of those high-pitched power metal-like clean vocals here and there. Hell, after a few sessions even that made sense, adding more to the insanity that keeps on growing by the minute. Dare I say, among the opulence of talent spread across each of the 5 masterminds, I should point out that Greg Chandler (Esoteric) has outdone himself with a vocal mastery that dissolves the border between harsh and clean singing with such a grace.
For the keen listeners amidst the readers here, I feel obliged to confirm that among all the greatly executed facets, production does not fall any shorter. Mixing and mastering of the album is exceptional, ensuring that every aspect was handled professionally from start to finish. Regardless, if you are a regular, you should know me that I am not pretentious as long as the substance is of real high quality. In this sense, polished sound is just an additional icing on top for some more enjoyment in the end of the day.
Anyway, each of these musicians deserve equal praise for such a sharp work that is comprised of profound knowledge that is here to stay. Album of the year? Yeah, if you care about such lists. More importantly, this is a statement of what happens when minds merge into a unified creative force that tears down humanly obstacles and venture unrestrained into the astral plane. Thus, harvest the essentials, compile and deliver a masterpiece like no other.
With that, I’d like to thank Lychgate not only for the pleasure of this CD but also the down to earth attitude.