Review Summary: Lycus offers us a dish of funeral doom that's all too familiar, but shows great promise
A favorite genre among aspiring metal musicians who don’t have the technical ability to properly execute a perfect 64th note harmonized run in 11/8 time, doom metal can be relatively easy to play, but not necessarily easy to listen to. The listener must first get past the fact that doom metal is rife with ten-plus minute dirges played at tempos so frustratingly slow that they seem to impede time. There are no shout-along choruses like in power metal or catchy riffs like in thrash, and this is particularly true for funeral doom, one of the main dervishes of the greater doom style that we have available for our dark listening enjoyment. Pioneered by European bands such as Esoteric and Thergothon in the 1990s, the microgenre has since spawned several acolytes who specialize in crafting the least commercial-friendly music imaginable, all played at (what feels like) 4 beats per minute. When done well, funeral doom can make for a compelling listen to those who are conditioned to the more extreme side of the metal spectrum, and one of the latest artists to emerge from this style is Oakland’s Lycus.
Lycus’ debut album features all of the hallmarks of classic funeral doom; everything from the thickly distorted guitars to the deep, growling vocals are in their proper places, and the tempos are set at an appropriately slow setting. This, unfortunately, also means that nothing terribly original is being brought to the table. Stylistically, Tempest is nearly identical to Ahab’s Call of the Wretched Sea which was released six years ago, and that wasn’t even terribly original at the time. There are plenty of Ahab-isms to be found like the switching between guttural growling and monotone sung vocals, and the use of chorus-saturated clean guitars is straight out of The Book of Evoken. Production wise, the album even sounds akin to Call of the Wretched Sea; murky, but not too low-fi. The band injects some rapid double-kick drumming into their compositions to break up the plodding, but that base has already been covered by the bands previously mentioned, and it’s been covered for several years at this point. If this is your first ever taste of funeral doom, then Tempest may leave a pretty big impression on you, but if you’ve been locked away in your dark, dank room lit by nothing but candles for the last decade or so spacing out to Evoken and Skepticism, then Lycus and what they’re doing on this album won’t phase you (or maybe even interest you) one bit.
Despite a lack of originality, Lycus does deliver a strong release with Tempest. While the tempos are ever so slow, the band keeps things moving along quite nicely and avoids getting “stuck” on one idea for too long. Basically, they show off some decent songwriting ability, something that’s worth bragging about in a style typified by fifteen minute songs than can easily turn into something similar to a truck trapped in the mud. Black metal inspired tremolo picked guitars pop up in random places and they are indeed a nice touch, and the track “Coma Burn” even features a full-on black metal break complete with ferocious blast beats. The black metal influence most likely comes from drummer Trevor Deschryver, a man whose last gig was playing for post-black metal trailblazers Deafheaven. Unfortunately, the black metal influence is not strong enough on Tempest to save it from sounding like a cookie cutter slab of funeral doom, and listeners may be left hungering for more of that stylistic embellishment from Lycus, since black metal’s speed and raw aggression mixed with doom metal’s almost calming heaviness could lead to a whole new direction in the genre.
Lycus has certainly delivered a likable doom album worth checking out, but it may not pique the interest of seasoned extreme metal fanatics who have been listening to this stuff since Stream from the Heavens was released almost twenty years ago. Tempest is a very convincing effort in this style but suffers from not showing the metalhead populous anything fresh, new, or exciting, and if given a choice between this or Evoken’s last album (the excellent Atra Mors) then this reviewer is choosing Atra Mors every time. But this is a great starting point for a band that has the potential to be very ambitious, and the best from Lycus is yet to come.