Metal has this thing where it’s so sure that it’s at the cutting edge of music. In certain places, this is true; there’s music being made within the general denominator of metal that’s unusually weird and which pushes the envelope as far as technique and approach go. But these instances, who are rare and far in between in a genre that is, as a whole, a conservative genre like all genres, don’t exist in a vacuum. They feed from the practices of other genres and movements within them, drawing inspiration, aesthetics and themes from diverse places to create their own unique take on metal. These creations after often loosely grouped together as “avant-garde”. In metal, the term has come to mean music that has drawn from the theatrics of other styles.
Metal, usually black metal, that’s made under the avant-garde auspices tends to have this grandiose flair to it which seems to come from opera and from the theater, in vocals and instruments both. In that sense, Lychgate are perhaps not the best example of the genre. While enough touches of the avant-garde style exist on The Contagion in Nine Steps to merit the moniker (like the synths on “Republic”, which open the album or the vocals on the selfsame track), those touches are enveloped in so much sounds from atmospheric black metal and doom that they often lose definition. But this might not be a bad thing; it makes The Contagion in Nine Steps a more approachable album than, let’s say, Dødheimsgard‘s A Umbra Omega and less overbearing than album like Aenaon‘s Hypnosophy.
The end result of this “obfuscation of the avant-garde” is an album that hits hard and abrasive but which also knows how to tap a more off-kilter vibe. “Atavistic Hypnosis”, smack in the middle of the album, is perhaps the best example. On one hand, it features more traditional atmoblack/doom influences. The abrasive vocals on its opening segments, it slow riffs; all of these are approachable to fans of the genre and recognizable. But it also has a weird piano melody which runs through its first half (and returns in new modulations near the end), an odd tinge to the clean vocals on the second part and an overall sensation of slight wrongness that’s wholly avant-garde. It’s as if the track is avant-garde adjacent. A lot of the sounds have clearly bled through from somewhere else but the core of the music is here, rooted in black metal.
This means that if you’re looking for an album that will absolutely bend your ears and force you to pay attention for every second of its runtime, you should look elsewhere. The Contagion in Nine Steps isn’t as demanding as the aforementioned bands. A lot of it is “just” really well executed ideas even if their genesis isn’t in some fevered mind rotting in a collapsing opera house somewhere on the edge of an urban society. But if you’re looking for a black metal with just enough weird stuff in it, if you’d like your abrasive growls to be counterpointed with big synths and interrupted every now and again by powerful cleans with an operatic tinge, this is the album for you.
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The Contagion in Nine Steps was released on March 30th via Blood Music. You can grab it via the Bandcamp link above.