LYKHAEON – Opprobrium (2021)REVIEW

“[…] awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice. Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom.” Homer, Hymn to Demeter

As the animatism of natural phenomena in pre-Bronze Age custom returned beyond the Dark Ages of Greece deities and mystery cults were reinstated by skew of those who worked the soil and elaborate oral traditions as relics of an previously innovatory civilization. The patina of fable throughout the ages must be scrubbed away for each generation as they soften via the convenience of man’s ingenuity, else origin mythos cannot possibly hold for so long, and as such what was meant to explain the birth of flora (as sustenance, roots for civilization) and provide harmonious reasoning through natural law (their religion, to start) was eventually anthropomorphized into tragedian drama amongst Gods, given irreverent and dualistic human traits for the sake of worship on an uncouth “human” level. As men gathered and rebuilt a new (ancient to us) modern Hellenic society so did their culture of “hidden” religions continue even when most would consider the pantheon returned to the soil whence it came via Imperium Romanum appropriation. What survives and resonates within the literate and historic-minded reader today is prone to appellate or misconstrued interpretation, the “modern” mind browsing without provenance the assumed age-old truths and follies of mankind as if a plainly presented mirror — False repugnance. In fact, to see the Gods as ‘human’ in trait was heretical, offering the heads of many playwrights who’d push the envelope in merger of Gods and all-to-human flaws. What survives of the most ‘daring’ authors were at least well-veiled as religious ode, or preserved by chance or fragment and open to wrongful insight. We hold these misinterpretations in mind because our own elaborate relics of the past, our books, have all crumbled or burnt in unkempt libraries for too long; Left distant from valued historicity and stewardship of soil, the unnatural mind twists into horrors of the imagination for the sake of a rootless existence, our present state of human disgrace. As we watch our soil grow barren by heat death and burning skies, it is only natural to curse the Gods who’d once represented our imagined eternal place on Earth as it dwindles in our sickly, unfit hands. With this in mind Zürich, Switzerland-based black metal duo Lykhaeon presents a ghoul’s chorale in tradition of the seed and its relationship with the churn of the soil, of Hades and Persephone presented as an ungracious merger of dark and light into unnerving folly on this their second full-length, ‘Opprobrium‘. An obsidian rite spat in the face of the immortals, an acidic burn upon idolatry in man’s image, we see the true nature of mankind arisen within the bitter, crumbling finality of their rotten-gasping tragedy of possession.

In this telling, there is somehow no Demeter as central figure and from my perspective this reveals a motherless void of terra firma away from the weight of the original narrative, since she is ultimately the character we learn to respect most when the dust of the tale is traditionally settled, usually alongside an urge for reverence for the Gods and nature. The main dynamic of the Homeric hymn I am most familiar with is gutted, from my perspective at least. Granted, the lyrics are not so copious and the myth incomplete of its famous resolve even when considering the ~54 minute length and seven act format; Instead Lykhaeon make good use of symbolism and repetitious prose to present what aspect of the tale best serves their dark vision of a stolen child bride. The well-thought nature of their lyricism is impressive but it is the written characterization of each actor, whom are presented without the nuance of the Gods in extant Greek tragic plays, from this darkest point of view that sticks with me most, ensuring we avoid a “romanticized” and cartoonish renaissance faire in lieu of something more profoundly ruthless. “A Stain Upon Celestial Rule” is not only a most impressive beginning for ‘Opprobrium’ but this song presents Hades in dialogue with Zeus for the first dialogue. Hades directly begging Zeus’ permission to take the hand of his own niece to be his queen in the underdark doesn’t sit well, the song itself is nothing short of impressive as a piece of turbulent, scathing black metal but the emphasis throughout ‘Opprobrium’ upon Hades’ act of “permitted kidnapping” and greater deception of two brothers conspiring to maintain the vigor of Hell lands a bit crooked in terms of profound statement simply because it tends to demonize away from the traditional significance of the story as a partial origin of the seasons, an endless cycle of visitation which provides four months of winter and spring beyond. In this sense the story is Christianized from my perspective, canonization for the eternal suffering of Saint Persephone uprooted from function in pagan tradition and crammed with scandalous intrigue until the point becomes something far from the balance of rot’s fertilizer and life’s sprouting anew. This is not a real protestation on my part but I do hope that Lykhaeon might either continue with this sort of storytelling or at least finish this fable.

Yep, nerding a bit here on the theme and apologies for not delving into the past history of Lykhaeon up front but I don’t believe that it is of any interest to the band’s greater achievement here to mull over what is an obvious sea-change. They’ve made a point to suggest that while the past is still valuable, ‘Opprobrium’ is what Lykhaeon -should- sound like per their own ideals and to be fair, yes, this is quite different than the original vision spearheaded by the four-piece version of Lykhaeon found on ‘Tanz der Entleibten‘ (2015), which would later be whittled of its raw and unfocused vision by sole remaining founder of Kerberos (Dakhma, Arkhaaik, Solitudo Solemnis) but I will say that his original ideals and palette of sounds is yet still available, only refined into a sleeker, far more atmospheric beast. And I mean “beast” in terms of a gigantic sounding record, piled with impossible layers of ritual ambient droning, ringing feedback, acoustic interludes, and an enormous guitar sound that hits like a chain smacking gravel. My only complaint is that I’d built the expectation of subterranean theater in mind reading about this album and instead I’d gotten a glowering, death-thickened storm of atmospheric black metal that invokes the underworld, a palace of decay and damnation as the inevitable devourer of all things. This doesn’t translate as a scene-by-scene reading in any sense. That said, there are a handful of appreciable atmospheric vignettes (“To Salvage the Seed”, the start of “Descent Into Ruinous Splendor”) which aid in hitting crucial plateaus within the conceptual narrative. Small bits to smooth over the full listen, yet we are largely dwellers in the dark when properly immersed in the whole of the experience. Buried by it.

“Scorching the Wings of Destiny” is a spectacle for the sake of its whirring engine of cacophony, weighted and plunging drum performances that do in fact present the tension of this part of the narrative. This best indicates the patience necessary to soak in the voice the artist has developed over the last several years, though I do think it will be a big ask for folks who need big, obvious riffs and easily digested purpose. Patient as I am, I’d found myself missing a link or two in the greater chain that connects this story with Lykhaeon‘s own perspective and this wouldn’t reveal itself as a virtuous obscurity until I’d pulled away in appreciation of its vexing, transfixing narrative properties and listened for the greater sway of each long-form piece; The four key pieces of the seven total average 9-11 minutes and are assuredly not best enjoyed on the edge of your seat and biting nails. Everything falls into place like ashes, though the experience feels incomplete. This nagging sensation of ‘two very good acts without a third’ leaves too much hanging in the air for my own taste. Otherwise the audio and visual design are nothing short of perfection here, lending well to the recommended experience of several uninterrupted listens and some reasonable pouring over the contents of the presentation. I could not ultimately get over the hill with this one and develop any greater personal excitement for the ride on offer but it has at least kept my mind lit as a lantern with consideration for some weeks. A moderately high recommendation.

High recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Repose Records
RELEASE DATE:July 21st, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Black Metal,
Black/Death Metal

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