American darkwave giants, Lycia, belong in the category of non-metal bands that assert a major influence on the darker and more experimental side of heavy music. Everyone from My Dying Bride through to Constellatia and Ulcerate draw upon their rich tapestry of dream-like chords and aching melodies. Aside from Dead Can Dance and The Cure, it’s hard to think of another artist that’s had such an impact on metal’s more sorrowful side, whether that be blackgaze, avant-garde or gothic metal. 1996’s Cold LP is a masterpiece of the dark ethereal sub-genre and is also the album this reviewer first heard back in 2003. A new record from Lycia is a seismic event among the cult followers of this enthralling band.
Spanning six tracks and twenty-six minutes, Casa Luna comes close to qualifying as an album, but anyone who enjoys a Lycia record will know their music is made for the longer form experience. This is an EP, yet it’s just as enchanting as their mid-90s golden period. The spell-binding harmonies of Tara Vanflower caress and soothe like an experienced nurse holding your hand before you take your last breath. Mike VanPortfleet’s compositional approach conjures images of strolling through tranquil forests with only the owls to guide you. Minimal guitars and delicate voice phonetics glide off into the ether with the same sorrowful grace as ‘Baltica’ from their 1996 opus. You can listen to this music for eternity and allow yourself to perish into obscurity in the full knowledge you’re leaving everything behind for the last time.
‘Do You Bleed?’ is a remarkable follow-up. Here they embrace their earlier industrial work from the 1990s with a salacious helping of sampled beats, delay-heavy guitar pedals and grinding bass notes. Tara Vanflower takes on the role of a Venus in furs and talks to you like a dominatrix pushing your pain and pleasure boundaries to the limit. Fans of Recoil’s Liquid album from 2000 will lick their lips at the sordid darkness on offer here. It’s the only time they embrace a sinister and unsentimental mood, and it never loses its power on repeat listen. ‘Except’ reminds you of the paradox running through the music of Lycia. Their melodies throb with pain yet also act as a conduit of release, like a spiritual panacea that knows no science but delivers results. VanPortfleet whispers with an eloquence and melancholy befitting of Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys. The synth loop holding it together will remind you of ‘That’s What I Get’ by Nine Inch Nails, but it broods like David Bowie and the Sisters of Mercy experimenting with a New Order master track.
Tara Vanflower is the star of the show on Casa Luna. Her wailing harmonies are as powerful as Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance and just as recognisable. The band push her to the forefront of the music on the excellent ‘On the Mezzanine’ and add delicate acoustic string plucking to accentuate her angelic tones. They threaten to do it again on ‘Galatea’ with a Cocteau Twins intro but then embrace a colourful FL Studio synth vibe coated in keyboard echoes and summer sneezes. It’s the weakest track on the EP, yet it’s hardly a substandard affair. Is there an artist that does longing and regret through the exuberant language of music better than Lycia?
It’s a wonder they can work up a brave smile with their ambiguous lyrics about death and short bursts of joy hidden among the sorrowful serenading, but Lycia do what they do best – they meditate and invite you to join them. There’s nothing dogmatic, nor is there a gaping distance between artist and listener on this record. This is a magnificent rumination on solitude and sorrow wrapped in the illuminous melodies of ethereal dream pop and the dark contemplations of a gothic soul.
Release Date: 11/06/2021
Record Label: Avantgarde Music
Standout tracks: A Quiet Way to Go, Do you Bleed?, On the Mezzanine
Suggested Further Listening: Dead Can Dance – The Serpent’s Egg (1988), Aythis – Secrets from Below (2021), Recoil – Liquid (2000)