If I had a nickel for every promo that’s landed in my inbox purporting to be from a band that’s somehow redefining a genre or doing something totally unique, I could probably retire from teaching and do this wastrel music writer thing full-time. Of course, most of those emails tend to be hyperbole – pretty much everything that can be done, has been done. It may be dressed up in different packaging, but what’s inside almost always has familiar elements.
UK-based black metal outfit Lychgate, though – I’ve never heard another band that sounds even remotely like Lychgate.
For starters, pipe organ plays a prominent role in their sound. In fact, that’s pretty much all anyone wanted to talk about after the band released their second album, 2015’s An Antidote for the Glass Pill. Classically-influenced, avant garde, progressive – none of those descriptors quite do the band’s sound justice. Their lyrics are a deeply thoughtful mix of philosophy, history, and sci-fi/speculative fiction that explore various aspects of human nature.
What’s even more remarkable is that the music and lyrics are all the product of a single individual: guitarist/organist Vortigern. With their third full-length, the stunning The Contagion in Nine Steps, due at the end of the month, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions via email about the history of the band, his compositional process, and the philosophical themes behind the new album.
The Contagion in Nine Steps will be available on March 30 via Blood Music.
Indy Metal Vault: I can still remember hearing Lychgate for the first time not long after it came out in 2013 and being struck by how other it sounded compared to almost anything else that was being released at the time – it still felt firmly rooted in black metal, but it’s such a compositionally dense album even before you factor in the use of organ. In hindsight, though, Lychgate is easily your most straightforward album. Since then, Lychgate has evolved into an essentially unclassifiable musical entity, and I feel like anyone who tries to place it in one genre or another or parse the music in an attempt to pinpoint specific influences is likely missing the point. Lychgate sounds like Lychgate, full stop. My question, however, is about how Lychgate came to sound that way. I know you all play in other successful bands as well, but none of them really offer an antecedent to what you all do in this band. How clear an idea did you have of what you wanted to do musically when Lychgate first came together back in 2010? Has that idea changed at all since then?
Vortigern: What happened when I started Lychgate was that I wanted to re-kindle an old fire: there were a few pre-Lychgate demos from 2002-2006 (which will be re-released this year), and I wanted to form Lychgate basing the ideas on some old material. Shortly afterwards it became clear that what was most important to me was to think progressively, rather than regressively. I am not saying it is bad to think about the past in a “recyclic” way, but on the other hand, one might also ask, what’s the point? So, by the time I had written the Glass Pill album, I knew quite clearly what I wanted in the long-term. Deep down, Lychgate was about doing something that interested me personally. I could have played in some other bands over the years, but in the end I just didn’t want to because, as fate would have it, nothing was sufficiently different enough to engage me or excite me. Good musicianship, for example, is just not enough. There are hundreds of technically brilliant bands out there, but how many of them offer charisma or personality? That is why I always admired certain bands in black metal because the aura was so strong. But that doesn’t mean I need to follow in the same path as those other bands.
For example, in the early 90s, I loved the way that every black metal band truly did their own thing. Every band did their own interpretation on it. That is essentially what Lychgate stands for – an individual interpretation and expression on the dark side of metal. It doesn’t claim to offer “X.” I write in the way I know – what comes from my head. It’s not for a trend or fashion in the market (which will be different next year anyway). When people say “black metal should be X” or whatever else, it’s a dubious thing to say. The moment a band starts saying “our recording needs to sound like X” is partly where things go wrong in my opinion. It’s fake and contrived. And of course, I am not saying Lychgate is a black metal band at all – it isn’t, but it’s where it came from and it’s easy to notice that in the sound that remains.
IMV: The first thing I noticed when listening to The Contagion in Nine Steps for the first time is that the pipe organ seems much less prominent this time. It’s still present, but it doesn’t drive the album like it did on An Antidote for the Glass Pill. Instead, this feels much more like a guitar album. Given how much was made of the pipe organ on Glass Pill, was it a deliberate decision to step back from it a bit on the new album, or was that something that just evolved naturally during the songwriting process?
V: The Glass Pill album was breaking the rule book slightly in the organ vs. band thing from an arrangement point of view. I basically wrote the whole thing on piano and then played guitars over the top without allowing the guitars to have their own separate voice. Of course, it’s not like it’s forbidden to do such a thing, but I decided that on this album the instrumentation should allow the guitars more space to breathe and have their own separate parts. Also, when some people said the Glass Pill was organ-overkill, maybe they were right in some ways. Then again, on The Contagion there is still plenty of it, but it’s more buried in the mix. There were a few different mixes and as it turned out the final one gave preference to the guitars. For this reason, it can mean that people don’t notice the organ there and may think they are hearing something else, e.g. mellotron.
Next time we do an album I am imagining that the organ will be more prominent again, in a dramatic and dark way. I need to come back with a fresh head to the approach of giving organ more of a leading part after having done more guitar/piano-focused material first; say, on an EP release in the interim. However, it’s important to remember that there can be other factors involved, such as how to do justice to the material when playing it live. So, all things will be considered carefully.
IMV: Speaking of songwriting, I was looking at an interview you did with Decibel around the time that Glass Pill came out, and it mentioned that one member of the band writes all the music. Is that still the case on The Contagion? I’m also a bit curious as to why you’ve gone with that approach in the past. Given how complex and challenging Lychgate’s music tends to be, do you think of it more like composing than songwriting (if that makes any sense)?
