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(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
If you were worried about being disconnected from reality for two hours in Esoteric's debut album, don't listen to The Pernicious Enigma. If you do, you'll not only be disconnected from reality for two hours, but you will stay that way long after the music ends. However, to people like me, this is not a bad thing, and The Pernicious Enigma is totally superior to Esoteric's debut. There are two CDs full of long songs here so let's get started.
"Creation (Through Destruction)" begins the trip...emphasis on trip. The opening chords are really spacey sounding and are the most dominant sound when the full music gets going. The keyboards are mixed into the dominant spacey sound to augment the atmosphere. This all goes on for four and a half minutes until the instrument lay off for a minute to let some vocal work in. These vocals are delivered in pretty much the same way they were in the previous album, but it's mixed up in a bunch of noise to make it sound more incoherent for a minute and a half until... SURPRISE SPEED SECTION! Yes, Esoteric. You are not a typical funeral doom band. When this speed section ends, the funeral doom riffing is apparent for the first time in the song; but the keyboards still add to the atmosphere, eventually getting replaced by a lead guitar's melody. There's another speed section not long after with a disturbing and furious guitar solo being played. This song isn't incredibly long to start out with. The speedy section shake things up quite well, but the drawn out atmospheric doom metal sections that pretty much are Esoteric's claim to fame are also present and highly appreciated.
"Dominion of Slaves" begins with a scary sample. When it ends, the funeral doom begins immediately with a spacey lead guitar. The guitar doesn't go on for long, but within the next few minutes there's plenty of ambiance and noise to mix up the funeral doom. The music goes on relatively unchanged for several minutes. Around 9:40, spacey guitars and noise come in with the spacey effect even going into the vocals a few minutes later. As the song enters it's final 3 minutes, the instruments get more intense sounding with the spacey guitar fading into a violin and back to lead guitar...unless it's all lead guitar. I don't care.
Next comes "Allegiance", which starts out with the feed backing from the previous track with some noise added on to make an initial effect. Sample, then funeral doom. Spacey lead guitar again, basically a staple for Esoteric now. The keys get really intense in the song's first section, but eventually take a break. The rest of the song plays out with just the amount of atmosphere as there was before: enthralling vast destitute, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
One more to finish off the album: "NOXBC9701040". This one contains no lyrics at all, but the sound of vocalization isn't totally absent. I can still hear Greg Chandler howling to an echoing effect whilst the instruments are played in a spacey style with no actual funeral doom style riffing in the song. This may actually may be the most trippy track on the album because of it. All the dissonance, ambiance, and noise are gaurenteed to disconnect you from reality like I warned about in the intro to this review. Listen to this while laying on a bed in a dark room. You will lose track of where you really are. Awesome right? It's why band like Esoteric are so great! It's all the fun of drugs without doing them!
But there's still another whole CD to be listen to!
Disc 2 starts with the fading in of ambiance with the atmospheric guitars coming in soon later. This marks the beginning of "Sinistrous", and the creepiness goes on without any orthodox funeral doom even when the vocals start. In fact, there are no funeral doom chugs until 3:53 while still going at the same pace the song was going before. The keyboards have this real hypnotic tone to them that they keep throughout the entirety of the song. It gets in my head! The rhythm is actually maintained for a good number of minutes until the song enters its outro.
To mix things up, we have a three minute long piece titled "At War With the Race". It begins with noise, and then a sample with a guy saying "I want a rifle. I want a bullet. I want weapons. I want anything that's going to kill my enemy." This is a mid-paced death metal piece similar to "Only Hate (Berserk)" on the first album. However, this is much more well executed as the jazzy influences are taken out.
Returning to the longer songs, next we have "A Worthless Dream". This song starts out with the spacey keyboards and guitars that should be familiar by now, but then goes off into a series of thundering plodding of funeral doom. The drumming is a little more atypical and the rhythm even makes it mid-paced. Then it speeds up to slow blast beats, before all crashing down to the slow despondent pace once again. This pace is maintained for the greater part of the song, but the variations in atmospheric elements do not break me from this trance.
