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In life we dream; our minds wander to places fantastic and terrible in the small hours of twilight where nothing living can go. Weightless, ethereal and ambivalent we drift aimlessly through places that both want and reject us attempting perhaps by accident to learn antiquarian secrets or indulge in lustful fantasies. In shapeless beauty all things are meaningless and trivial as we seek our own paths. Esoteric fully embodies a nightmarish visit to the astral-plane.
The sounds of eternity engulf the listener from the first few notes. A viscus fluid both beautiful and wretched drowns the senses and is absorb into the soul as the listener is hit with a triple guitar attack. Very few bands can pull off the three guitar sound. Esoteric is one of those bands. One lead, one rhythm and one clean. The clean guitar goes to distorted from time to time and utilizes a bevy of effects. Thick delays and echos accent and reinforce the misery and hatred of each riff. Long dirges of wonder and fear drag you slowly, through spacious alien landscapes so vast you will lose yourself completely until the first disc ends.
Keyboards sublimely flood the background with eerie and inhuman sounds as if a dead orchestra is playing a long forgotten droning symphony. The drums are huge and minimalistic; thundering blows of despondent rage shake you with earth shattering blows. The singer growls with the fury of a bear and shrieks with the sorrow of a banshee. Mostly these are accented/augmented with echo and/or delay only making their message more intense with each syllable.
The production is top notch and the song writing is flawless. The bands style is very much intact here but there's more to it. The double disc is full of long and soul eroding tunes guaranteed to leave you breathless and destroyed. This is funeral doom played with pure bitterness and bleeding nerves.
The British Doom veterans of ESOTERIC are quite an ambitious lot, and this gargantuan double-album clocking in at more than 100 minutes has already been hailed by some as the best release of 2008, if not the best Doom release of the decade. That's a lot of hype to live up to, and with almost two hours of Funeral Doom it should be obvious that this is not easy listening for the attention deficit or speedfreaks amongst us. I decided to take a deep dive into this seemingly bottomless void of anguish and depression, to see if the favorable whispers surrounding this album are anything more than hollow echoes.
The opening track "Circle" begins in a fairly tame fashion, soothing the listener into a false sense of security with a sorrowful melody. It doesn't take long, however, until the walls start closing in as the riffs come flying at you with crushing power, and the journey to insanity begins. There is little room to breathe once this horrifying slow-moving spiral starts twisting, and the way lyrics dealing with total desperation are lamented through hateful screams does little to ease up the mood. At more than 20 minutes, the song twists and turns, and when it finally lets go you are left in a deserted soundscape that feels just as claustrophobic as the less subtle riff assault. There is no fragile beauty and serenity here, just ugly hopelessness and the unbearably large wastelands of lunacy.
Surprisingly, the pacing picks up for "Beneath This Face", which builds up to a brutal climax, just to begin anew at the same dreadful crawl. This seems to be a dominating feature of "The Maniacal Vale", just as everything comes to its natural climax we are brought back to start, and nothing ever changes. This is mirrored in the lyrics, which also deal with how some circles are impossible to break out of, and that there is no reason to even try changing existence. It's not a very bright outlook, but songs about rainbows and freshly baked cookies would hardly do these spirit-crushing soliloquies justice. "Caucus Of Mind" once again escalates to a full-on assault, and even throws a frantic guitar solo into the mix, but alas it is not to last, and everything turns bleak again. There is no seeming rhyme or reason to this madness, and the walls seem closer than ever as the first of two discs draws to an end.
The second disc begins with a calm and beautiful melody, reminiscent of Finland's DOLORIAN, and feels a lot more accessible than the first 50 minutes. Wrong! Once again the carpet is swept under our legs, and once more I find myself lying on the proverbial floor with a terrible concussion. This is the true incarnation of Funeral Doom, but of course such an immense offering of gloom can be much to swallow for anyone but the die-hards. Luckily there isn't much repetition, and the constantly growing and evolving music does a very good job at keeping your attention for the almost agonizingly long running time. The longest track on the album, "Ignotum Per Ignotius", concludes this monolith in the best way imaginatively, embodying every aspect that has made this such a spectacular journey. The haunting sounds and mournful riffs go hand in hand with the complete loss of sanity that follows, and there is no redemption as it crawls towards its inevitable end.
Even though "The Maniacal Vale" can be a difficult test of the listeners' patience at times, it's hard to deny that ESOTERIC have found almost every good aspect of Funeral Doom and taken them one step further. The result is nothing short of a modern masterpiece within the genre, which strings you along for more than one hundred difficult minutes and leaves you feeling depleted and empty. Those who need to be able to headbang or mosh to their metal should stay as far away as possible, but for fans of the cathartic and crushing this is a must-have. To quote the equally gloomy but distinctively less doomy Andrew Eldritch; this place is hell with walls.