V: Yes, exactly – it was the same way on The Contagion. The main reason is that I have never been able to successfully meet someone in the same area who I could work with from a compositional point of view (the exception being T. J. F. Vallely). I can think of about three or four other people in the UK that I would gladly write with, but it’s not like I would move to their town just for that reason. I don’t even live in the UK anymore. Also, I don’t like working on songwriting remotely. So, it’s normally panned out that I just did everything alone and then made some final tweaks together when we met up as a band. Obviously, if someone would like to actively share the song-writing with me in the future, that would be great, and I would be open to it if someone randomly approached me and had fresh ideas. On the other hand, as you pointed out, when music is at the more complex end of the spectrum it can be more like composing rather than songwriting, and therefore sometimes more of a lone activity.
IMV: On Lychgate’s Facebook page, you mention that you chose “Remembrance” for the first track premiere because it’s the “outro” track and sounds different from the other five track that precede it. You also stated that those six tracks are best experienced as a single piece. It’s the second part of the statement that I find interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time with The Contagion in Nine Steps over the last few weeks, and to my ears at least each song on the album feels like a discrete musical entity instead of movements within a larger piece. What is it about those six songs that make you consider them to be of a piece?
V: Honestly, it was ultimately not only our decision about which track to premiere. I normally give the label free rein on these matters, with some input of course. I agree with you; however, it was difficult to find a representative song. And for that reason of relative variety, I prefer people to listen to all of the songs together.
IMV: As near as I can recall, The Contagion in Nine Steps is the first promo I’ve ever gotten that included a document with the file name “Concise Summary of Lyrical Themes,” though interestingly enough it did not also include a lyric sheet. Of course, The Contagion isn’t Lychgate’s first philosophically themed album. If I remember correctly, An Antidote for the Glass Pill was primarily influenced by Jeremy Bentham’s writings about the panopticon. This time around, though, you’ve gone in a much more complex direction, weaving together fictional and philosophical sources ranging from Plato to Hegel to Huxley. Before delving into any of those themes, however, I want to ask the broader question about what made you decide to take this more ambitious (for lack of a better word) theoretical approach this time around? And why include the thematic guide? Does Lychgate consider it just as important (or possibly even more so) to be understood by your audience as it is to have that audience enjoy the music?
V: The Glass Pill did also draw on multiple sources by the way – not only Bentham, but also Zamyatin and Witkiewicz; both writers of fictional works which contained analogies to Bentham’s Panopticon. I would not say that the subject matter is necessarily more complex this time; only that more literary sources were referenced. Also, it’s important to remember that many references are used by implication or are stated merely as an inspiration. By the former I mean that the lyrics just scratch the surface and draw on a range of examples in order to give more variety. It is up to the person reading the lyrics to think about the themes for themselves. How deep they go into this territory is entirely up to them.
I find it unsatisfactory to deliver something without a deeper meaning. On the other hand, I do not normally find the process of lyric writing to be rewarding. Frankly, I would rather spend my time reading a book for pleasure or composing/playing my instrument. Nevertheless, it is often the case that people, or indeed the press, prefer to spend more time talking about the themes than they do the music, and for that reason I try to give people plenty of material to think about. If I didn’t, questions would come ultimately. So, why not answer them in advance?
And lastly, no. I do not find it essential to understand everything. The most important thing is to get something from the listening experience – whatever that may be. It could be a little or it could be a lot. Everyone will extract different things from it.
IMV: As for the specific themes on The Contagion in Nine Steps, I’m going to try to limit myself in terms of what I ask – otherwise, these questions run the risk of spiraling out of control. I am curious about the Nine Steps part of the title. In the thematic guide, it mentions the “approximately nine stages in European societies.” Given that Europe (obviously) has much more history than we do over here in the US, can you unpack that a bit in terms of what those stages are?
V: The number nine in the title is poetic. Everyone knows that the number of significant stages and varying types of European civilizations is much higher than that. Also, the number depends very much on what we personally deem as significant. Do we consider the collapse of the Bronze Age a step? And what do we mean by a stage or step? We can consider Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, late medieval revolts, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, WWII. The list goes on. Essentially the step is any event – normally catastrophic or extreme in its outcome on the balance of society, fed by the corrupting nature (contagion) of human consciousness, or put another way, The Contagion, which is the infection that ravages the civilization. Some might say Christianity was a spreading infection. In Lithuania, the loss of paganism occurred as late as 1387. So, for a Lithuanian person that is a step in their country. I chose the number nine because it was the closest to the number of steps that struck me as significant enough to shape the course of Europe and its fate. This arbitrary/metaphorical ninth step is the 21st century – in other words, now. It is the new face of the world that began with an acceleration in technological development. What happens in this time period? Are we approaching the next downfall? What is the fate of our own country?
IMV: I do want to ask one question about crowd psychology, since it’s a topic I’ve long found fascinating. Admittedly, I’ve not read Lem (though I have seen Tarkovsky’s film version of Solaris, if that counts for anything), but I am familiar with Plato and have long admired Hegel’s writings. I’d like to approach it from a slightly more speculative angle, though. What effect do you think that technology, and the Internet in particular, has had on crowd psychology? I’m thinking here partly in terms of the whole “flash mob” phenomenon, which seems to fit pretty comfortably in the realm of crowd psychology. At the same time, though, I’m thinking about the way the Internet has aided in the rise of certain fringe groups and helped perpetuate specious theories and/or ideas that would never have gained footing without it, which strikes me as atavistic on a certain level. Any thoughts about either? Does technology factor at all into the lyrics on The Contagion in Nine Steps?