What's in store for the rest of the album? Basically a continuation of the enthralling sound that you should already be experienced with by listening to the album up to this point. The songs are different, but describing them at this point is somewhat pointless. Just let it play through and find out for yourself what happens.
At the end, we have Esoteric. They have a very unique sound established with this album that they carry on with them with the rest of their works. If you care at all about funeral doom metal, you will get this album. Definitely.
Three years after their landmark "Epistemological Despondency" album Esoteric released what I consider their magnum opus, the mighty and undeniable classic "The Pernicious Enigma". Their style hadn't changed much, but it was most fully realized and perfectly executed in this two hour double album masterpiece. The dull analog production, precise composition and oppressive atmosphere come to a head on this album, the quality of which they have not since achieved and will never likely be rivaled by any band in the doom metal genre.
The sound here is most representative of Esoteric's style. The merging of dullness and clarity allows their complex, full and warm sound flourish, and buries the abrasive screeching and high end sounds which compliment the sub end pounding rhythms. The rhythm guitar churns out heavy chords which create a backbone of low end rumbling over which leads crawl out and eerily squeal, or follow along with dark and depressive melodies. Using three guitars at a time allows them to employ a varying interplay of melodies, often using effects to create a bizarre ambiance and move the sound from moody plodding to harsh and off the wall strangeness (sometimes leading people to describe their style as "psychedelic"). Clean guitars appear here and there, often with reverb and delay which assists in the moody sections and the sometimes jazzy or psychedelic parts. The bass has a dull fuzzy tone and vibrates into the super low rhythms. The drums, while minimal are played skillfully and use interesting fills and various techniques to avoid the simplistic plodding characteristic of doom metal and most especially funeral doom. They even work into jazzy sections in songs such as "NOXBC9701040". They are low in the mix and often buried in the dull hazy fuzz of the sound, but they can be heard clearly, especially the thudding of the toms and bass drum. The vocals are normally lower grunts or Greg Chandler's unique piercing high screams drenched in delay which work into the oddities of the guitar effects in the haze of ambiance which often ensues in between lengthy sections of plodding doom. As with most of their albums, they have a brief lapse in style for one song, the speedier death metal track "At War with the Race".
Every aspect of this album is meticulously planned and perfectly composed, with expert musicianship, clear yet murky production, and an atmosphere of darkness, oppression, unease and insanity pervading their sound. You can hear no mistakes, no lapses in the sound where a lame filler riff takes over, and despite playing extremely long songs at such slow paces, they manage to create a captivating and always interesting sound. The use of samples buried in a murky low sound also helps push their morose themes, such as a soldier explaining behind the sounds of artillery exploding and guns firing that everyone is afraid, or a blind man (Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman") screaming "WHAT LIFE? I GOT NO LIFE! I'M IN THE DARK HERE, YOU UNDERSTAND? I'M IN THE DARK!".
Esoteric had nearly mastered their highly original and innovative approach to doom metal with 1994's "Epistemological Despondency", but "The Pernicious Enigma" moves them to the most unattainable heights and to me is their most refined and masterfully executed work. They shame the entire funeral doom subgenre, which is marred by boredom, simplicity, faggy goth and "atmospheric" death/doom styles, and worst of all trendy drum machine-using bedroom projects. They stand as perhaps the most dark, eerie, depressive, bizarre and well-put together band to come out of the doom metal genre, and certainly the best to emerge from the second wave (early 90s and onward). This album is recommended to doomers of all types, and really anyone fascinated by the strong musicianship and atmosphere that can only be delivered by the mighty, powerful and unstoppable Esoteric. For those who were introduced to the band by their most recent effort "The Maniacal Vale", feast your ears on this one and experience what they are/were really capable of. It may take quite a few listens to pierce this gem, as its sound is not as simplistic as it may first appear, but to me it's well worth it as this album remains near the top of my overall favourites.
