Interview: Vortigern of Lychgate

Noise Vortex celebrates a premiere! This is the first interview I have done for Noise Vortex and it is with none other than Vortigern of Lychgate. The band recently released their first EP Also sprach Futura (reviewed here). In this interview, Vortigern talks about the implications of technological development for the human race, the future of the band and his view on the current metal scene. Enjoy the interview, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Noise Vortex: Your music is often labeled as an avantgarde mix of black metal and doom metal. Is going for that sound your intention or did you just sort of end up there at the end of the creative process?
Vortigern: It was more of a coincidence. Also, in the beginning we never even used the description “avant garde” – it was just given to us or it became a natural byproduct of approaching creativity with an open mind, if I can put it like that…

Noise Vortex: The music for Lychgate is written entirely by you. Do the other members of the band have any influence over the compositions?
Vortigern: That’s true to an extent, but not entirely: last time with the EP I finished off the songs in the presence of the guitarist, who contributed three riffs this time. I imagine we will use a similar approach next time, where I get the songs to a 90% level of completion, and then finish them off with him (and the new drummer).

Noise Vortex: Lychgate seems to develop constantly from release to release rather than reinvent itself anew every time. Is this intentional and where do you see the difference between “Also sprach Futura” and previous releases?
Vortigern: It’s just a natural progression – developing as a musician and becoming more experienced in songwriting. Sometimes I even surprise myself that any significant similarities are still recognisable between releases. There aren’t any big differences, apart from there being more frequent clean sections in newer work. I just think the songs are better.

Noise Vortex: In a previous interview with Bardo Methodology you said that “I do want to make LYCHGATE more riff-oriented on our next releases.” I think you’ve achieved that on this new EP. Does this have any implications for the sound of the band on future releases?
Vortigern: That’s a relevant factor moving forward, especially if we play live more. At some point I had to decide on a direction, and it is sensible for us to choose a more riff-based approach if we want to still operate within the metal scene. The alternative would be going in a less metal direction with more focus on keyboards and effects (this is how I imagine it, even though it could be in a metal context). Having it more riff-oriented allows there to be more hooks in the music and we’re not against that. There is already plenty of that on new songs in progress.

Noise Vortex: I feel like EPs are a bit of an underutilized format but “Also sprach Futura” is so thematically dense that I could imagine it as a concept album. Why did you decide to go for a compact format in this case?
Vortigern: I do wonder why more bands don’t release EPs. Albums often don’t get listened to properly and the statistics online back that up. Doing this EP allowed us to have a healthy space between our last album and the next one. It also takes some pressure off us in a way, while keeping the name active.

Noise Vortex: How does the lyrical content of your music interact with the composition itself? Does the music come first, and the lyrics are nested into that frame or do the two develop alongside during the writing process?
Vortigern: I prefer to just work on the music with a rough idea of what the lyrical content is going to be. I always write lyrics last. I’m not really a lyricist and always found writing them to be a bit of a nuisance. I know it might be sacrilege to say that, but it’s the truth – I would rather just work on the music.

Noise Vortex: On this EP, you present a very grim and unsettling vision of the future of humanity. What makes topics like the singularity and self-improving AI so compelling to you?
Vortigern: I was really inspired by the idea of increasing realism in robotics and simulations. Also, since I like to look at events through the lens of historical and anthropogenic contexts, I try to imagine future scenarios as the byproduct of unforeseen changes in technology. Anything which is uncertain is likely to induce fear in us. So, sometimes we speculate that the outcome will be dystopian – that humanity moves further and further away from the comforting origins that we know make us feel good: community life, growing your own food, breathing clean air, raising a family, traditions in general etc.

Noise Vortex: The stunning cover for the EP was created by Khaos Diktator Designs. When it was revealed, it was said the cover shows „[…] a scene from never recorded movie and this album is it’s soundtrack.“ Can you tell us something about that?
Vortigern: In a way that statement is true. It is like a scene from a film. I came up with the idea for the scene with Khaos Diktator. It depicts a room with a metallic figure looking askance while a human burns to death.

