Tempest was one of those remarkable underground metal debuts which developed sufficient hype to breach the upper echelon of popular online publications despite its apparent lack of commercial appeal. The oppressive funeral doom, courtesy of the plucking, hitting and growling gents over at Lycus, was positively received by Pitchfork, Decibel and theneedledrop, ultimately garnering a Relapse record deal. I was left feeling like I’d missed something, a sentiment matched by the enigmatic Noctus, as it seemed a fairly innocuous funeral doom release failing to excel in any particular aspect. But I get Lycus now: Chasms is a dramatic improvement on Tempest and a doom metal release worthy of recognition.
Chasms is certainly a funeral doom album but don’t be deceived into the presumption of drone and a monotone approach [And Kronos just stopped reading – Steel Druhm]. This is a genre wherein dynamism and immediacy often fall by the wayside in favor of huge riffs and droning percussion, but Lycus successfully incorporate all these characteristics. Where other bands may utilize repetition to hammer home their points, the listener is engaged here through frequent melodic development and temporal fluctuation. Each of the four tracks is crammed with great riffs which are smartly integrated without resembling variety for its own sake or needlessly falling into maximalism. This is the greatest development from Tempest, in that they have actually written compelling songs this time around. Funny how that makes me enjoy the music more.
Again favoring careful integration to avoid tarnishing, and actually embellishing, the oppressive atmosphere, there are nods to styles outside the borders of doom. Chasms is littered with death metal particularly, and could almost be interpreted as death doom. The percussion is often rapid by doom standards, upholding passages which prefer to demolish and ravage rather than slowly and mournfully suffocate. The climax to “Solar Chamber” is densely compacted to forge a brutal and overwhelming wall of noise, almost punishing the listener. Perhaps its my latent sadomasochism finally manifesting, but it’s a fantastic set-piece and I keep returning to it. The guttural growls are excellent too, featuring the most daunting of death roars. The second half of “Mirage” is largely tremolo-picked, underpinned by unrelenting blast beats and impressive shrieks, clearly drawing on black metal. This is all encompassed within the overarching doom but it certainly makes for a diverse listen.
It’s worth noting, however, that Chasms took time to establish itself. It’s still funeral doom and it is unquestionably onerous for a new listener. Stacked against the immediacy and pop-laced appeal of the new Avantasia, for example, the realization of its majestic dominance was gradual. This is not a negative in and of itself but may hinder its initial impact. Or maybe I’m just a wuss, who knows? More tangibly, I would argue the fourth and final track, “Obsidian Eyes,” is the weakest. It’s the most ‘traditional’ example of funeral doom on the record, with a slower, more ponderous pace, and a cello-orientated interlude breaking apart its twelve minute length. But it just lacks the wow factor prevalent elsewhere. It’s still a good song and the relatively reserved approach taken in its first half ultimately complements the emotionally heightened second half, but it doesn’t stand out compared to the rest of Chasms.
Nonetheless, the slower tempo of “Obsidian Eyes” emphasizes the excellence of the production undertaken. With this clearer sound-space, the towering guitar tone and appropriately balanced mix are quite apparent, lending the crushing quality one craves in their doom metal. Each instrument is audible without dominating and producer, Jack Shirley, deserves credit for nailing the sound here. It would, of course, benefit from greater dynamics (the record is split between DR scores of 5 and 6), but this is an example that dynamic range is but a contributory factor to production. Throw in the ever-exemplary artwork of Paolo Girardi and this is a well-presented slab of metal.
Chasms isn’t catchy and it will take time to establish its evil presence over your mood, but it’s grown into the ideal beginning to 2016. I get the distinct feeling that this will continue to grow on me and I’ll eventually be laughing at this ‘meager’ score, but I can only grade as per my reasonable faculties at this moment. Commit the time, commit the attention: the ferocious fruits yielded are worth the effort.