Do you have two hours to spend in front of a loud stereo?
If yes, then start downloading this beast. Buy it if you like it, fuck this review. Just listen to the album. That is the point. If you have not heard any Esoteric, start here. Be warned that The Pernicious Enigma is extremely super long and it's best to enjoy this in one or two sessions. Have some free time to spare before beginning your endeavors with this masterpiece.
Clear without being sterile and natural without being raw. Bassy, as doom should be. This is all that one needs to know really. You should try the following exercises to improve the already profound enjoyment of this album.
1. Smoke a little weed or drink a few beers (or both).
2. Stand in front of a decent sound system and crank the sub until your balls jiggle.
Doom and drone fans should be used to this behavior.
This thing will turn you into ash under it's psychotic maelstrom of darkness. What's scarier than black metal? This is. I think the navy blue vicar would be able to help me here.
HOLOCAUST GUITAR TONE OF PURE ARMAGEDDON.
NOXIOUS EARTHQUAKE RIFF CRUMBLES CITY INTO DUST.
Heh heh. If only he were around. Really, I could sum up the musical terrain presented thusly -- "the end is incredibly fucking nigh." Nothing is quite as overwhelmingly dreadful, gloomy, and just plain DOOMY as The Pernicious Enigma.
Boggling as it is, this music is incredibly beautiful as well. How can this be? It's true, a lot of this album is made of crushingly heavy heaviness. The mood itself is as such during the entire play. However, there are many relatively mellow parts in long, arcing transitions filled with psychedelic guitars so haunting that they will destroy your soul and uplift it at the same time. Blow. You. Away.
Plus the vocals sound as if coming from some omniscient demon who is leading you on a punishing journey through a crypt-filled, nightmarish wasteland rife with visions of death, decay, and despair. Does that sound fucking evil or what?
Two hours of mind altering brilliance. This makes you forget what music is supposed to be because music is now this. Most everything is down tempo but they don't stick to a single one throughout. Esoteric mixes things up very well on this release. Varied, so therefore interesting and incredibly entertaining.
I never felt as if any part dragged on too long and it always gives me a strong desire to listen to it all over again. The replay value is fantastic since this record is so vast. No, it's more than that. It is immense. Giganto-normous. Epic tits.
Fans of any style of doom should check this out, as well as those who may have not heard this particular album by this amazing band. Everyone should at least give this an honest listen even if my review did not wet your panties. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Just don't shelf it after the first listen and forget about it. Give it some time to work it's magic on you. Truly great music is rarely comprehensible on the first listen. At the very least, be prepared to give this multiple plays. It's so huge that it's impossible to digest easily.
Oh and whatever the hell a "pernicious enigma" is, it must be awesome because that's what this album is. When it's finished you'll be going "WTF JUST HAPPENED HERE?" Actually, you'll be thinking that the entire time!
The only funeral doom worth a fuss from what I've heard.
Esoteric are a well renowned Funeral Doom Metal band from Birmingham, in the United Kingdom and justifiably so. I came across this band when i was going through a Funeral Doom stage and needed something to match my mood, Esoteric managed that with astounding ease.
'The Pernicious Enigma' almost seems like an apt name for such inexplicable record. I could never have contemplated such monstrous piece of music if i tried. This, the second Esoteric full-length was actually the first Esoteric recording i was introduced to. It is split into two discs and runs for almost two hours. To say this is a draining and haunting experience is a great example of the use of litotes. The music is expectedly slow and churning. It has the ability to swallow you whole, spit you out and have you coming back for more of the same treatment. The lyrical themes are incredibly apt also. The ever-growing feeling of isolation and torment are apparent from start to finish. The vocals are hollow emitted sounds from a land unknown. Often the listener is subjected to indecipherable utterances that any follower of Amaka Hahina would be accustomed to. Distant and dying. Weeping and mourning. Esoteric portray the essence of Funeral Doom in their music with ease and style.
