Lysithea – Shadows in the Void

Tuesday, 12th March 2019

Featuring two members of presently hot-to-trot atmospheric black metal ensemble Sojurner, Lysithea is the proverbial sonic respite for Mike L. and Mike W. Whereas Sojurner is ablaze and awash with synths and voluminous song arrangements, Lysithea instead hunkers down in the cavernous world of melodic death doom, inspired by the usual round of friendly, reliable faces: Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Novembre, October Tide and Draconian. Formed in 2013 in New Zealand, the band originally started out as all-instrument until Mike L. decided to tackle vocals for their latest release and first for Naturmacht/Rain Without End, Star-Crossed. The result is a formidable, deep plunge into dark terrain — six songs that will no doubt block out the sun, or something close, which is why we hit up both Mikes to get their take…

Dead Rhetoric: You originally started as strictly an instrumental band. When it did become clear you needed a singer?

Mike L. (All instruments): I kind of wanted a singer from the start, but those early albums were always written with mostly female vocals in mind and nobody I knew locally was in a place to do that at the time. This was before I was ever comfortable branching out in a more international sense and asking people elsewhere to get involved, so I kind of settled on taking the instrumental approach more out of lack of options than anything else. Before Lysithea became Lysithea, I had a kind of post-rock-y project, Architects of the Sun, going with an ex-girlfriend who did the vocals (who was also the singer of me and Mike W.’s first band together back in 2004), but we only ever completed one single which I redid with Lysithea as “One Day the Sun Will Fade” on The Forgotten Place EP. So, I guess that was the precursor to me starting Lysithea. After I’d been doing the dreamy, more post-rock oriented stuff for a while I decided I wanted to take it in a more Mourning Beloveth-style death/doom direction based on what I’d been writing, so I advertised on Facebook that I was looking for someone to do vocals on the next album and Mike W. suggested he give it a shot because he’d always wanted to give vocals a go. Mike’s one of my oldest and closest friends, so I was all for it, and then everything kind of just came together from there.

Dead Rhetoric: To that end, what was the impetus in launching Lysithea?

Mike L.: When I started the project back in 2008 it was mostly because I wanted to do something completely different and more in line with the stuff I loved than what I was doing at the time, which was mostly just typical local band metal stuff. I wanted to do something a bit more post-rock-meets-Agalloch-meets-Katatonia-meets-Novembre kind of dreamy, pretty stuff. There wasn’t really a scene for it in Dunedin though, so I had to get some basic recording gear and start putting together the music while learning how to record from scratch. Which is why the recording quality of those three early releases (and our first album with vocals, to be fair) is kind of thin and really amateurish, but I’m still really fond of the musical ideas on them and they’ll always represent a pretty important point in my life. I’d kind of like to re-record them all one day, and do them proper justice to them by adding vocals. We’ll see what happens, but most of all I want to just have them well produced, because though I grew to really love music production through doing that stuff I’m still kind of embarrassed by the sound quality of those releases.

Dead Rhetoric: Both of you are in Sojourner. Therefore, where does Lysithea rank in terms of priority?

Mike L.: They’re both really important projects for me, but I guess because I’m a core writing component of both bands I’ve been focusing my attention a bit more on Sojourner lately, not because I love the band more but just because it took off a bit more than expected and required a bit more focus on my part. Which is why Mike W. ended up writing and recording Star-Crossed in its entirety and I only did the production side of things with editing, mixing, and mastering this time around. He did an amazing job, and he’s produced the best work that the band’s ever put out, so I’m really thankful he kept the wheels turning while I was out of action. Next time we’ll definitely be collaborating on it all again, but Mike’s set a really good course with this album for the future.

Mike W. (All instruments, vocals): My role in Sojourner as the bassist is less involved in terms of songwriting and our geographical situation means I’m unable to join the band for many shows so I’ve just had a bit more time on my hands for Lysithea lately. I don’t think either of us would rank one band over the other in terms of priority but Sojourner definitely has a lot more commitments to meet at this stage so that’s where a lot of the focus has been lately. We’ll definitely continue to find time for both bands though!

Dead Rhetoric: Does Lysithea help you, for lack of a better term, scratch some itches you can’t necessarily scratch in Sojourner?

Mike L.: Yeah, definitely. I mean, since I started Sojourner much later than Lysithea in 2015, I guess in some ways that was a means to scratch some itches that I didn’t want to muddy the waters of Lysithea with. The good thing about having the two outputs though is that there’s never any crossover, so I never run into the “which band should this idea go to” issue. They’re nicely compartmentalized from each other.

Mike W.: For me personally, Lysithea allows me to play more instruments other than bass; guitars, keyboards etc., which definitely enhances the recording process. We’ve also always produced the albums ourselves from start to finish so it’s allowed us to develop our recording and sound engineering skills too, although Mike L. is miles ahead of me in this area!