V: The analogies to society and the human race which can be found in the works of Lem are very important. That is why I chose his novel The Invincible as the backbone to the entire theme. I allude to technology in The Contagion partly by the idea of micro-machines in the said novel – the idea of necro-evolution: the dominance of tiny machines – colossal in number and in power. Individual intelligence in them is lacking, but en masse the micromachines are all powerful and triumph over their enemy. It is not as simple as this of course, because in some respects the conclusions of the book have similarities to Solaris. For example, our fear and thus hostility as a human race about or towards things we do not understand.
This question about the Internet is difficult to answer. Every time I try to begin answering it I am forced to reflect on how ideas used to spread amongst the crowd throughout history and have to ask if it is essentially the same thing that we observe now, but just in new guise. It seems that the Internet has allowed certain ideas to spread which in earlier times probably wouldn’t have had such a major outreach. On the other hand, it has allowed a kind of status quo to dominate and remain in power, or in other cases given rise to certain ideas which spread extremely rapidly. Am I expected to believe that Google are not suppressing certain things from being seen in search results? No. Am I expected to believe that certain news articles get more views than others without intervention and bribery? No. Are certain ideas more inflexible in society than they formerly were? Maybe. However, I tried also to view these phenomena through the lens of sociodynamics, e.g. Critical Mass.
The problem with all this is that because it’s so new, it’s dangerous to make statements about it. For example, I can see that there has been a change in people, but I dare not say what yet. And whilst I try to avoid the term “brainwashing,” I feel obliged to use it here. I think that crowd psychology has been molded by it in a new direction, which may have an ugly side, which coincides perfectly with a few trends. In other words, there are certain things that have happened all at once. We have to ask ourselves if it is a coincidence. I will not be specific here. Ask yourself: what new things did you notice in the Western world in the last 20 years from a sociological and psychological point of view? I leave with you this thought.
IMV: According to the liner notes, The Contagion in Nine Steps was recorded in parts in two different studios and one conservatory. If I’m not mistaken, there are also more guest appearances on this album than any previous Lychgate record as well. Was there ever any point during the writing or recording process where all of the principal performers on the album where in the same room? Did recording the album this way pose any unique challenges you may not have been expecting?
V: In short, no. In fact, there were never more than two of us at a time in the studio. I think this method is quite a common thing these days. Part of me likes the idea of the “good old days” when it would really be “the band” in the studio, but with Lychgate there probably wouldn’t be much point and it’s also not realistic anyway. It can even be a nuisance. The only benefit of more people being around is in order to give an opinion in the creative process. The challenges were more just about the difficulty of some of the parts.
IMV: I’ve developed an interest recently in the relationship between an album’s music and the cover art. The image that adorns The Contagion in Nine Steps is more than a little unsettling, and really does seem to line up well with the lyrical themes. How closely did you work with Michel Guy on the concept for the art?
V: Basically, I gave him a sketch of my idea and told him the themes, then he went away and came up with that. It’s not quite what I had imagined, but I was pleased with the output. All his work looks unsettling – often tormented and strange. He’s a talented artist for sure.
IMV: So what’s next for the band after the album drops on March 30? Lychgate doesn’t seem to do a lot of touring, and as near as I can tell you’ve never been on this side of the pond. Any chance of that changing with this album cycle?
V: We will plan some live dates, but not immediately. I think it’s entirely possible that appearances in the USA will follow. It’s something we will look into. Understandably it often comes down to who we should tour with and this can in itself be a hindering factor.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer some questions. I always like to leave the last word to the artist – anything else you’d like to add?
V: Thank you for a stimulating interview.
Interview by Clayton Michaels.
Original link: https://www.indymetalvault.com/2018/03/15/an-interview-with-vortigern-of-lychgate/
LYCHGATE INTERVIEW: GETTING OFF THE GLASS PILL
By Dan Lake
A couple weeks ago, we provided you with a peek into Lychgate's extraordinary (and extraordinarily odd) new album, An Antidote for the Glass Pill. Well, maybe "peek" is understating the fact, as you actually got a full-album stream, to which Chris Dick added the descriptors "decadent" and "uncomfortable." If you did not take the time to soak in the album at that time, do yourself a favor and give it your attention right now. We got in touch with masked visionary Vortigern to find out more about the album's origins and intentions, so that you wouldn't have to venture into Antidote without a life preserver the way we did.
Can you recap how Lychgate first got together and what drove the creation of the first album?
The project was formed in 2011 with myself, Greg Chandler (Esoteric), Aran (Lunar Aurora) and Tom Vallely (Omega Centauri, Macabre Omen). Initially the album was written as a kind of tribute to a previous project from 10 years before, but in a new way. There were demos from 2010 that were recreated in the first album. The idea was to construct the project from those seeds, but with a new, strong line-up.
What has the band (and its various members) been doing in the time since the first album was released?
The first album was released in a low-key way. There were only three live shows and modest press coverage. So, since the first album all the band’s efforts have been towards the second album, which I have to admit was a huge amount of work. Two years were spent writing the album, and 50 minutes worth of tracks were chosen, with three tracks omitted.
When did you know you wanted to work on a new Lychgate album?
Work began on it in January 2012 and the writing process was finished in December 2013. I remember that the arrangements for the first album were complete by roughly the middle of 2011, so clearly by the time it was recorded and released it was nearly two years later. The drums for the first album were being tracked in April 2012, where the second album writing process was already in progress.
What ideas drove the creation process of An Antidote for the Glass Pill?
