Lycia started as a typical Fields of the Nephilim wannabe darkwave outfit. With the releases of Ionia and A Day in the Stark Corner, however, the band stepped to new ground, branching out on their own path. As this took place, Lycia had essentially created their own “minimalist darkwave” sound, along with Mike Van Portfleet’s unconventional recording techniques which gave the atmosphere a far away, post-apocalypse tone. With their fourth release, Lycia tackles their most ambitious effort of their entire career, and added some permanent female attributes to the vocals for some flavor.
According to interviews, this was originally planned to be just a normal release, but Mike and his programmer David Galas just decided they were having a lot of fun working on this project and kept writing more and more, thus birthing this mammoth record. The Burning Circle and Then Dust is the two-disc, two-hour album that defines the saying “less is more”. This is one of the only bands who can have seemingly little going on at the surface but still fills an immense audial space that can be overwhelming at times, and Mike can do this with little fuss. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to call this a concept album, what with the music beginning, climaxing, and concluding on one apparent theme per disc. "This is the most personal release I've ever done. The theme is contentness and moving forwards, yet still remembering the darkness, the chaos." - Mike Van Portfleet
Aside from its thematic elements, the album also brings a couple new things to the board. Mike, who always used his haunting whisper to drag his words, finally sings! It’s most noticeable on the first track, but he puts it to good, minimal use throughout the album. Also, the bass is either now included or audible. You couldn’t hear it if it was there on past records, but is now a major instrument in the mix. Finally, as previously mentioned, Mike brought his girlfriend, Tara Vanflower, into the band to contribute vocals. Her performance is delicate and soaring. Unfortunately she only occupies two songs here, but later maintains the limelight on future releases.
The most prevalent thing the album sticks to is its enduring enchantment. Lycia have always induced trances with their suffocating atmospheres, but on this album they’ve lightened up to keep you conscious through the journey. They do this by throwing in dynamics in between their droning songs, an attribute most understood by the pairing of Return To Nothing and The Dust Settles, Pt. 3, where Return To Nothing is every meaning of repetitively calm and The Dust Settles Pt. 3 is an almost abrasive and short instrumental. The three Dust Settles tracks are some of the most enjoyable songs on the whole record actually. Also, to further balance this attribute Mike included the track Pray, the closest Lycia will ever get to pop music…or anything relatively upbeat for that matter.
The first disc has more songs, but the second disc is much more cohesive, as there are virtually no flaws. From the opening rainfall of August Pt. 1 to the new wave stylings of The New Day, there is little you can do to snap your mind out of hypnosis. You just might hallucinate about the most beautiful girl you never got to keep, or the most breathtaking landscape you’ve ever seen, as well as all the intoxicating senses you felt during those times, and you will never want the music to stop. The second disc just might be the best thing the band has ever done.
The only thing that hurts this release is a handful of filler during the last five tracks on the first disc. After the gloriously decadent Where Has All The Time Gone, the tracks become a buzzkill, and it’s annoying. Other than that there’s no flaws, unless you hate repetitive music, whereas this is one of those cases where it works much to the songs’ advantage. If you turn this album on while it’s raining heavily at midnight and just close your eyes, you will experience one of those amazing things you hear about that music can give you. Music becomes your doorway to wherever you allow it to take you, and under certain circumstances your illusions will take it from there. Intensely beautiful and subtly devastating.