It is time to crawl through the Lychgate and enter a graveyard of ghoulish and macabre sounds once more. Be prepared for the weird, wonderful and downright ghastly sounds from a portal to another world to confront you in all their grandiose glory. This is not a place where the unwary should tread, you have been warned. If you are new to Lychgate and their previous two albums; their self-titled one of 2013 and An Antidote For The Glass Pill 2015 this is going to trip you up all the more but even if you have borne witness to these somewhat demented musical fever nightmares it is still a case of treading very carefully. The players behind the project are well known lurkers of the underworld and are active in outfits such as Acherontas, Macabre Omen, The One, Ancient Ascendant and Esoteric to name but a few and put things in some sort of perspective but nothing quite prepares you for these Nine steps which are actually portrayed over six dense and illusorily smog like anti-hymns.

It is the austere Bach like fugue of the organ that takes us in on opener ‘Republic’ courtesy of guest Vladimir Antonov-Charsky’s forbidding and demonic pootling of the pipes. Drums thud and guitars waft adding a light brevity before the devilish sound expands like some sort of Philip Glass etched cavalcade of the Grand-Guignol. Then the beastly growls of Greg Chandler follow and the instrumentation divisively goes off on all sorts of tangents of its own design, whilst you try your best to get a grasp on it. Vocal choral aspects sweep in and one tries to clarify the bizarre cacophony but it is impossible as the music is totally unique and near impossible to categorise. One thing that is quite obvious is that this is not comfortable listening, as shrieks rise over the cantankerous cavalcade you wonder if you are in the midst of some De Quincey drug stupor as there are definitely phantoms playing with your mind here. As much prog as this is black metal things get really twisty as we proceed into ‘Unity Of Opposites.’ I suddenly realised that the choral vocal parts are actually quite reminiscent of Solefald and this is certainly an artistic statement as one could possibly expect from those particular loons. Liking this is not easy due to the non-linear flow of everything, this is music that strikes as being made by and for those that look for the stuff on the fringes of musical comfort, everything from Stockhausen to Can perhaps? Who knows quite what is going on here although narratively we are informed that the album is “inspired by Stanisław Lem’s book ‘The Invincible’ and historical/philosophical sources on the idea of swarm behaviour in crowds and civilizations from the era of Plato to Le Bon and the modern era.”

Yep this album has frankly left me a bit bamboozled as it has played with my mind opening random doorways as it twists and turns through my head on repeated listens. Has it put me in an ‘Atavistic Hypnosis?’ Probably as the dreamy tones that could easily be a musical prelude to an Ihsahn number, another dabbler in odd prog motifs, start to invade my confused conscious. The contrast of dream laden musical flow, quiet growls and beatific choral work rising into a near disharmonic crescendo is a fair bit to cope with. You can imagine wandering into a deconsecrated church and hearing this being one of the most terrifying experiences imaginable. Now there’s an idea for a gig! Guitar fuzz and avant-jazz drumming, growls from the bowels of hell and a vibe of diseased madness all await on ‘Hither Comes The Swarm.’ The chanters work their necromancy paving the way for the dreadful things to rise. Strange noises slither and swirl out the ether and listening, it is impossible not to break into cold clammy sweat waiting for abject lunacy to be unleashed. Hitting at a death doom gallop one can only imagine the gory carnage as the beast invades and a feast of flesh is partaken. Whatever has been unleashed is not to be appeased in the confines of this foul cathedral however and it would seem with the penultimate number ‘The Contagion’ spreads throughout the land bringing an ever encroaching cloak of darkness in its wake. Musically as it twists and turns it spreads with confusion as a weapon one can imagine any survivors going crazy and tearing into each other to escape the madness. Last track ‘Remembrance’ calms the tempo and you come out of a stupor wondering if you have just woken from a particularly horrible nightmare? Perhaps you should press play again to find out but would that really be advisable?

(7.5/10 Pete Woods)