Cover for Lychgate's EP Also sprach Futura

Noise Vortex: “Progeny of the Singularity” references Golem XIV from Stanisław Lem’s book of the same title. What is the significance of this book in the context of the topics you tackle on this EP?
Vortigern: Since the character, Golem XIV, was described as having no human-like form (he was probably just a computer), the book’s contents are purely cognitive. So, when we take each track from the EP as a sequence in a full array of contexts, Golem XIV represents the stage of a machine obtaining consciousness and exceeding the intelligence of humans. He also later considers contact with humans futile and turns silent.

Noise Vortex: “Futura” is one of the names given to the “Maschinenmensch” in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The Nietzsche reference in the title goes without saying. What were your thoughts in bringing these two together in the title of the EP?
Vortigern: Technically speaking the Nietzsche reference was more of a coincidence, even though I was fully aware of the play on words. The title says perfectly what we wanted to say: thus spoke the machine. Coincidentally there are further parallels from Nietzsche, like the idea of the superhuman, which can be applied to human-like robots, or human hybrid forms.

Noise Vortex: Often, metal bands seem to obfuscate their influences or inspirations to the point where it can be hard for someone unfamiliar to identify them. On the other hand, you are very open about them.
Vortigern: Do you think so? I thought it was quite common. Even Deathspell Omega divulged their influences in Bardo Methodology recently, which I thought was interesting. If a band doesn’t want to say their influences, I’m suspicious of it – maybe that the influences are typical or thin in number? I firmly believe a broad range of influences is important for rounding off someone’s taste properly. In our case, I didn’t see any reason to disguise them.

Noise Vortex: Personally, I’m interested in metal that aims to create high art. Of course, there is nothing wrong with an album that is just a good time but there’s something intellectually satisfying about discovering an artistically substantial album. What do you think extreme music can do in that regard that other forms of music can’t?
Vortigern: I think a lot of other styles of music are restrained and safe. Art should not be restrained. If there is a feeling leading somewhere – whatever that is – it should not be stopped but allowed to speak. I have tried over the years to be very accommodating and patient to more mainstream acts – especially in concerts, but I have often felt disappointed by the very limited arena that a particular artist operates in – whether that is in the dynamics, or the tempo, or the harmonic progression. So, any metal band in the extreme spectrum should NOT be restrained, and if they are, they are cheating everyone that believes they are in a “dangerous” sub-culture; a sub-culture which supposedly pushes boundaries. With that, I do think, however, that the whole metal scene and its associated scenes have allowed people to take ideas quite far – even the more “taboo” ideas. So, that’s great.

Noise Vortex: In an interview with CVLT Nation you mentioned that “pack behavior is always bad for the metal scene”. I think metal used to have a pretty strict set of values and attitudes and past the turn of the millennium and especially over the last decade, metal has seen a lot development. New ideas, wild experimentation and a more open spirit overall. Lychgate is also among the bands that really pushed the boundaries of what extreme music can do. How has the genre developed over the last ten years in your eyes and where do you think it’s going to go in this decade?
Vortigern: I am probably not a good person to ask about the last 10 years because I personally believe that the development has been limited. (Some exceptions – really good bands, e.g. Gorguts, who are an older band anyway). I would even go as far to say that the 90s had broader things happen than now. Right now there are some leading names, but if you look at the so-called best albums of the year every year for the last 10 years, you will see that a lot of it is scarcely different to anything that came out, say 15+ years ago. Some people seem to be tricked into thinking certain bands are doing something fresh, but if we all look at it a bit deeper, it’s not too different than anything previously. I fear this statement will be meaningless without specific examples, though. And don’t get me wrong… some bands are really good.

As for the future, I think there will be further simplification. A lot of releases now are less riff-based than before. It is very common now to hear a song which has no structural development, but instead just a few riffs – some of which are drone-like (the riffs have very limited harmonic variation or chord changes). So, it is easier for bands to lure people in with that approach – the music doesn’t require much concentration from the listeners – it’s just a noise with a good production, image, good drumming etc. A lot of people fall for it. I’m not falling for it.

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