The lyrical framework was very important for shaping the development of the music. The entire work is based primarily on Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon (late 18th century): a prison design concept to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution/prison without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched; thus constantly governing their behaviour patterns - "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind". However, the album is named after [Yevgeny] Zamyatin's novel We (in which a future urban nation is constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily) and [Stanisław Ignacy] Witkiewicz's Insatiability (where in a similar dystopian scenario, Davamesque B2 is the pill that removed the ability to think). I was also influenced by [Franz] Kafka, and these concepts collectively made up the lyrical content.
Musically, Liszt’s organ work Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" (1850) was very important as an influence. There were other 20th century composers who inspired me, but outside classical I should mention the electronic/progressive project Art Zoyd, and to a lesser extent Autopsia. Other sources of inspiration came from 1950s-1970s era cinema and also musique concréte.
How do you approach writing/performing Lychgate music differently than their work in other bands? What does Lychgate accomplish that those other bands do not?
In Lychgate all the music is written by one person. For performances we have to play to a pre-programmed click track. Of course in the future it is possible to play without one, but we prefer to do it that way because in the live environment we try to replicate the recording as closely as we can. Esoteric usually do not play with a click, but they have done occasionally.
I would not say that this band has much to do with the projects some of us have played in, nor with any other band that I can think of. The main component in our sound is obviously the pipe organ, which forms the backbone to all pieces. As a band, all other parts are worked around that basis. We also accomplish a sense of harmony that seems to be individual.
There were a lot of great non-black/doom elements on the first album, but the inclusion of organ on An Antidote for the Glass Pill really pushes it further, making it more theatrical. Can you talk about what interested you in this sound and why it's so important to the music on Antidote?
I was always interested in organ music. It probably started at a very young age when I heard Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. Also, I'd already begun using organ occasionally as far back as 2004, but in recent years the instrument started to naturally take on a leading role. It became the instrument which all riffs were composed on/for. Some bands would like to create something symphonic and they have done so with strings, but for us we have achieved our orchestral arrangement with organ; and most importantly, we have done it in a real way, without keyboard fakery. It became the identity of the album's music in some way and therefore the most important.
Do band members have any favorite songs or parts on the album, either because of the creation process or how they sound on record?
We all have different favourite tracks, purely based on how they sound on recording, although I have to admit that some parts stay in my memory from the creative process (because I wrote it) and also the recording process. For example, I remember that during the recording of the organ parts Kevin Bowyer was playing some sections at different speeds as a trial. Some of those parts actually sounded very interesting at half the speed; although admittedly we decided to stay with our programmed tempos. He said that the 'I Am Contempt' verse at half speed on organ reminded me him of the Harpies scene in the film 'Jason and the Argonauts' (1963); not because of Bernard Herrmann, but because of the image it conjured up.
Our drummer always said his favourite part on the album is the ending section in “My Fate to Burn Forever”, partly because of the modulation between chords during the gradually slowing tempo. Personally speaking I cannot single out a track, but my favourite parts include the choral section in “Deus Te Videt”, the ending half of “The Illness Named Imagination” and the ending cacophony in “Letter XIX”.
What has Lychgate's live experience been like? Where and how often have you played? Are there any particular shows that stick out, either for good or bad reasons?
As I mentioned previously, we have only played a few shows; basically in the UK, but also at a festival in Romania. This is quickly changing because there will be a European tour in November. So, it is too early for us to speak about individual shows.
Upon Antidote's release, what are the plans for Lychgate's activity for the coming weeks/months?
Apart from our November tour, we will be booking other shows to promote the album. We are also working on new material, as always. Work began on new material in the middle of 2014, roughly six months after Antidote was finished in terms of the writing process.
The Illness Named Imagination; an Interview with Lychgate
by Conor Fynes
No album I’ve heard in metal this year has been perhaps as challenging and surprising as An Antidote for the Glass Pill, the second album by the enigmatic Lychgate. Although their common membership with established acts like Esoteric and Macabre Omen should be some indicator as for what to expect, the truth is that there isn’t anything quite like their avant-tinged, church organ doom metal I’ve previously heard much of. I suspect this album’s twisted depths will spark intrigue and division amongst those who experience it. Needless to say, this strange artistic statement filled me with a lot of questions—questions which project mastermind Vortigern was warmly inclined to answer.
Heathen Harvest: I have seen Lychgate previously listed as a continuation of your one-man project Archaicus under a new name, rather than an entirely new band. The styles between these two eras are very different, so I can see why this might be disputed. In any case, do you see Lychgate and Archaicus as part of the same arc?
Vortigern: When I formed Lychgate, it felt somewhat important to make some kind of ‘historical’ link, and the first album was always intended as a tribute to my early era (c. 2003). The first album was in fact just an embellishment on demo recordings I did in 2010 during a period of nostalgic feeling, but the truth is I was only sixteen years old when I released the first Archaicus demo. Nevertheless, I’d already started putting riff ideas down on a tape recorder when I was fourteen. That is the first point, looking back, where I can say that I had begun creative expressions that reflected something non-standardised. In the end it is natural that the two projects cannot be considered to be connected or similar; especially since I recorded all new material with a different line-up and a different approach. It’s just a vague link at the most, nothing more. It’s certainly not a true continuation. Perhaps I’ll grow to be irritated by the fact that the said project is listed as the former and the connective of this one.
HH: Lychgate is a good name to suit this music. The image of an old church gate befits the ecclesiastical connotations of the organ in your music. What drew you to using this name in the first place?