Slow paced, down-tuned and refined. Esoteric ooze class with their depiction of dreams and infinite space. The production is superb, allowing every element of the music to makes an impact upon the listener and help the vocals to play such an important role in the music. They also ebb and flow in tune with the guitars. They also act as an atmospheric enhancer. They seem to become entangled with the music and often it is hard to pin point where the vocals begin and end as they are swallowed up by the incredibly distorted guitars and powerful beats of the drums. Only once in my life have i heard something as terrifying as this, atmospherically. This is a record that prides itself on being able to remain interesting through darkness and ambience.
It is hard to determine where exactly Esoteric takes influence from. I can hear several genres here all rolled up into one. From Dark Ambient to Death Metal. From Black Metal to Drone and of course HEAVY FUCKING DOOM! The most notable highlight for me is 'Creation (Through Destruction)'. That intro is simply sublime and places the listener into a realm which feels like you're floating in infinite space itself. I'm wondering if i'm the only one to be reminded of Disembowelment at the half way stage of this song when it completely changes and for one of the first and only times picks up speed? Maybe so.
On the negative side, Funeral Doom albums do tend to become slightly repetitive in a sense that the sheer lack of variation is quite tedious. As a huge Black Metal fan, i am aware of the usefulness repetition can have, but its not the same for me when listening to Doom of any sort.
The year is 1917, the place, somewhere in the Belgian lowlands. You sluggishly make your way through a seething, writhing mass of mud. The fumes of mustard gas fill the air all around you. Men claw and tear at their faces, trying to pluck out their own eyes to stop them from searing their brains, breath coming in short shallow gasps as they suffocate. The bodies of your friends slowly sink in the supernaturally hungry mire, the skin on their faces burning away revealing the meat and bone that the vultures will feast on after this carnage has finally come to an end. You are sinking too, your combat boots scrabbling for purchase on the slippery surface and only succeeding in pulling you deeper. Gunfire crackles all around you and you attempt to raise your arm, to fight back...but everything is so sluggish, it is as though the muck had invaded your spirit, your soul, robbed you of purpose, of feeling, of strength. You trip and fall on your face, and find yourself staring intot he eyes of a comrade, now lifeless, a look of abject horror on his face. You can't get up, but instead thrash and writhe. And oh, you enjoy it! The terror on the fallen man's face transmutes into pleasure somewhere deep within you. The carnage, the destruction, the death, the quagmire that swallows all who dare intrude upon it's brooding solitude, suddenly take on a preternaturally beautiful aspect to your twisted mind, the stench of corpses, fear and gas becoming hallucinogenic, alluring. As you lay there in the slime your flesh shudders as your loins issue forth the fluids of your ecstacy one last, glorious time.
a disturbing image? Perhaps. This picture is one that came into my head one of the first times I played Esoteric's 1997 double slab of horrific, disturbed and magnificent music "The Pernicious Enigma". Words fail me when attempting to describe how utterly incredible this work is, but I will give it a try. Most people would classify Esoteric in the doomdeath metal genre. They have the trudging tempos, most certainly...but these english psychos are so much more than such simplistic and mundane classifications. There are times on this album when Esoteric does actually sound like a metal band, of a particularly downtrodden and abysmal nature, with an ungodly guitar sound of bone shaking proportions and drums that resound about each time you take a shuddering breath of fetid air through your constricted lungs, the very fibers of which this oppressive soundscape of horror threatens to pulverize and crush. However, when Esoteric are truly in their element, you are no longer listening to a metal band...but instead to waves of terrifying, twisted sound that no longer resemble drums, guitars, bass and vocals at all but instead something truly demonic, utterly unearthly and frightening enough to bring you to your knees and hide your pitiful face in your hands. And the vocals..wow...this guy must use every studio effect one could possibly imagine on his voice. It no longer sounds even remotely human, let alone like any language of man's invention. The growls, screeches and assorted gutwrenching sounds issuing from this guy's pipes and processed to the point of sounding utterly alien merge with the chaos of the music during it's more frightening moments to form a vast and bleak picture of the end of the human race.
