A year or so ago English symphonic extreme metal band Lychlake has released their first ever record – LP The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus and entirely independently. Balancing between operatic realm, medieval philosophical dogmas and literary myths, this album still contains a strong conceptual storyline in a classy and refined style.
The legend of Dr. Faust has a long history; based on lives of real people or mythological and fictional characters, it still excites the minds of modern people. The desire for celestial knowledge and understanding of the world was a very wide-spread topic during middle ages with a notoriously great number of philosophers, alchemists and necromancers. Now we have internet and AI, but still, who doesn’t dream of deeper understanding of our world and all the mysteries of the universe? So, no wonder Goethe’s masterpiece and numerous opera productions about a deal between the Devil and hungry for knowledge hero are so popular even now.
Lychlake is just a metal band, but not an ordinary one, because they were able to unite together theatricality (through over-expressive emotions), opera elements (through symphonic arrangements), literature (through recitals) and metal (the foundation of this album). Obviously, they were forced to investigate all those topics meticulously and for a long time, to make them together in a conceptual musical journey able to fit into 70 minutes. And of course, to do it without sacrificing the integrity of their work towards scattered cacophony and impertinent set of sounds. That was a task! But after listening to The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, I can assure you, they performed it well, supporting a visible line between their metal roots, a thirst for symphonic solemnity and evident fondness for experiments.
Well, honestly, for death metal lovers this symphonic side can be too much, I’m still not totally convinced what side is more important during this record, it’s like the ceremonial and classical side complements extreme metal side. And it’s very strange that despite rich arrangements, multi-layered orchestrations and the parts performed with traditional instruments, it’s not about progressive side. The songs are very long (the last self-titled “The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus” is 23-minutes long) and have plenty of moods, and although those don’t change drastically and with dramatic pomposity, the songs are not created in a predictable way. And there’s no reason to dwell on the length of the compositions, the stories are very complexed and mercurial, demanding this space and time and the splendid diversity.
The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus is full of long and mournful intros, defining the mood of the songs with full range of emotions (from sad and miserable to alarming and festive). An ethereal aura sometimes shifts us far from metal rules (“Libera Me I” is a perfect piece for angelic choirs from some godforsaken church). But on the other side the epic ceremonialism reigns not less frequently with traditional emotional overreactions, very common in the opera productions. “Penultimate Patricide” is the heaviest on this record, when we can finally listen to some real death metal. The previous track “Libera Me II” is also less symphonic and airy, but not as heavy and straightforward as “Penultimate Patricide”.
But the final song “The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus” invites us to a darker and colder domain of black/death metal, but of course, only for a brief moment, because this song survives on mood changes and atmospheric polarities. Something painfully sad and heavenly sublime vs. bluesy cockiness and romantic glory, yeah, this song is full of surprises, like the entire album, to be fair. The beauty and sensibility of classical music with gothic atmosphere perfectly covers the storyline of Dr. Faustus dark and adventurous life. And the speed with which funeral blackness chases away the jubilant lightheartedness slightly misdirects. But dark or delicate, disharmonic or flimsy, Lychlake doesn’t allow those antitheses to overlap each other, playing with all those big emotions harmoniously and subtly.
All these grand stylistic and atmospheric quirks definitely sound confusing and kind of complicated, but altogether The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus isn’t so ragged or difficult to perceive. And let’s not forget about the importance of the lyrics – long story of Faust’s ups and downs in poetical, gloomy and esoteric manner (mostly performed through screams or recitals), completing the soundtrack. But considering how full of symbolical allusions, metaphysical musings, moral rants and religious reflections “Faust” contains, small wonder the debut album of Lychlake is so multi-layered and rich in patterns.
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