VO: There’s no interesting story to tell about the choice of name, except that it felt appropriate for the reason you’ve mentioned. Lych is a Saxon/Old English word for ‘corpse’, by the way.
HH: Lychgate has a first-rate list of musicians working together that I had already followed in part for some time, with members who have played in Macabre Omen, The One, Orpheus, and, not least of all, the legendary Esoteric. Given that some of you are already quite well-known for your other exploits, how was the talent for this project assembled?
VO: Finding people to work with has always been difficult. I invited members based on who I knew personally and respected as musicians. For Thomas Vallely it was easy: we first met in 2006 after I had noticed his drumming skills in his project Omega Centauri and decided to make contact. At the time we had already begun working together on another project. The first time I met Greg Chandler was in 2009 at a festival, so we have kept in contact since then.
HH: Your second LP, ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’, is slated for release in August, and I must say it’s possibly the most striking extreme metal record I’ve yet heard in 2015. One thing I love about it is how well it realizes the promise of a unique style inferred on the debut. Indeed, Lychgate may beg comparisons from Esoteric or Solefald, but in the end, you’re making a sort of music that’s entirely your own. What do you believe is involved in the manifestation of a unique musical style?
VO: As far as the uniqueness is concerned, many factors accumulate, and I’ve omitted more philosophical, psychological, and sociological ideas that I was tempted to mention. The first factor certainly has something to do with how I write the parts: I almost never compose riffs on guitar anymore (on the contrary, I did for most of the first album). Most of the riffs you hear derive from parts constructed on piano. This year, I’ve finally started to compose directly with the organ, but ironically it hasn’t necessarily been helpful thus far. So, whether an idea is first incepted on a keyboard instrument or not, the fact is that the prime development of everything will be through the programming of notes or score editing. I have become increasingly interested in the latter because I think there can be an inherent problem in actually hearing notes. The imagination can be interrupted in the way notes manifest themselves in terms of timbre. So, that is why I mentioned that composing directly with an organ can be problematic. If a note is heard as it is in a purer form or visualised in the mind without sound, there is less potential for distraction by the composer. Again, with timbre, the form and character that notes take from instrument to instrument never ceases to amaze me.
Another related issue of composing directly with an instrument is that it is very difficult not to be guided by positions and patterns. For guitarists, this may be the CAGED patterns for scales and licks or, for example in terms of chords at the most basic level, a guitarist’s tendency to opt for a root note plus a fifth interval chord since it is the most pleasing to the ear (which has been statistically proven, by the way). For a pianist, the principles are comparable: training forces you to think in terms of finger patterns—partly, of course—and if something was improvised, it would unlikely be something that was genuinely uncomfortable or unfamiliar to play. Clearly, we should not care whether it is comfortable to play or not; we should not be visualising the configuration of the keyboard or the playability until afterwards, when the practicality of performance is concerned.
The second main reason why this music might be unique is because whilst I love all kinds of metal bands, I would almost never take any influence or cues from them. I say ‘almost never’ because there are a few albums that I cannot deny affected me more directly in the creative sense. That said, I still feel it incredible to think how many thousands of bands out there are not afraid to regurgitate or engage themselves in arguably pointless revivals. Of course, I can still enjoy new records using old tricks, but I personally find it likely to be quickly tiring and repetitive.
HH: The most profound impact on Lychgate’s sound is derived from your use of the organ. Considering how imposing that instrument can be in the meekest of settings, I’m actually surprised I haven’t heard many other metal bands incorporate it as far as you do. What impelled you to use the organ in such a way?
VO: If I’m not mistaken no metal band has actually used a real pipe organ? Off the top of my head Skepticism used it regularly, but only as a keyboard, not as a real organ. A lot of bands have used keyboard-sound/sampled organs for the occasional section, but never the real thing. I can think of a few metal bands that used the real thing for sections without accompaniment though, and one should be aware that there were quite a few non-metal bands who used the real thing with full accompaniment—even the well-known British band Muse, on the track ‘Megalomania’ from Origin of Symmetry.
So given my composition methods, it is probably easy to see why I would want to use the organ with all its potential sounds and dynamic ability: the pieces were all written as organ pieces, more than they were pieces for guitar. And if I wasn’t arranging my pieces for organ, I would have arranged it for piano and string quartet; then once again, the guitar would have come later. I don’t particularly enjoy working with the guitar directly because polyphony is not possible. With the album I’m writing now I’ve changed the approach slightly: each instrument will be considered more as its own ‘orchestral’ constituent in the arrangement, which means that the guitar will not follow the organ as it did on An Antidote…; rather, not exactly, for an actual separate guitar part will be written. Clearly this was already the case on An Antidote…, but not in such an exclusive manner. This exclusivity can, however, make the arrangement of voicing slightly frustrating because, with an organ, one tends to handle the entire polyphonic/harmonic phrasing of the piece. It is indeed a solo instrument, so in the context of a band or an orchestra, one has to rethink some things. In some ways, that shouldn’t really make it any different to arranging, say, a piano concerto. Let’s just say it’s more work.
