Lychgate – The Contagion in Nine Steps (2018) REVIEW

In their earliest movements Lychgate were nothing short of a flowing, heaving gust of black metal from the void-pulsing pump organ that fuels the vacuous nature of the abyss. Their self-titled album in 2013 was an instantly alluring ‘easy’ listen that collated the mystique and terror of post-‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk’ Emperor with the forceful grace of Dissection-spawn. It was a year of powerful new blood in extreme metal and Lychgate were tastefully unassuming in their strong debut statement. And why shouldn’t the project have been grand, considering the trail of dead and gasping-for-air projects it has left in it’s wake? Disoriented by the peaceful quietude, or stalemate, of their erstwhile active bands Greg Chandler of Esoteric, Vortigern (James Young) of Spearhead/The One, and perhaps one of the most impressive drummers in black metal today Tom Vallely (Acherontas, Macabre Omen) appear to have struck out into Lychgate with a creative fervor readily apparent beyond comparably stylized releases. Granted, each release has been considerably challenging since the first.

Whereas ‘Lychgate’ was mildly symphonic in style with some hints of dissonance and non-tradition peeking through, ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’ was a pipe-bomb to black metal’s uptight instincts with ranting church organs serving as a bold foil for this new cursed rant of insanity. In many ways the organ instrumentation evokes an odd reaction depending on your frame of reference; The type of organ sounds used certainly recall church performances for most but for the rare Americans versed in their own history and culture… a quick and jaunty organ blast recalls both traditional circus music and more vividly the long-dead accompaniment for baseball parks. To hear it writhing within the contraction-and-expansion of avant-garde black metal compositions was ultimately disorienting. ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’ was commendable for it’s obliteration of any musical ‘comfort zone’ provided by rock music permutation and in terms of actual modern progressive black metal few releases, up to that point, had produced such a genuine article. The record sits with a lower score from me because I felt it too challenging a listen from any approach and almost too impressionistic to enjoy. However hypocritical my enjoyment and disdain for Lychgate‘s second album might be in tandem, their third has offered something more measured in it’s movements.

Lyrics are so often a cheap afterthought in extreme metal that when I am face to face with well-written prose from a well-read fellow(s) it is almost debilitating. Without having read Lem’s The Invincible some of the references and language are lost on me but the writing within ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ at least had me musing over the inverted panopticon of chaos that the internet creates and the slow-burning flame it blasts upon sheltered societal constructs. As useless as my imagination might be under the belly flop of any well-read writer, I can appreciate the themes of groupthink and crowd psychology. The music itself is no less challenging and avant-black in nature but ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ more often arrests itself in poignant statement for effect, rather than expounding it’s concept with the runaway ranting of ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’. Likewise Chandler‘s vocal performances finally dive into some of his Esoteric tonality alongside some cleaner guest vocals from Alexandros (Macabre Omen, The One) and Chris Hawkins (Endeavour). I’ve seen Lychgate called black/doom metal before but I don’t think that tag has really fit snugly enough until this third record.

Though the atmosphere, composition and delivery of the record is entirely progressive metal in approach ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ dances out it’s marche funèbre redolent of funeral doom and modern black metal were it amalgamated in random throngs of opposition rather than harmony. This is inherently where the challenge lies in the listening experience; The sections I’m meant to grasp onto and ride a zip-line towards the next riff-driven moment are largely clean vocal chorale that do not resonate with me. Much of it oddly recalls late 90’s alternative metal vocalists like Burton Bell, who relied on studio sustain for effect without ever really landing a harmony. The exception isn’t unheard of, though, as “Unity of Opposites” shows the glom of vocal styles at it’s most effective. I was fine simply focusing on Chandler‘s distinct growling and the rest felt, perhaps intentionally, disharmonious.

I found myself shrinking away from ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ with further listens perhaps less than, but for the same reasons as, ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’. New textures, pacing, performances, and ‘room to breathe’ with greater guitar tones and less obtuse keyboard work all make for an undeniably better listening experience. Where I get a bit lost is in the avant-garde nature of the music and it’s necessity. If it is a natural evolution of musical personality providing the basis for a greater praise of individuality then I understand. If I’m meant to sit back and be challenged with every listen then I understand completely. If I’m meant to be drawn into the music with an intense fervor for any one particular moment that clings hopelessly to my mind, then I am lost. With the recommended reading in hand, and some further reflection, this could be a philosophical blessing for an idiot like me. Understood. For now it is simply a series of unpredictable twists and turns that excites and mystifies the senses with it’s delivery. ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’ may be a challenging induction but I do believe Lychgate have hit upon a higher conception in progressive extreme metal with their third full-length.

For preview I’d suggest easing into the experience with “Unity of Opposites” to hear the broad range of the performances. My highest recommendation is for “Hither Comes the Storm”, for a decidedly Esoteric-ish progression with a death metallic collapse.


Artist Lychgate
Type Album
Released March 30, 2018
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Creeping through the air. 3.75/5.0

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