(Online January 22, 2009)
Written for the Metal Observer
After as long as four years of passive life, Esoteric released their fifth full-length album, The Maniacal Vale (2008). Playing over 100 minutes the 2-CD-album is a vast, yet not unpredictable add to Esoteric’s discography, seeing that their former works have also been rather lengthy.
The soundscape of the album is extremely dark and depressing. The very music is infused with hatred and saturated with suffering. All this emotion succumbs the listener into a stupour of painful feelings. Esoteric consist of six band-members, so that the music is created by three guitars, a bass guitar, keyboards, drums, and vocals. Everyone can see, that there is a lot to listen to on this album. Yet the album is minimalistic in its multidimensionality, so that the listener feels like a retarted child in an abyss of darkness. He sees pictures of wrath and death all around, but fails to grab any content out of it all.
The lyrics swim in the spheres of depression, loss, hatred (towards society), and a constant waiting for death, although each song creates its own concept of themes, always taking a little different approach. The lyrics are very poetically and thoughtfully written, but are only one side of the coin. The vocals themselves – Greg Chandlers magnificent deep growls and agonizing screams – are their own instrument. They bring an exessive amount of hatred (or pain) into the already tormenting soundscape.
The album starts off with a twenty-minute song Circle, which slowly gathers energy, only to release it all in a spasm of speed, and starting all over again. It tells a story of all-engulfing depression, which fades sporadically only to return mightier than ever before. The next song Beneath This Face is a lot more chaotic than the intro track, with not as solid an internal continuum or relation between the different parts.
Song number three, Quickening, is truly a welcome sight after half an hour of minimalistic droning doom. It takes the music to an almost orchestral level, with soothing calm-sounding synth-melodies, and some bizarrely whispered vocals. The song’s atmosphere becomes angrier at about the middle, and a great, heavy guitar riff fills the air. Still the song remains remotely calm and quiet till the end. The last song of the first CD, Caucus of Mind, is a short and fast-paced song in Esoteric’s scale, lasting just over seven minutes. There Esoteric truly show their talent in playing with the pace: fast and slow parts blend in with each other, creating a variable soundscape all along the song, calming down only in the synth outro, which lasts for some minutes.
CD2 starts off with the instrumental lead on Silence. The listener gets easily lured into a false feeling of safety, but after five minutes or so, the song becomes crushingly heavy and depressing. The Order of Destiny takes a more traditional approach – even featuring a lengthy guitar lead – but still remaining very esoteric-like and droning. The last song, Ignotum Per Ignotius, sort of summarizes the album. But far from giving the whole concept some ubiquitous meaning, it merely turns the entire album into something completely absurd or useless. As the music stops, the listener is left alone with nothing whatsoever to reflect on.
The irony of this is vast: The Maniacal Vale is a colossal mass of extreme techniques and multidimensional melodies, a bottomless abyss of skilful song writing. Yet all meaning disappears after it has been built for over one and a half hours. Perhaps this very thing is the magic and beauty of Esoteric's music. The whole album is constructed so that slowly and carefully compressed pressure is released in a single climax, after which the process is restarted. Again and again and again.
All in all, The Maniacal Vale is a true masterpiece of funeral doom. It must be listened to over and over again, for each time the multilayered soundscape has something new to offer. For a doom metal fan this album is an obvious add to the CD-shelf. Even so, Esoteric is definitely not for everyone. The depression and hatred swarming out of every seam is overwhelmingly powerful. In fact, for most people, simply the droning pace and minimalistic overview are probably enough to turn down the invitation.
This is a very ambitious offering: a double CD set of heavy doom metal whose them revolves around depression, anguish and eventual death. I'm not surprised though that Esoteric have pulled off this effort - I've heard one of the band's previous albums a few years ago and was impressed by the musicians' intelligent and thoughtful approach to doom metal. I haven't heard any other Esoteric stuff since 2004 but after I got "The Maniacal Vale" this year, the desolate sound and the bleak atmosphere of the minimalist droning doom came flooding back from my brain cells' memory.
