With Chasms, Oakland quartet Lycus has presented us with a rarity in the highly specialized sub-genre of funeral doom. The record deals in the usual shades of brown, grey, and otherwise grimey tonal and lyrical palette that’s become a hallmark of the genre, but Lycus has delivered something much more accessible and listenable with their new record. As one keen observer on Bandcamp concluded, “Doom metal without all the boring shit…” While the preceding description is relatively crude and somewhat offside, a thorough listening of Chasms would reveal a sort of ironic truth in that statement. Hear me out on this one.
As is the case with other modern funeral doom bands – Ahab comes to mind – Lycus has taken the seemingly rigid mandate set forth by the genre, and bent the rules to accommodate their particular instance. For those among you crying foul already, fear not, the lyrical content is suitably bleak: “Choking and abandoned / I watched each one collapse / Tears of distress erode the flesh.” While the record feels decidedly morose, there are plenty of melodic moments of reprieve that come and go, lifting the compositions up and out of the muck. There is a huge diversity of arrangements and sonic influences on this record; Cascadian black metal for instance. There are some great string arrangements that help to blend and fuse the compositions. There are blast-beats and even tribal rhythms to help offset the dreary, mucky monotony to which so many of these bands can fall victim. Vocal parts are chanted, growled, gurgled, and shrieked, all to great effect. There really is something for everyone on this record.
The first cut off the record, “Solar Chamber,” kicks off with a tribal sounding beat and a chord progression that sounds decidedly Neurosis-esque in its execution before lurching into the slowly driving dirge that’s more expected from an album with cover artwork this brown. This track mixes up riffs with melodic guitar leads before launching into a truly savage section of black metal blasts. The guitar sounds huge on this record; Even the clean passages on this track evoke a very real sense of crushing weight and ominous doom. The song goes in a lot of great directions, and remains my favorite cut off the record. By the end of the LP, you’ll definitely get a feel for the Lycus formula, but the variables within the formula make for a record that’s more than just background music. Just when you start to feel like they’ve settled into a groove, the band shifts gears and keeps the listener strongly engaged.
A really great instrumental starts off the second track and album namesake, “Chasms.” The intro makes great use of strings and clean guitars to really drive home the melodic passages here. This track is the most melodic and consistently paced on the record, playing it relatively safe after the nearly schizophrenic assault of “Solar Chamber.”
“Mirage” is the shortest cut off the record, and again begins with the interplay of clean guitar melodies and strings over tribal drum patterns before locking firmly into doom dirge. The song drifts in and out of this lock-stepped mode and introduces moments of savage intensity contrasted with beautifully emotive passages of uplifting instrumentals. The formula for songcraft has become pretty clear at this point, but Lycus keeps the album concise without feeling underdeveloped, continually presenting compelling melodies and moments of introspection, with contrasting passages of crushing brutality deftly.
I would wholeheartedly recommend Chasms as listening material for someone who is interested in funeral doom and is looking for an accessible place to start. Too often the term “accessibility” is used as invective to undermine the artistic credibility of so many artists, especially in niche genres like funeral doom. It’s time that we started celebrating good songcraft for the enjoyable experience that it is. Lycus seamlessly integrates influences from post-metal, black metal, and death/doom to great effect on Chasms, and they will reach a much wider audience as a result. Isn’t that what most of us musicians strive for? Slap on a set of headphones and fully immerse yourself in the great atmospheric qualities of this record, you won’t be disappointed.