July 9, 2013

Lycus - Tempest

Review by Justin C.

Artwork by Paolo Girardi

After releasing a very well received demo in 2011, Lycus is back with their first full length, Tempest. It's an interesting title choice. A black metal or grind album might be better named after a violent wind storm, but on the other hand, the Shakespeare play of the same name features themes of exile, deformed monsters, shipwrecks, and the occult, which would be well accompanied by a soundtrack of funeral doom.

Lycus draws on some of the same strengths they used in their demo. The low, growling vocals that are a hallmark of funeral doom are joined by a cleanly sung, chant-like baritone. That isn't the only twist Lycus throws us, though: They also mix in bursts of black metal. At about the 7-minute mark in the opener "Coma Burn," we get a maelstrom of blast beats and tremolo guitar lines that passes almost as quickly as it begins. Two of the tracks also feature the excellent violin work of Christa Schmidt. Electronic effects made to sound like symphonic instruments can add a cool bit of atmosphere, but there's no mistaking the real thing and the textures it can add.

If your songs move at a geologically slow pace, you can't hide a lack of songwriting chops behind blazes of technicality, and Lycus has the songs. They're based less on striking riffs that jump right out at you (although the descending guitar line that runs throughout "Coma Burn" does haunt my dreams) and more on atmosphere, movement, and complexity. "Engravings" is the short track here at just under 10 minutes, but the songs don't bore; they envelop you. This is aided a lot by the production, which does an excellent job of letting the guitar, bass, and drums all occupy their own space.

I did have a moment of hesitation with the outro to the album closer, "Tempest." The song comes to a fairly well-defined end at about 12 minutes in, but the final 8 minutes are a wash of ambient and electronic sounds with a hint of feedback. I'll be honest--it annoyed me on first listen. I've found it more hypnotic after repeated listens, although I suspect the effect would be more enhanced by ingesting various substances.

Ultimately, though, I’ve always maintained that the best music has to be compelling regardless of one’s chemical state, and I think this album does. I suspect that there’s a decent overlap between ambient/drone fans and doom fans, so the extended outro is unlikely to bother most people who would be interested in this, and even if you hit “stop” a little early, this album has no shortage of excellent doom.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

  1. Pretty solid.

    A fun fact: the drummer was in Deafheaven from 2010-2012 and played on "Roads to Judah".

    1. Cool! I wonder if that's why they sprinkled some black metal in on this release.