I vividly remember my first encounter with black metal (Burzum), a music so dissonant and evil-sounding that it left twelve-year-old me completely bewildered and flabbergasted. The scene of a metalhead couple that was enjoying this wicked ruckus in the middle of the cafeteria of a family-friendly ferry burned an indelible pentagram in my innocent mind (and I turned out great!). Only a few other virgin musical experiences such as Arnold Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique or Harsh Noise Wall impressed and confused me comparably. In metal, it was rare and legendary extremes like Gorguts that came close. Until recently, that is, when my ears were graced by the insanity that is Lychgate’s An Antidote for the Glass Pill.
Picture a monstrous, formless shadow, an organic black hole arisen from Victorian filth, hovering, absorbing, and devouring materia while millions of smaller entities buzz and lurch within its improbable darkness. That’s the dense, monolithic, and impenetrable sound of Lychgate. The incisive shrieks of K.J. Bowyer’s pipe organ reign triumphant, swallowing everything else and spurting monumentally harsh and aggressive phrases, as if riding the field on which all of humanity’s most gruesome battles took place at once. Beneath it, seesawing guitars, schizophrenic drums, propulsive bass, and nuanced inhuman growls all mesh into an impossible concoction, playing discordantly and chaotically, yet creating layers that sound cunningly composed and executed. In theory, the band plays symphonic black metal, but this music eschews categorizations, proving itself truly worthy of the “avant-garde” moniker.
The pipe organ, not the guitars, often acts as the primary building element in Lychgate’s convoluted approach and as the dominant creator of atmosphere. Take, for example, the twisted and tormented “A Principle of Seclusion” or “Deus Te Videt” with its haunting, droning choirs, which transform the genre into an altogether strange and unexpected organ-dominated form, but still, somehow, remain metal. On the other hand, “I Am Contempt” goes back to entertaining well-known black metal idioms. It shifts, deforms, and carves them into something unique – a tremolo of atonal screeches. Finally, scorchers like “Letter XIX” and “An Acousmatic Guardian” rise up as testaments to the creativity and programmatic diversity in the apparently disarrayed songwriting, making you believe that each sound in the great scheme of things was put there for a reason. Because, or in spite of all that controlled chaos, there’s nary a bad tune or lesser moment to be found.
While the Londoners’ 2013 eponymous début was a finely crafted and enjoyable piece of “avant-garde” black metal, An Antidote for the Glass Pill feels like a defining and groundbreaking moment. The musicians’ various streams of musical consciousness and influences, collected equally from 20th century composers and avant-acts such as Deathspell Omega, have gloriously coalesced with cryptic lyrical themes that revolve around existential motives and a rebellion against the acceptance of (post)modern society at face value. However you choose to interpret and experience this record, one thing is clear: it comes as a breath of fresh air in a genre rendered stale with pretentiousness and delusions of grandeur.
Tracks to check: “Letter XIX,” “An Acousmatic Guardian,” and “I Am Contempt”