Monday, 9 April 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Lychgate, "The Contagion in Nine Steps"

 By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 30/03/2018
Label: Blood Music

On their latest, “The Contagion in Nine Steps”, Lychgate display classically influenced chops while destroying metal clichés one mind bending track at a time

“The Contagion in Nine Steps” CD//DD//LP track listing

1. Republic
2. Unity of Opposites
3. Atavistic Hypnosis
4. Hither Comes the Swarm
5. The Contagion
6. Remembrance

The Review:

A lot of metal’s most egregiously cringe worthy moments come from the old-school pomp and grandiosity that tries to claim some sort of continuity with European classical music – or, more specifically, the Romanticism of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.  Whether Malmsteen or his various clones cluttering Guitar Centers and pay to play venues across continents, it isn’t so much that they assert their love and fealty to the “true geniuses” of music, but that the scope is so damned narrow.  Really, the truly gifted, the real avant garde metal musicians, know that there are actual living composers (or at least those who just recently died) who bent the terms “classical music” to new, unknown dimensions – Arvo Part, Gyorgy Ligety, even Philip Glass and of course the occasional grind saxophonist John Zorn SHOULD, but rarely DO color the palettes of classically influenced musicians of all stripes.  It is god damned remarkable that Lychgate, in just five years, have established themselves as one of the most impressive avant garde metal groups since Celtic Frost.  On their latest, “The Contagion in Nine Steps”, they display classically influenced chops while destroying metal clichés one mind bending track at a time.

Introduced by an extended organ solo, “Republic” feels the most immediately “classical” piece of the record – I of course had visions of Bach and the masked Phantom pounding away in the sewers of Paris – but the off-kilter rhythms and pulsating dissonance from guest keyboardist Vladimir Antonov-Charsky don’t settle into any comfortable black metal or classically Romantic patterns.  Greg Chandler’s vocals are paradoxically distinct and inhuman – like some beastly orator screaming into a chasm.  The clean, operatic background vocals serve as bizarre counterpoint but it all hangs together in a difficult, fascinating equilibrium.   “Unity of Opposites”, a display of guitar virtuosity, parries back and forth between time signatures and musical modes – basically black math metal.  The clean vocal harmonies anchoring each break in frenetic riffing are breathtaking.

“Atavistic Hypnosis”, a doom-indebted dirge that builds over a nearly seductive baritone growl, contorts into minor key arpeggios and painful dissonance.  The multi-octave vocal ranges cropping up during the piece are breathtaking – there are few vocal virtuosos pushing themselves to these heights in any metal subgenre.  The bizarre, lurching rhythm of “Hither Comes the Swarm”, feels, weirdly, like a jazzed up Morbid Angel.  Vallely’s drumming on the album is incredible, but here he gets some really loose moments to color with flourishes, before launching into one of the most gratifying blast beat breaks I’ve ever heard. 

“The Contagion” and “Remembrance” tone down some of the acrobatics and tread in collective transcendence.  More than the prior songs, Lychgate seems to be focused on group dynamics; there are shred-worthy guitar scales, but they are countered by precise death growls, or clean operatic leads.  “Remembrance” is like a dark reflection of Handel’s “Messiah”. With layered vocals, complex harmonies between guitars and bass, and shimmering tones, this could be the closing of a requiem mass.  Yet there are passages of sepulchral quiet uncharacteristic of a bombastic Wagnerian finale.  Like every moment of Lychgate’s “The Contagion in Nine Steps”, there are no simple, tried and true “classical” shortcuts on “Remembrance”.  It is the masterful summation of a difficult record – one that won’t be for everyone, and certainly not for purists.  But Lychgate are operating at an entirely different level on this record, and will likely swell their growing cult following before they even round ten years as an operating metal powerhouse.  Consider me one of the converted.

The Contagion in Nine Steps” is available here

Band info: facebook