For Lychgate, the status quo was never an option. The progressive, avant-garde black metal project has long worked in unique and adventurous soundscapes. Their dabblings in the abstract—yet structured—stem from mastermind Vortigern and his bandmates which include Esoteric legend, Greg Chandler, and Macabre Omen drummer, T.J.F. Vallely. Organ/keyboard-heavy and rife with philosophical musings makes Lychgate a challenging though thoroughly rewarding listen, as evidenced by 2013's eponymous full-length and 2015's An Antidote for the Glass Pill.
2018 sees the masterful project return in the form of The Contagion in Nine Steps. A brand new, six-song offering that showcases a somewhat different strain of Lychgate. Less focus falls on the organs in lieu of breathing room for the guitars. Moreover, Vortigern brought in additional vocalists to expand on the band's overall presentation. The result of these changes and trials is a more melodic and, somehow, more dynamic product.
The other important aspect of Lychgate's music is the philosophy that goes into the songs. For Contagion, there are numerous sources of inspiration. Each track has an associated work in addition to a handful of secondary materials. For example, "Unity of Opposites" draws from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's "…writings on dialectics – the thesis, antithesis, synthesis model; the idea of man’s consciousness changing over time; the idea of over-compensation in society’s behaviour following major events." A personal favorite, "Atavistic Hypnosis," siphons from Gustave Le Bon's writings on crowd psychology or, "…how man reverts to his primitive origins when under the influence of 'pack behaviour.'"
Holistically speaking of The Contagion in Nine Steps, it is yet another jewel in Lychgate's peculiar crown. It seems unfair to name one album better than another when the band's music seemingly exists on a kaleidoscopic spectrum. Yet, Contagion is a wildly captivating effort unique to the band's other offerings. Vortigern has always found ways to diversify and create intriguing music through various strategies under the Lychgate moniker. Certainly, this holds true for the band's third full-length album.
Listen to an exclusive stream of The Contagion in Nine Steps below. Read an in-depth and insightful interview with band orchestrator, Vortigern, as well. Pre-orders for the new record are available at Blood Music.
Metal Injection: I’ve seen a number of interviews that ask you about the inclusion of the organ in Lychgate’s music. I’m curious to know where your fondness for the organ comes from. How did first come to play the instrument?
Vortigern: I grew up mainly hearing sounds of the piano from my older sister who was practicing a lot. So, as a child I never had access to organ—it was just a case of hearing it occasionally, but always being fascinated. The fascination is a combination of the sound of the instrument and of the repertoire that happens to be associated with it; much of it never being transcribed for other instruments and therefore often remaining in the “organ community”. If I remember correctly the first time I played on a pipe organ for real was in 2011. Before that, I was just researching organ works and only had access to a keyboard.
Metal Injection: Your recent interview with Clayton Michaels at Indy Metal Vault was excellent and really insightful. In one instance you mentioned Lychgate was about doing something that interested you personally. I understand that you write all of the parts of the band, but did you ever find it difficult to hand those parts over to someone else to perform during Lychgate’s early years? I’m sure working with T.J.F. Vallely, Greg Chandler, and the others have made it much easier by now.
Vortigern: No, not at all. To give drum parts over to someone like T. J. F. Vallely was to put it in safe hands. If someone wants to remind themselves of a recent solid performance from him, besides our latest album, they should listen to the last Macabre Omen album, Gods of War – At War. I was in full control of the other instruments anyway; pretty much always being the one pressing the record button and therefore being in charge of the takes/quality control.
Metal Injection: I think what is most striking about Lychgate and your writing, in particular, is that none of it initially occurs on a guitar, instead, it begins on an organ. I read initially—around the time of An Antidote for the Glass Pill—this process was problematic. Did this process get any easier for you when writing and recording for The Contagion in Nine Steps?
Vortigern: Well, composition normally begins on a keyboard instrument (often piano, but sometimes organ too of course) or through programming. It really depends on what kind of a track is in question. The act of writing something for guitar, but not on guitar, is not problematic in its own right. The main issue for me was in the tuning because I have an unhealthy obsession with tuning accuracy. The other problem is more of a minor one and it’s related to how to make the transcription from a keyboard to guitar successful in its own right. Yes, the overall process did become easier for The Contagion album and continues in that fashion for new pieces I am working on now.
Full Album Stream of The Contagion in Nine Steps
Metal Injection: You’ve adapted your guitars to make the transition from organ to guitar easier, correct? You use a true temperament neck or non-straight frets to achieve better intonation. Admittedly, I have a hard time grasping this concept. Would you be willing you explain what sort of change this type of equipment elicits in Lychgate’s music?
Vortigern: On the Glass Pill album, I was frustrated by having to regularly re-tune and battle with inaccurate intonation, not only for the guitars to sound pleasing but also for the guitars to sound satisfactory alongside the organ. Since we are almost constantly using keyboard instruments (on The Contagion album these are the organ, piano, and mellotron), we have to be sure that the guitars are accurate enough.
True Temperament means that for each string there is a different fret width at each point on the fretboard, rather than just a straight line, as traditional guitars have. This means that the correct width is calculated considering multiple parameters, which a straight fret does not account for. Essentially this results in more accurate intonation (pitch accuracy) over the whole guitar neck. There is a fairly detailed explanation on truetemperament.com, which explains what’s “wrong” with straight frets.
Since the recording, I decided to commission a second custom guitar to be built, which uses True Temperament and an Evertune bridge (a device for maintaining a constant state of string tension). I am really looking forward to using it on recording because I believe it is the ultimate combo when it comes to new technologies in guitar. Details of this model will be revealed soon.
Metal Injection: I read how you gave more space and mixing preference to the guitars on The Contagion in Nine Steps, what I am also curious about is the additional vocal support for the record. What made you decide to bring in the voices of Alexandros Antoniou and Chris Hawkins for the new album?
Vortigern: I sang all the clean vocals on the Glass Pill album (tracks 6, 7, and 10). I don’t think there was any problem with my performance on that record, but this time I wanted to bring in singers who can achieve more. For Chris Hawkins, for example, the voice is his main instrument. For me, voice (if I had to call it an instrument), would be my 4th instrument, if I could consider it that at all because I don’t enjoy singing and I never practice it anyway. Using Alexandros was a bonus because I like his voice too. Interestingly, The Contagion album also happens to be the first album where Greg Chandler sang on some parts since normally we're used to hearing his trademark vocal style.
Metal Injection: I love how difficult it is to pin down Lychgate’s music into one singular genre. I think what initially drove me to Lychgate’s music was how well you all blend funereal dirge with black metal. Obviously, there is much more to your music than those elements. What sort of non-metal music do you find yourself gravitating towards?
Vortigern: Classical and electronic mainly – anything stimulating with a character of its own. I am open to anything.
Metal Injection: In closing, and to reference Clayton’s interview one more time; these nine stages in European society you allude to—the ninth being the 21st century—how do you see this final stage playing out?
Vortigern: I think it’s dangerous to speculate on specific scenarios. As with many dystopian works which inspire this project, I prefer to think of the ninth step as being characteristic of numerous negative traits – evidence of a downturn in a civilization – traits which make me pessimistic.