Following the release of their excellent 2013 debut Tempest, CA-based doom outfit Lycus quickly emerged as a serious contender in the saturated field of low-and-slow bands from the West Coast. They return this year with their sophomore effort Chasms, which demonstrates a natural progression from their debut without rehashing any previous ideas and engulfs listeners in a tidal wave of doom with occasional throttles of swirling blackened chaos. With the band raising the bar on every aspect of their sound —dynamic songwriting, rock-solid performances, and a production fitting the massive scope of their sound—Chasms has a perfect quotient of orthodoxy to inventiveness.
For all of its bleak dissonance and churning, death-march rhythms, such as in opener “Solar Chamber,” Chasms offers well-placed reprieves of cavernous, ethereal clean guitars and harmonies that reflect a heritage forged by early Paradise Lost and Mournful Congregation. Additionally, Lycus effectively meld somber violin figures to their reverb-soaked brand of funereal death/doom, most effectively on the wall-of-sound of “Mirage,” a gorgeous track that has already become a personal favorite. Occasional clean vocals appear in the form of distant-sounding chants, calling to mind Ahab and even Pallbearer at points. There are many different elements at work throughout the four long-form tracks on the album, but Lycus are experts in combining various aspects from all of the doom spectrum without ever coming off as coerced or arbitrary, something that has been improved on since their debut. Although the black metal sections seem almost too deliberately inserted, their placement in terms of taking songs to the next level is excellent; particularly in “Solar Chambers,” guitarist Jackson Heath keeps a droning, eerie lead floating atop of the chaos to great effect and modifies it slightly once a breakdown in the tempo drags listeners back into the mire. Most of what Lycus achieve on Chasms is driven by the band’s ability to effectively write and sustain patterns that strike a balance between dread and beauty.
When Lycus forego the melodic dirges, though, they pump out the kind of nightmarish vibes that could be the soundtrack to Lovecraftian beasts devouring the earth. The nauseating, pummeling dissonance of “Solar Chamber” and its blasting black metal section at the halfway mark – one of several on the album – suck listeners into a vortex of black flames and eternal pain. The quieter moments are no less unsettling, particularly on “Obsidian Eyes,” during which layers of feedback and violins undulate underneath of cascading drum fills and echoing clean chords. The whole of Chasms, when listened to in the right frame of mind, sounds like a fever dream feels; it cascades between sullenness and unhinged madness with horror bridging the gap between the two.
It may be early in the year, and many metal listeners are still catching up on the albums they missed last year, but Chasms is setting the bar high for doom metal in 2016. At the least, it will become the measuring stick for other funeral doom albums this year. Highly recommended listening.