HH: Another unique angle of your style is the tone and clarity of the guitars. In my review, I likened them to a MIDI sound or classic video game soundtracks. You recently made a post unveiling a special-made guitar for Lychgate with an extremely accurate pitch, so that the guitar parts might better mesh with the organs. I get the impression this part of Lychgate’s sound is the result of some frustration in trying to combine these different elements…
VO: I can’t say I agree that they are MIDI-like at all; I just think they’re played precisely. The guitars sound how they do as a result of very close attention to pitch precision, as well as the fact that the notes tend to blend with the organ notes. So the way the guitars are performed sounds slightly inhuman and that’s probably why you had that impression. After recording I decided it was time to do something about the frustration I have always had with guitars. So, I commissioned the eight-string guitar to be built with a true temperament neck (non-straight frets). The system was invented by Anders Thidell with the aim of making ‘perfect’ intonation all along the fretboard. Since having it I’ve finally reached the point where I can play any chord or single note without having to compromise. I used to have to make altered tabs which deliberately avoided using some positions (particularly involving the 3rd ‘G’ string), and some chords would have simply sounded hideous on a normal guitar.
HH: Your surreal lyrics fit the tone of the music well. Nonetheless, they pose more questions than they answer, and even an attentive look at the lyrics may be hard-pressed to speculate a true meaning, if there is one. Some terms you use, like ‘Davamesque’, are completely unknown to me. Others, like the recurrent use of ‘We’ and ‘OneState’, I would guess is derived from Zamyatin‘s dystopian novel, ‘We’. The way all of these references and images come together creates a strikingly dark tone, but I’ve found myself wondering what should be made of them. Is there, in fact, an expressed meaning to be gleaned from these lyrics or, if I might paraphrase something David Lynch thought of his own work, would looking so hard for an artist’s original intention be missing the point to begin with?
VO: The lyrics do very much have true meaning, but even with their metaphorical nature, they are likely to mean more to those who have read the sources of literature which were important to me during the two-year period when I wrote the music for the album. First, the entire work is based on Jeremy Bentham‘s Panopticon idea: the prison construction concept that in the end was never built; a prison envisioned with a central tower: ‘A perfect eye that nothing escapes, towards which all gazes are turned’; the idea of constant surveillance without the prisoners knowing when they are being watched. Thus, it was described by Bentham as, ‘a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.’
The track ‘Letter XIX’ is a reference to the 19th letter, amongst a series of letters written by Bentham in 1787, discussing the use of prisons as mad houses. Similarly inspired by this series of letters is the track ‘A Principle on Seclusion’, which is based on Bentham’s allusion to an Egyptian king, Psammetichus, who had allegedly contrived to bringing up two children in a sequestered spot, secluded, in order to rediscover the lost origin of language. Since the latter is clearly absurd, the meaning in the track was primarily about both Bentham’s insinuation that the former principle be applied as a social experiment in the Panopticon, and the idea of a new ‘Panopticon breed’ coming out of isolation and constraint, e.g. humans in our Panopticon-age society. The tracks ‘Deus TeVidet’ (‘God sees you’) and ‘An Acousmatic Guardian’ are also clearly Bentham references, where the latter is titled on the idea that a voice is heard without one seeing its origin. The word ‘Acousmatic’ (‘ἀκουσματικοί’) owes its origin to when Pythagoras delivered teachings from behind a veil or screen. The track’s brief reference to a doppelgänger and ‘tunnelling beneath me’ are derived from Nabokov‘s Invitation to a Beheading.
On the other hand, tracks like ‘The Illness Named Imagination’ are owed to Zamyatin’s novel, We:
‘The purpose of existence
Seems to have been reduced
To the most distant vanishing point
On an endless horizon‘
I became very interested in the idea of the loss of the individual in, once again, what I refer to as the 21st century Panopticon society. This continues to be a source of great interest to me, and back then it was the reason for reading Witkiewicz‘s Insatiability, which more broadly explored the loss of the individual and the will to resist unwanted change (a prominent theme in We) as well as totalitarian mind control (e.g. German and Soviet), and as the track ‘Davamesque B2’ suggests, the fear of China infiltrating and taking over Europe (remembering the said book was written in 1927):
‘The individual – suppressed
Future intuition – to perish
An army of automatons – to roam
A living death
= Total mechanisation‘
I should mention that the appearance of Genghis Khan in the lyrics was obviously not to do with China, but to illustrate the idea of conquering from the East.
Thus, the album is named after We (in which a future urban nation is constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily) and Insatiability (where in a similar dystopian scenario, ‘Davamesque B2’ is the pill that removed the ability to think). Unsurprisingly, I was also influenced by Kafka.
HH: Now that ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’ is done with, has this changed the way you look at your 2013 debut? In my own listening, I liked the self-titled album a lot, but it almost sounds underdeveloped compared to the leaps and bounds you’ve made with the new album.
VO: I consider the first album to be a tribute to the works I was creating ten years before it was released. It wasn’t intended to be advanced. But yes, there is a big difference between the two albums and the former does sound somewhat undeveloped in comparison, I agree. Whether or not I see it any differently, I cannot say.
HH: I was excited to check out Lychgate when I saw you were working with Blood Music—one of the most consistently high-quality labels in the world today. What has the experience been like working with them? They put an impressive level of thought and detail into their physical releases.
VO: As a label, Blood Music continues to get better and better. Ironically, many of his releases are more successful and better-selling than many of the artists on bigger labels. And yes, the quality, detail, and thought of the releases is way above average. It has been very easy to work with this label and we are honoured to be part of it.
HH: A friend of mine said he was distinctly reminded of 1970’s progressive rock when listening to the new album. What influences outside of metal have influenced Lychgate’s sound? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were symphonic progressive threads somewhere in there, not to mention the obvious weight of Western classical music.