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the working relationship between the two of you?

Mike L.: In the past, we both wrote full songs individually with the previous two albums and brought them together, so we didn’t really collaborate on each other’s tracks, but our writing styles really complement each other in the context of an album so it worked out.

Mike W.: Yeah, for both The Secret Fate of All Life and Realms we both had our half of the album written and recorded before meeting up to record vocals and mix/master. Star-Crossed is a bit different in that I wrote and recorded the album and Mike L. did the full mix and master but I think for the next one we’re both hoping to be able to fully collaborate, write the songs together, have each of us play on every track etc. I think it will lend a new flavor to the band and help mix things up a bit.

Dead Rhetoric: Your first efforts were released independently, but you’ve found a home with Naturmacht/Rain Without End. How did that come about?

Mike W.: We knew we wanted a label for this album to help take it to that next level, broaden our horizons. When we’d finished up we had a few labels in mind, one of which was Naturmacht/Rain Without End. We’re both big fans of both sides of the label and there have been so many good releases from them so we got in touch. We’re very happy they took us on and we’ve had nothing but positive experiences across the whole process. We’re stoked to be part of the family!

Dead Rhetoric: Clearly, there is some classic melodic death/doom influence going on here. What bands were looked upon when creating Lysithea’s sound?

Mike L.: Early on before the doomy shift it was a lot of post-rock, Agalloch, Novembre, Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Fields of the Nephilim etc. but later on a lot more of my big doom influences started creeping in on my tracks like Mourning Beloveth, Draconian, The Foreshadowing, Saturnus, My Dying Bride, Swallow the Sun and that kind of thing.

Mike W.: Mike L. has mentioned most of them, we’re definitely massive fans of melodic death/doom! I think to a lesser extent there is a black metal influence that runs through the band too. Not so much in the execution of riffs/songs but there’s an atmosphere present at times in our music that’s not unlike some of the more moody or perhaps cinematic sounding black metal bands out there. Another big influence for me is Shape of Despair. I’ve been a fan for a long time and since the release of our last album they put out Monotony Fields, which blew my mind. There’s something about the atmosphere and particularly the keyboard work on that record which is mesmerizing and I think that influence has crept into Lysithea. I’ve used a lot more keyboards on Star-Crossed than I have before!

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve landed on a concept for Star-Crossed. Was it difficult to write within the confines of a storyline?

Mike W.: I think having a storyline actually helps me write the lyrics! Having a concept to follow helps me streamline any ideas I have and work out what fits the album and what doesn’t. I always write the lyrics after the music is complete, so by that time I have a clear idea of the mood of the album and also roughly where the vocals need to be. So from that point, it’s just writing lyrics to suit the mood and to fit into the vocal passages. When I’d finished the music for Star-Crossed it had a strong feeling of solitude and melancholy, and I think this is reflected in the storyline.

Dead Rhetoric: Atmosphere appears to be critical to your sound. To you, how do you go about creating it? And, do your surroundings have much to do with it?

Mike W.: I can’t speak so much for Mike L’s songs, but most of the atmosphere for me stems from a single riff, a lead or a melody which I then try to capture and stretch across a full song. It might just be me but our music always tends to invoke mental images of space. Stars, nebulas or just the night sky, that kind of thing. So, I think since I’ve joined the band that kind of imagery has played a big part in creating the atmosphere.

Mike L.: Atmosphere was a big part of why I created this band in the first place, and our hometown Dunedin and the South Island of New Zealand really played a huge role in that. It’s a beautiful place, with a lot of nature woven in among the city and suburbs, and it always struck me as a very dreamy, surreal place at certain times of the year, particularly summer and autumn. Those early releases, at least, were supposed to capture that feeling but it still plays a huge role in the whole sound for me personally. Creating the atmosphere isn’t hard because it’s just kind of how things come out when I write typically, but the death of both my aunt and my childhood best friend had a massive impact on me and a lot of the atmosphere of those early Lysithea releases were kind of written as my escape from how much that stuff was affecting me at the time (and still does, that stuff never really goes away).

Dead Rhetoric: Finally, what’s on deck for both Lysithea throughout 2019?

Mike W.: The process of writing and recording Star-Crossed was quite drawn out so I’m really looking forward to starting again for the next album. Some ideas are already floating around so I think that will be the next thing for the band, and hopefully, it will emerge a bit sooner than Star-Crossed did!

Mike L.: Apart from trying to get Star-Crossed pushed as hard as we can, I’d really like to start writing some tentative ideas for the next album, even though that’ll be a while off yet.

Photo credit: Jak West Photography & Design