"Creation Through Destruction" opens the first CD, almost tranquilly. Clean, oddly processed guitar drifts ever so slowly between two chords while what sounds like soft keyboards (though it could be a guitar, it's really hard to tell) plays in the background, creating a perfect picture of sombre ambience, similar to something Neurosis might do. After about five minutes of this, disturbing things begin to happen: some alien grunts and screeches, an odd rupturing of the ambience, and gradually, mounting in volume like the opening gates of hell itself, a deep, subsonic rumble over which can be heard the sound of tortured, twisted screams. This finally resolves into the song proper, which starts out surprisingly with a fairly fast tempo, but quickly lurches into an almost unbelievably slow plod. Lead guitar plays a keening, sorrowful melody while rythm guitar trudges along at about .004 mph, and the vocals ullulate and wail over everything. And this is only the beginning. The music almost never lets up, the entire first CD is one nonstop excursion into the bowels of complete dessolation without any spaces between tracks or breaks of any kind. Often the tracks begin with movie samples, and these are done in a creepy and chilling way...drenched in reverb so that they sound ghostly and strange. Particularly disquieting is the beginning of "Allegiance" which, after the chaotic feedback and noise of the previous track has just started to fade, suddenly breaks in with a sample from, of all things, the comedy "Scent Of A Woman"...if anyone has seen this, it's the part where the erstwhile Colonel (Al Puccino) is prepared to shoot himself out of self-pity, and he screams "What life? I got no life!!!!!". Reverbed to all hell so that the sudden and frantic shout echoes in your brain for at least a dozen seconds after it has come to an end, the effect is absolutely spine-chilling. If you're going to listen to this while stoned, prepare yourself for some major "freakouts". The last track on the first CD is an entirely improvized fifteen minutes of reverberating, psychedelic and ungodly sound, transcending metal, as much of this album does, and venturing into territories of the most experimental and extreme noise artists. "At War With The Race" is a little three minute surprise, as it is entirely midpaced and features chunky, rumblingly downtuned guitars and even a noisy wah-wah solo, drenched in sick vocals and invocations of death from "Apocolypse Now (without feeling, without passion, without judgement) and "Taxi Driver".
If you think this sounds even remotely enjoyable, then I congratulate you, you are a rare individual. If not, I can't exactly blame you. I only know of a couple of people who really enjoy this band. Your average My Dying Bride fan would find this much too slow, much too abysmal and depressive. My wife cannot even listen to this band without having an extreme panic attack, and she is into a lot of the same metal I enjoy. I'm sure if the band knew their music had such a deleterious effect on someone, they would be most proud. A more original release in the metal genre can surely be hard to find. Fans of sludge (Eyehategod, Buzz Oven) may dig this, but Esoteric has absolutely nothing in common with that style except the horrendously slow tempos and the suffocating atmosphere. I made a mention of Neurosis earlier in this review, and indeed I can see fans of that band relating to this music as it has a similar ambience (without any of the tribalisms though and a hell of a lot more disquieting) and mood at times. This is miles above their first double album, "Epistemological Despondency", and as much as I like good doom metal, since i first was introduced to this band all other depressive acts within the metal genre tend to pale in terms of atmosphere. If you are interested in hearing what this stuff sounds like, I highly recommend a look at the Esoteric webpage, as it has fairly lengthy samples of every song they have recorded onto CD. I don't recommend listening to the stuff from the first album until you've already become familiar with the newer stuff. The URL is http://www.bereft.demon.co.uk. Esoteric is one of the best things to ever happen to music, period. Look on their works, ye mighty, and despair