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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Sludge: Lycus - "Tempest"

Depending on a multitude of circumstances, funerals can unfold any number of ways. If the dead has fulfilled his tenure and died peacefully in his sleep, services can operate more as a celebration of life. On the other hand, an untimely passing or long bout with illness can make for some dark reflections. Your mother is draped in head-to-toe black, your father is staring at his hands trying not to wince, and somewhere in the back is brewing a drunken diatribe from your aunt blaming everyone but herself.

What's the weather like in Oakland? Given the three haunting, mournful passages on the debut full-length from Lycus, you'd doubt they came from anywhere that ever sees the sun. Formed in 2008, the band has endured lineup changes, a full break-up, and a relocation to bring us current with the July 9th release of Tempest. How's your summer? Well, it's about to get pretty bleak. Melding a barrel of dirge with buckets of tears, Tempest is arriving just in time to keep you from taking anything for granted.

From the album's onset, the hollow thumps of Coma Burn predict no break in the procession. With drone riffs and doom pacing, there's no pretense and no deception. This is somber and pensive. The chants and growls are equally pained, more rueful than aggressive. Downward riff-mangles are split by eerie echoes, but we can only watch and wait as the gurgle meets the mire. Tin-drum space guitars wrap screeches in a sullen, smoky whisper that's slow and reflectively sad. Winds entwine the track's canopy, channeling what no longer walks. Hell... channeling what no longer breathes.

Engravings is an exercise in slow sonic extraction. The track is melodic and fluid, even when the drums spit and spurt against guitar-drawn mists. Via the hollow bounce of combating elements, the disc's theme is by now cemented in the dirty, frozen memory that's gonna ache like hell. The doom riffs here are massive, but there's an evolving, carnivorous filth that's drug out. Lycus may as well be smoking the bones of the long dead, shaking by a funeral pyre just trying to warm themselves.

The disc's title track is a twenty-minute crusher, but the clean mist of morning is an expansive introduction. Growing into a skittish, paranoid trek down a splintered-wood trail, Tempest is hooded and commanding. The strings begin to steal the show, but what's surprising is that they're neither distractive or extraneous. The elemental swirl progressively breathes and builds on a veil of choppy doom. There's even an odd thrash break, but the sway returns as guitar licks provide an awesome ambiguity. The thick contemplations realize a heady potential at the track's agonizing close. The buzzing transition from this world to the next pares down to little more than a lonely, icy stumble strewn with cobwebs. Don't bother looking back.

Lycus find their corner with an unsettling breed of dread that doesn't rely on explicit fear. What was feared already arrived and stole what was sacred. Heaviness comes in many forms, but a heart swollen and crushed may take the greatest toll. The passages are long and filled with questions, while the sporadic outbursts are natural and easy to forgive. This is one awfully, beautifully dark record. Wholly and unrelentingly painful, Lycus walk into grief with thick skin and mud-caked fists. Sit with the feeling, they'll tell you. It's the only way out.

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