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It's pretty easy to see how this demo/album gets overlooked in comparison to other parts of Esoteric's magnificent career. When you've got the distinctly alien, malevolent atmospherics and effects of The Pernicious Enigma, the crushing riffage and psychedelic shredding of The Maniacal Vale, and the subtle grace and melody of The Paragon of Dissonance in a discography, it's pretty easy to see how something as seemingly restricted as this wouldn't really come up in too many conversations. While still bold and inventive for 1993, The Death of Ignorance doesn't have much of the psychedelia, bizarre effects, completely inhuman vocals or the strange soloing and generally alien atmosphere, instead mostly being presented as dense death/doom riffs with some drums and grunting, making it reasonably recognisable as music made by humans for once, but while this does hold it back from being on the same level of absolute perfection I hold their best efforts in, it is still an exceptionally well put together slab of primal, dense funeral/death doom composed by masters of their craft.
What makes the band's first offering so interesting and appealing is a unique riff focus within the confines of the bands early sound. While Esoteric being riffy as hell with big powerful rhythm hooks is hardly foreign to their modern works, before moving Greg Chandler onto guitars in addition to his vocals on their third full length, Metamorphegenesis, it was uncommon on their first two full lengths, which despite their brilliance were far from rhythm guitar masterpieces. One these early albums they always relied on their bizarre lead work and psychedelic wanderings, the chaotic, inhuman vocal performance and alien effects and sounds to create their hideously malevolent soundscapes, and as such the actual rhythm work was pretty simple droning chords and general thundering, it worked exceptionally well, but still, the riffs largely weren't there; The Death of Ignorance changes this. Without the intricate layering and unique atmosphere on offer, the band had to fall back on riffing, and they do it really, really well. Over the massive 77 minute run time the band offers up dozens of riffs you'd have to wait six years for "Dissident" to top, in fact I'd go as far as to say the one about midway through "Infanticidal fantasies" is the best riff they'd write for fifteen years. There is still enough crawling and thundering to keep the album suitably bleak in atmosphere, but the riff set here is really impressive and entertaining.
Adding to the general entertainment necessary to sustain a near on eighty minute album without a huge amount of extra-terrestrial kookiness is the more frequent use of death metal sections. Almost every tune jumps into blast beat mode for a section or two, and it does give the album a much more "death/doom" than "funeral doom" feel. While Esoteric have never been an incredible death metal band stand alone, they've always known when to fire into it and how to make the sudden brutality to be most effective, at this early stage of their development this was clearly the trick they were most comfortable with using, and they use it well and frequently. It's always surprising, it's always overwhelming, and it always gives energy to the listener to be open for the next passage of crawling dejection.
In addition to being just about a perfect execution of some reasonably simple principles, The Death of Ignorance just sounds freaking brilliant. The production values are obviously not expensive, but the tones they've managed to etch out of their limited budget are perfect. The guitars are dense and immovable, giving these lurching, unadorned riffs an appropriate sense of magnitude, what few higher notes there are burst out sharply and clearly. The drums echo gloriously, with every hit of the snare echoing it's thud in a remarkably satisfying reverb, filling up what could be empty space in the more stripped back moments well. Finally, despite not packing his usual arsenal of distorted beyond human register bellows and shrieks, Greg Chandler's voice still suits super heavy death/doom perfectly. His voice is still quite processed, but he sticks mostly to shorter, brutal grunts and barks, with his screams being used sparingly (There's an absolute ripper at the start of "Scarred"), and his more deranged, totally bestial effect laden roars are straight up not present. While obviously, those later vocals are better, his range here suits the music well, and is still at an absolutely elite level of quality.
For all the time I've spent going over how this is an Esoteric album with half the Esoteric traits not in place yet, it's not quite entirely devoid of them, and while this may be purely hindsight speaking, it is very entertaining seeing little ideas and sections sneaking in which would later be developed more fully pop up from time to time. Along with some of the aforementioned riffing focus which wouldn't come in until almost the turn of the century, "Eyes of Darkness" starts with a pleasant clean lead melody they wouldn't match until The Paragon of Dissonance, and the eerie spacy break following wouldn't feel out of place on the two albums following this demo. "Expectations of Love" features a shredding solo that would be subtly be reintroduced on their 2008 opus. Most songs will have a little allusion to something that would eventually fleshed out and incorporated into a greater piece, and it's really cool to find them, and along with the better than usual riffing here, it really does make the album progress along far quicker than an album this long and comparatively simple has any business doing.
The sheer quality of the music here considering how sparsely their more lauded elements are used here is a real endorsement of the caliber of song writers and musicians Esoteric are. While it's not as ground breaking or bold as Epistemological Despondency, and regardless of how much more atmospheric and emotionally draining Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum is, I feel like this beats both of those albums. I'm a sucker for riffs, and they've got a lot of great ones here, and the few of their more experimental traits that wriggle in are possibly even more impressive and effective in their sparsity. It's a little easy to look down on this because of all the extra bells and whistles the better albums by the band have featured, but they've basically delivered as much as what could possibly be delivered with what they had at hand, and is definitely worth a good listen to any Esoteric fan, or even for any fan for extreme doom in general, even if it doesn't come with all the usual features the name entails.
This band has come a long way. We must be careful to be too harsh; they had to start somewhere, after all. But be assured that this demo is nothing compared to what the band would later become. It is hardly worthy of the name “Esoteric”! Indeed, point of fact, it was not originally released under that name, but under the name “Esoteric Emotions”. A lesser name for a lesser work… quite appropriate.
That’s not to say that it’s bad! Or not good, or even less than great. If it had been released by another band, it would now be a cult classic in its own right, deservedly. There are few bands that I hold in higher esteem than Esoteric. It is not as good as their later material, but that’s only to say that they’ve improved with time – in fact, I would argue that they’re continuing to improve even in the present, a rare trait for a metal band. That’s a discussion better left to another review, though.
Esoteric’s music is notoriously difficult to classify or describe accurately, but supposing you’re unfortunate enough to be unfamiliar, an adequate shorthand description might go something like “brutal ambient doom/death” or maybe “psychedelic funeral doom”.
It would be fair to take issue with either of those tags as being a little too limited, but they were at least a little truer back in the days of this demo. They were a bit more straightforward, a bit more direct, a bit more “metal” and not as complex. The rhythm guitar is bearing most of the musical load, and it presents more of a solid, riff-oriented attack than the abstract ambiance of the newer material. There are some psychedelic effects, but they aren’t carried out to the point that confused reviewers will describe the lead guitar as being a “synth” as they seem apt to do of the newer albums.
But once again, this is all relative. Imagine a scale of doomy strangeness with As the Flower Withers on the left, representing solid death metal construction, and Metamorphogenesis on the right, representing intangible artistry. This is somewhere in the middle, but probably a bit closer to the left. Still, if you haven’t heard Esoteric and you’re thinking of Withers as being on the right side of the scale, this is bound to turn your ears inside out.
Freeing ourselves from any external reference points for a moment, consider this individually as raw and sick metal – the best kind, if you’re in the spirit. It has enough forward drive and rhythm to be listenable, but still grinds along slowly enough (dipping into ambiance here and there) to work its way into the deeper recesses of your brain, instead of merely banging your head and being forgotten soon after. It’s twisted stuff; not too elegant, but it gets the job done, and quite nicely. A bit like murdering someone with a hand drill.