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Black Metal Group Lychgate Explores the "Unity of Opposites" Via New Video (premiere + interview)

Jedd Beaudoin
Photo: Damian Hovhannisyan / Courtesy of Perfect World Productions

Lychgate's complex and illuminating new album, The Contagion in Nine Steps, explores weighty philosophical and social themes. The band's James "J.C." Young discusses some of them.

Lychgate's latest release, The Contagion In Nine Steps, is a grand concept that carries with it a heady, heavy reading list, an exploration into the world of ideas that could be undertaken over the course of mere months or lead to the work of a lifetime. Guitarist James "J. C." Young (Vortigern) provides a list that includes Gustav Le Bon's work on the psychology of crowds, Huxley's Brave New World, the works of Plato and Hegel.

Young speaks about the album and its inspirations for nearly an hour from his home in Vienna. He is a quick, thoughtful interview subject, affable but intense, always detailed in his answers and willing to explore hidden threads within the material or even ones merely suggested by the lyrics or their sources.

The contagion referenced in the album's title seems key to unlocking the many mysteries within. But what is the contagion? Is it an idea? A falsehood, a series of beliefs and practices that eradicate others? And what of that number nine? How many circles did Dante detail in his Inferno?

One of those contagion steps is revealed in "Unity of Opposites" which offers an excellent glimpse into the soul of the record itself. Featuring complicated rhythms, ferocious guitar lines that weave a tangle of the sublimely melodic and the hellishly harrowing, the haunting vocal passages speak to the power and glory of Lychgate and account well for the critical raves the unit has received. The equally imaginative and dark video for the tune adds to the listener's fascination with its complex but rewarding ways.

Thematically, "Unity of Opposites" deals with the notion of overcompensating after a catastrophic event. A society may react to a particular horror with such swiftness and certainty that it eradicates the nuances it once previously embraced. In a rush to unite against a common enemy, some may only further divide within. The impact may be the seed of collapse, or it may be the act which leads to a change that brings about an even greater era.

Young seems to favor ambiguity when discussing any of the lyrics or ideas central to the album. Change, he suggests, is inevitable and fearing it will not stop its march. On the other hand, embracing it without pause may hasten catastrophe.

Do picture menus and Internet memes limit our ability for self-expression or are they one more step in an evolution to something simpler, more universal? Is it immigrants we should fear or is it the machines intended to make our lives more convenient? These are not questions raised explicitly in the lyrics, but they are questions, depending on the lens through which one reads and hears these words, one might ask.

"Rather than writing some sort of big essay, I prefer to allude to an idea, so that people can go away and read about it themselves," Young says. "I hope it inspires people to explore other paths." (Read more from Young below.)

The Contagion in Nine Steps is out now via Blood Music.

When I look at the lyrical themes on this album and think about world events over the last few years, I see a fair amount of common ground. Is that merely coincidence and something where one could say these observations are applicable at any point in history?

I think these themes are particularly relevant now. You could say that at any point in time there are movements in society, especially politically speaking, where these lyrics would be relevant. But I think, given how much has changed in the last 20 years in the world, it's become more important to look at how things change in a society based on the behavior of a crowd and the way that ideas spread over the Internet these days.

You applied some literary and philosophical themes to the lyrics on this album, starting with Plato's Republic.

What I wanted to do was look at all changes in the modern world and see where it all began. The time of Plato in ancient Greece is a good starting point because after prehistory it's the start of things to come. If you look at anything that follows, Machiavelli, things like that, it still applies. With The Republic we're looking at the nature of human beings and how good things turn to evil and how the City or the State is a reflection of the soul. You can outline a utopian society but it's not really possible. Over time things change and they swing back and forth between good and bad. We have to remember that, after bad times, which may seem very apocalyptic as they're happening, there are also good times. That's the question for now. We look at now through its context in history.

You and I both lived through Y2K and people were terrified that it was the end of civilization but there were those who quickly pointed out that that kind of panic was nothing new. It's happened before.

We have to look to see if it's the end or the end of what we're comfortable with. People always have a fear of anything that's new. We don't like the uncertainty about where things are going. I think I fear the disappearance of core personalities. I think social media is quite a dangerous thing for that.

It's quite a typical example to bring up but it makes sense to talk about it. I think the influence of social media on people is more powerful than people realize. It is shaping how people do things in a big way. It's a bit scary if you think about it. I think that's the machinelike thing that's in question here, the control on human behavior by technology.

You also cite Stanislaw Lem's The Invincible on this record via "Hither Comes The Swarm."

I found the book to be very atmospheric. Terrifying. It got me thinking about the role of humans in an alien place. In this case, it was a planet that humans had been to before and brought all their machinery and so on to and left it. It carried on evolving but without them. Some might say it's a ridiculous idea but the point is that the planet had been colonized by these micromachines which are hostile when attacked. Individually, they can't do anything to you but when they gather in these swarms they can make people amnesiacs.

I was thinking of these swarms of micromachines as crowds of people. Crowds of people can't be reasoned with. They're hypnotized. They're in this state, like a swarm. Against a swarm, you don't stand a chance.

It's very easy to get behind a slogan. A slogan is great for uniting people but it doesn't reason or see nuance.

It's in full motion. You can't stop it. It's locked in, it has a destination. There have been cases where there's been a scare over a fire in a football stadium. People were all rushing for the exit but what happens is, because there's no organization in the mass, no reasoning going on, people have been crushed to death in the exit.

One example I remember is 100 people died from being crushed. There's no need for anyone to be crushed if there's a fire. You have situations where there's ample time to get out. But of course, if there's a big swarm of people trying to get out then these things will happen.

We can disseminate information faster now than we could before but that also means you can disseminate falsehoods faster. Once the false has been presented it becomes very difficult to undo the damage.

Exactly. I think you've summed it up quite nicely. People are very trusting of an idea because they've heard about it in great numbers. Because 80 percent of a population believes it's true, then it must be, right? If someone doubts it, the 80 percent say, "You can't be right. You're outvoted." It's a bit irrational, though. Just because an idea's accepted doesn't mean it's right.

You end the record with "Remembrance" which is about the loss of traditions coinciding with the disintegration of society. I think, once more, we can see ways of life being changed by globalization. Maybe the disappearance of local customs, local varieties of food, etc. When people protest these changes, some argue that's being hyperbolic. On the other hand, if it's me and my way of life is being threatened, I see it rather differently.

It can be anything throughout history where a big change is coming along and whatever it was was existing at that time was wiped out and something new happens. It's a song that's lamenting that. Globalization is one example of a big force that's coming along and changing things. For some people that change is a good thing. It depends on your perspective, though, doesn't it? Some people might think it's great that they have access to the same shops in each country. Let's say you have your preferred brand in one country and you can get it in another. Maybe people like that. Personally, I think it's a bit boring.

What do you hope happens with this record now that it's out in the world? Do you hope that people will engage with the ideas, maybe even discuss some of them the way that you and I have today?

With any theme, I don't like to do it on a superficial level. I like to dig my teeth into it and go at it. So, maybe to some people, this looks a bit ambitious, a bit like overkill. But let's say that I can't resist the opportunity to dig into many sources, really show some depth to the theme. People can think what they like and I think that's good. It's important to have your own interpretation on a given theme and to make it relevant to yourself. Whatever idea comes into your head you're going to apply it to your own situation and apply it to what you know. I think that's what it's all about.

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