VO: 1970s-era progressive rock is interesting to me to some extent and I am still exploring it. However, something to bear in mind is that I have no interest in blues whatsoever, and I have never been a big enthusiast when it comes to jazz; although, of course, there is some jazz music that I like. The most important progressive artist for me has always been Art Zoyd; particularly the albums Phase IV (1982), Le mariage du ciel et de l’enfer (1985), Nosferatu (1989), and Marathonnerre (I & II) (1993). Similarly, in the RIO movement, I particularly enjoyed Univers Zero‘s Heresie (1979), though additionally from progressive circles I should mention Magma’s Köhntarkösz (1974). I was also influenced by a range of avant-garde/industrial/electronic artists including Autopsia, SPK, and Les Joyaux de la Princesse. In classical repertoire, the most important organ work for me during the second album composition process was Liszt‘s Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” (1850). I particularly like Jane Parker-Smith‘s performance of the work, although I used to prefer the performance by Hans Fagius. I was also interested in the late-Romantic Bach revival, where I found the contemplative qualities of Busoni‘s Fantasia contrappuntistica (1910) (see John Ogdon‘s performance [1988, Continuum]) very important. Other key composers included Schnittke (Requiem [1974–75]), EdgardVarèse, Dupré (Symphonie-Passion, Op. 23 ), Reger, and Shostakovich. Lastly, a number of film composers have been important to me; particularly Ennio Morricone, where certain motifs in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) have stayed with me all my life.
HH: What advice would you give to other musicians, whether from a technical or creative standpoint?
VO: I don’t feel I have the right to answer this question, but I will answer it in terms of how I see things. Clearly, to become good at something or achieve genuine greatness, it is necessary to be obsessed with what you give up so much of your time to. For creativity, I should point out the importance of coming to realise the difference between something that was written in an inspired state and something that wasn’t. If it was inspired it came from somewhere inside you, in a way you may even struggle to describe. If it wasn’t, it probably came out of some kind of formula about how an arrangement should be. Other advice I can think of is to be strong in making compromises in life. Since a musician has such a short life in which to learn such an exhaustive amount, some sacrifices ultimately have to be made; whether in the social life or in terms of other interests. Usually the social life has to suffer. Finally, learning how to be disciplined probably can be an issue, as is not losing patience and giving up. It depends how far you want to push yourself of course. In the end, those that put the time in with practice are those that get the rewards. And those that do get the rewards probably set themselves a lot of targets and milestones too.
HH: What have you been listening to lately? Any particularly fantastic albums you can recommend?
VO: In terms of metal, I was recently listening to Mactätus‘ Blot (1997) and the self-titled Thorns album from 2001 which is still a brilliant classic. These are amongst more recent releases like Craft‘s Void (2011), Terra Tenebrosa‘s The Purging (2013), Ufomammut‘s Ecate (2015), Gorguts‘ Colored Sands (2013), Oranssi Pazuzu‘s Valonielu (2013), Thy Darkened Shade‘s Liber Lvcifer I: KhemSedjet (2014), Indesinence‘s Vessels of Light and Decay (2012), and Albez Duz‘s The Coming of Mictlan (2014). I’ve also enjoyed Author & Punisher‘s Women & Children‘ (2013) and NON‘s Children of the Black Sun (2002), but the most rewarding release for me this year has been Luc Ferrari and Brunhild Ferrari‘s Programme Commun (1972 [the double-LP re-release in 2013]). I research over 1000 new releases every year, so making a long list of albums I’ve been indifferent to would be quite futile. 99% of records leave me cold anyway, but I do listen to pretty much all genres; dipping in and out of different music sub-cultures, often out of sheer curiosity. Given the context of this interview, I’ve answered accordingly.
HH: What lies in the future for Lychgate? Will you ever take Lychgate’s music on the road for a tour?
VO: At the moment I am continuing to write new material. It is all towards a third album, but it will take a lot time, and of course, free time is limited and continues to be a source of great frustration for me. Lychgate will be touring in November this year in Europe. We would like to do a tour in the United States, especially since we had to cancel our last one in 2014. Perhaps I’m just being pessimistic, but I’m sure that the situation for live shows is getting worse, with promoters taking less risks. Attendance levels are probably lower, although clearly the hyped events always look healthy.
HH: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Do you have any final words for our readers?
VO: Thank you for engaging me and thank you for your interest in us.
It should come as no surprise that Lychgate's "An Antidote For The Glass Pill" (reviewed here) offers a claustrophobic, disturbing experience considering the album's themes are based around prisons - both physical and of the mind.
The U.K. metal band's new album drops through Blood Music on August 18, with a digital version already available on a name-your-price basis via Bandcamp here.
Wanting to find out how Lychgate produced such an authentic and moody pipe organ sound across the album, we got in touch with the band for a new in-depth interview available below. Read on to find out about the band's new custom guitar, how Lychgate's sound translates to the live experience, and more.
xFiruath: It's been two years since the band's self-titled debut – what has Lychgate been up to since then and how has the band changed in that time?
In 2012 and 2013 the band worked almost exclusively on the writing and preparation process for the second album. There were only a few live appearances during that time. However, there was no change in the member line-up apart the recruiting of a new bassist. On recording there were two guests; organist Kevin Bowyer and F. A. Young, my sister, on piano (who also played organ on the first album).
xFiruath: I've been listening through the new album and I'm wondering – is that actual pipe organ, or something recreated via keyboard? How did you get that sound and tone on the album?
