Lychgate - The Contagion in Nine Steps - (8.5/10)
Published on July 11, 2018
A church organ cues in followed by crushing guitars, soon to resolve in a doom laden atmosphere with black metal nuances and experimental tendencies. What a way to start an album. Lychgate have returned with their third opus, The Contagion in Nine Steps, an album inspired by various literary sources that share one common attribute: a philosophical viewpoint on the structure, function and characteristics of society. Two prime examples would be Stanisław Lem’s The Invincible, as stated by the band itself and Plato’s Republic. Aside from that, the title of the second track suggest that the writings of Georg Wilhelm Hegel have influenced the band in their own way. From the moment I read about this I knew I was in for an interesting ride and boy was I right.
Rest assured, Lychgate succeed at creating an album with staggering atmosphere, diverse dynamics and shifting moods. Getting into the instrumental aspect of this album was a bit alienating upon first listen. I had to focus on the bizzare structure of The Contagion to get through without being completely bamboozled by its eccentricities. Oddly enough, this led me to a trip through the album’s soundscapes, its intricating textures ranging from tender passages to bludgeoning funeral doom uproars and the crawling harmonies that intertwine gracefully for the most of its playing time. The instruments that stand out are the guitars and keyboards. But that should not lead you to conclusions that favor the rhythm section any less. Both bass and drums showcase exceptional skill and mix wise, they are phenomenal. In fact you should view this album as if it is performed by a single instrument with many voices. When you look at this album as a whole you understand that it oozes and morphs as a whole from shape to shape, section to section.
After that first listen occured, I began to get into reading the lyrics which are a great read in their own right. Especially the final track, Remembrance, is a stellar piece of writing. Of course much of that acclaim should go to Greg Chandler’s vocal delivery which is full of emotion and not only on this track, but on most of the album’s tracks since he often does clean vocals apart from the expected screams and growls. The themes are quite riddling as well. Adapting ideas from The Invincible, most notably Swarm Intelligence and unity against a common enemy, as well as The Republic, that cites the ideal of a just state, where all men fulfil their roles in a societal frame Lychgate twists those meanings morphing them into nightmarish prose. Republic is a prime example of that, claiming that too much freedom results in too much slavery.
After a fair amount of listens I can say that The Contagion in Nine Steps is a grower of an album, an album that invites the listener to take part in its mysteries and unveil its best hidden details. I’ll be honest here, when I first pressed play and the album began playing, I was expecting an entirely different thing. Alas, I was pleasantly surprised. From the hypnotic instrumentation to the conundrums and musings that are presented through the lyrical sheet, Lychgate offer a bold and vividly illustrated experience and a glance into their obscure mindset. Strongly recommended to anyone that has encountered the band’s work before, as well as listeners who look for experimental and thoughtful music with heavy atmospheres and challenging concepts.