Though there are seven songs which can be treated individually, I find it's better to hear both CDs as one continuous work but that approach can be a gargantuan effort for some listeners: the music is ponderous with an emphasis on slow repetition of a few riffs in each song. The lyrics speak of mental torment, despair, descent into madness and the approach of death: not much of a progression in itself but Esoteric find in the journey a rich vein of inspiration to mine. The first song "Circle" lays out Esoteric's preparation for the arduous trip: an almost bluesy melody with a desolate yet strangely psychedelic feel, followed by a middle section of savage crunching riffs and, near the end, a very stark meditative ambient state of quiet wandering tones, Vocals are deep death metal rumbles that erupt into howls and cries that seem to turn into swirls of dust. "Beneath this Face" introduces a layer of synths that brings anguish and depressive despair to the guitar attack and the entire musical package teeters on the edge of defeat and loss of sanity through the vocals, powerful riffs and a bleak ambient section in the middle. Subsequent songs on CD1 delve more into the protagonist's inner mental torment with creepy melodies, subterranean rumble, barely-there effects ("Quickening") and changes in pace from slow to rapid and back again culminating in a swirling, spiralling chaos ("Caucus of Mind").
Probably the main danger for listeners is that the music can be more of an endurance test than Esoteric had intended: it is very repetitive and the music's cope is limited to mostly minimal droning riffs with few break-outs from the slow pace. The occasional lead guitar break pops up but only to reinforce the depressed mood. Special effects are sparingly used and take a back seat to the doom crush. Onto CD2 and we go deeper into the mental void with "Silence": the music is very juggernaut-like and the singing is as dry as the desert wind when it has run its course. There are really no new surprises, musically or otherwise. The feeling that this second CD is very much a hard journey is reinforced by "The Order of Destiny" which is a fairly laboured song with ponderous doomy percussion even though a variety of melodies is there, including an extended lead guitar break.
Final track "Ignotum per Ignotius" is the pivotal song: everything that's built up earlier comes to its climax here and the song is as much about the ultimate anguish and torment as it is about release. The track progresses slowly but surely to climax in a spasm of drumming and rapid-fire guitar machine-gunning, only to start the climb again in a different, more epic way. Everything eventually fizzles out in an effects blizzard that lays waste to all that Esoteric have carefully constructed over the course of two CDs, leaving behind utter emptiness and listeners who are as likely to feel drained and empty when that silence finally closes in.
It will be a tremendous effort to hear this recording the way it should be heard - there's a definite narrative as indicated by the lyrics of the songs taken all together - and, be warned, release from suffering doesn't necessarily turn out to be a blessing. The listener's journey may be just as hard as the musicians' journey was in creating this work but you do need to hear it all the way through to do the album justice and appreciate its theme. Esoteric do work with a limited - I really hate using this term but can't think of any other at present - "sonic palette" (yechh!) which consists mainly of long droning riffs that repeat, plus some melodic guitar work and a smattering of keyboards and ambient effects to create desolate environments that capture the sense of psychological emptiness. This recording is a monumental and arduous work demanding a lot from listeners and I expect that the audience for this work will be small. At least whoever hears out this album will appreciate the complex and self-contained world Esoteric have created.
I still remember my first time listening to Esoteric. The album was Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum and it immediately hit me. I had listened to funeral doom before, but I never really got into the genre before listening to that particularly insane album. Now, four years later, they've released new masterpiece into their already impressive catalogue of constant quality, The Maniacal Vale.
The Maniacal Vale turned out to be like I expected, gloomy, depressing, heavy, insane but still overwhelmingly skillful and beatiful. The musicianship and songwriting is really top notch from the beginning to the end. Although this album has some dull and rather unimaginative moments, they aren't dominating the overall feeling of the album and are way too rare to be acknowledged properly. Yet after few listens (which will take about three hours of your precious time if you listen it two times in a row) they kind of blend in the background but those dull parts can be irritating when you first listen to The Maniacal Vale.
This masterpiece consists of two discs with total playing time topping 1h 40min mark. Two songs go over 20 minutes with only one songs lasting less than ten minutes. Tempo ranges from slow to very slow although you can even hear some blastbeats and faster parts which really show the songwriting skills of this group. Those tempo changes don't even feel like randomly thrown here and there; they feel rather intelligently arranged while not giving any what-the-fuck moments to unwary listeners. Sounds are decent, not even near the crappiness of Thergothon nor close to the atmospheric and clean soundscape which Shape Of Despair has. It's right in the middle, nothing sounds too plastic or overdone and every instrument is perfectly balanced with some grittiness thrown into the mix. Vocalist isn't irritating either as he only uses very well performed growling and not any fancy oh so whiny clean vocals. They don't even use female singer!
Overall, this album is one of the best releases of this year, no doubt about that. Of course this won't be to everyone's taste but should be one of the must-buy albums of this year for everyone who even slightly likes doom metal. This isn't exactly your basic iPod stuff because you really really have to listen it to understand the dark beauty of this piece of art. My only gripes are those dull and empty moments which I described before and I also would've wanted to hear more keyboards (which is rare to me).