It is pipe organ; however, generally people are probably not used to hearing the diverse range of sounds the instrument is capable of; bearing in mind the frequent stop changes we used. At times it may therefore sound unfamiliar. The sound on recording is the result of the layering of guitar parts over this instrument, more or less replicating its melodic structure exactly. Of course there are exceptions; particularly where we decided to omit rapid notes in the keyboards from the guitar performance most of the time. The first track is an example of this.
xFiruath: On a related note, where did recording take place for this new album and how did that process go? Were there any particular challenges to overcome this time around and how long did it take beginning to end?
The recording took place in three different locations: the organ sessions in Belfast, the drums at our drummer’s studio and everything else at Greg Chandler's Priory Studios. The process was quite slow because unfortunately we could not record it all in one continuous session. As I recall the drums were recorded intermittently over two weeks: they were not recorded constantly as would have been the case if we had booked a studio and instead paid a day rate. The organ sessions took two days, whereas guitars were again recorded intermittently. The sessions could not be described as easy, particularly noting tracks such as “My Fate to Burn Forever” and “The Illness Named Imagination.” I was informed that it took our organist ~170 hours to learn all the parts, which included two other tracks which were not chosen for the final album track listing. Personally, a challenge I encountered was in getting the guitars to blend with the organ accurately in terms of tuning, which very soon became a source of aggravation – not unbearable, but annoying nonetheless. Beginning to end the recording took a few months, but on its intermittent basis I will never know the answer exactly.
xFiruath: What's happening as far as the themes and lyrics on “The Antidote for the Glass Pill?”
The album is based primarily on Jeremy Bentham's (1748 – 1832) “Panopticon,” which was a prison design concept, envisioned but never built, to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched; thus constantly governing their behaviour patterns ("a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind"). However, the album is named after Zamyatin's novel “We” in which a future urban nation is constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily and Witkiewicz's “Insatiability,” where in a similar dystopian scenario, Davamesque B2 is the pill that rendered its users passive, eroding the philosophical and intellectual concerns of the individual. I was also influenced by Kafka, and these concepts collectively made up the lyrical content.
xFiruath: Who handled the cover artwork and how does it connect with the music?
The cover artwork was painted by a French/Canadian artist who prefers to call himself simply MG. All of his works affected me, so I made contact with him. For the cover artwork it was not necessary to literally show a prison scene of some kind, although we did attempt it in one way with another artist. The connection of the artwork to the music is somehow psychological, showing the struggle of mankind and the imprisonment of the soul.
xFiruath: How did you get hooked up with Blood Music for this album and how is that collaboration going so far?
Blood Music contacted us in early 2014 expressing interest, so we stayed in touch. After BM heard the mastered version of the album, the label owner said he definitely wanted to collaborate. For this reason we only sent out a few promotional copies of the album to labels. Most labels out there were not contacted. So far we are happy with the collaboration and BM is a label to watch and support, without question.
xFiruath: I saw that Vortigern just had his own custom guitar built – can you tell me a bit about how that process went and the specs on the end result?
After recording the “An Antidote…” album I decided to finally commission a guitar to be built with a True Temperament neck and 8 strings. The TT fretting system, invented by Anders Thidell, results in super accurate intonation. Initially I found that most luthiers weren't familiar nor interested in building a guitar with this technology. However, I soon found Manton Customs, based in the UK, who knew about TT and had wanted to try it for a long time. The end product has the following features:
Thick AAA Carved Spruce top
5 Pc Maple and Black Walnut Neck
Matching Spruce Head Plate
AAA Grade Ebony Fingerboard
Large Inlay Spanning Lower Frets
Floyd Rose Bridge
Seymour Duncan Black Winter Pickup Set
Gotoh 510 Tuners
Schaller Strap Locks
xFiruath: Does Lychgate have any upcoming tour dates / festival appearances?
Yes, there will be a tour in November in Europe, followed by festival appearances next year.
xFiruath: What's a typical Lychgate show like – do you have any sort of props or stage show to evoke the mood of the music?
We play with projected film visuals. For props it depends on logistics, but the stage show is a developing aspect for us. Most importantly we are hoping to make future festival appearances next year with an organist on stage. By the time the third album is finished we would hope that all performances would feature organ on stage, as well as piano, relevant props and light show.
xFiruath: What's going on in your local music scene and are there any particular venues or bands really championing metal these days?
I don't know if I have much to say about the local music scene, except that I don't find much to be interested by to be honest. That said, I do try to keep an eye on what is happening as much as possible. In terms of the UK it is now important to accept that the days of our classic metal bands like My Dying Bride, Bolt Thrower, Carcass etc. are dead, so it is a new chapter now. It's different of course, but there are some bands that I like. Grave Miasma's last album was great. I also like the project Hateful Abandon.
xFiruath: Are any of the Lychgate crew active with other bands right now?
Yes, our drummer recently played on the new Macabre Omen album, which I recommend everyone to check out. Our vocalist is also working on a new album for Esoteric.
xFiruath: Besides your own album, what have you been listening to lately and what's coming out soon you are excited for?
Within metal I’ve recently enjoyed listening to StarGazer “A Merging to the Boundless” (2014), Drowned “Idola Specus” (2014), Cultes des Ghoules “Henbane” (2013), Terra Tenebrosa “The Purging” (2013) and Gorguts “Colored Sands” (2013). Outside metal I’ve recently been listening to various works from Helen Money, Glenn Branca, Julee Cruise, Luc Ferrari, Wolfgang Rihm, Maurice Jarre and at the time of writing, León Schidlowsky “Misa sine nomine.” I’m not sure I can think of anything coming out soon that I’m genuinely excited about.