The classification that takes place in determining certain sub-genres of heavy metal can be a funny thing. Take funeral doom, for instance: The great, heaving beast that it is, funeral doom derives its power from monolithically slow tempos and mournful tones, like ancient dirges, if only they were louder than hell and expressed their sorrows through sludgy guitars and guttural vocals rather than melancholic choirs. Songs often run longer than 10 minutes, and bands can craft a repetitive, meditative atmosphere in which the listener can reflect deeply within themselves to try and find their personal connection to sorrow and despondency. When done right, that can result in a great sense of comfort and release.
Often, sub-genre categorization results in futility. When focusing on certain ultra-specific aspects in order to satisfy criteria, a great void is created in between regions. It’s in this space where bands like Oakland’s Lycus thrive, allowing them to create an absolutely suffocating work of doom.
Sophomore LP Chasms is an impressive and multi-faceted album. The disc opens with a solar flare of hypnotic drums and lo-fi guitars before setting alight a multitude of torches within some great hall, out from which the intoned chants of an ancient order begin to beckon. From there, growling vocals dominate and provide the album its momentum, as well as complete its sepulchral atmosphere. The chanting and the growling often play off of each other, providing an intriguing contrast.
Meanwhile, riffs crawl forth menacingly, allowing tracks to shift without warning between thrashing solos and shoegazing odysseys. Guest cellist Jackie Perez Gratz appears throughout the album as a somber foil to the guitars of Jackson Heath and Dylan Burton. Drummer Trevor DeSchryver often defies the slow pace that would be expected of a funeral doom metal band and plays with determined purpose and a raise-the-dead momentum. “Chasms” brings all these elements together nearly perfectly, crafting something akin to a eulogy given by the risen dead, discordant and unclean, drenched in eternal misery.
Always uncomfortable, the album is consistent in little but maintaining a habit of constant and unexpected shifts. In this pattern, it is very difficult to find anything resembling a hook — and yet that isn’t entirely a bad thing. Chasms’ hypnotizing qualities focus in on the soul of the record as a whole, rather than any single moment. Any lapse in attention runs the risk of missing an important and purposeful shift. And while the motives of this record may be clear, the journey that is taken upon this woeful and desolate path has no ultimate destination or purpose other than to engender self-reflection.
Once completed, though, the album doesn’t boast many memorable moments. That’s not to say that it isn’t musically impressive, or that its purpose isn’t fulfilled. Chasms thrives in that specific space in the mind where it coexists with anxieties and fears of insignificancy, mortality, and loss. It defies nearly all traditional classifications of the sub-genre that begat it, and yet it succeeds so well in achieving the same goals. This journey may not be what you expect, but it’s something worth returning to often.
Essential Tracks: “Solar Chamber”, “Chasms”, and “Obsidian Eyes”