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Album review: Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence

There are few funeral doom bands that can boast a prolific existence of 27 years in which they have released six full-length albums that have helped define the genre.  Esoteric are that group, and they are worth every drop of the blood, sweat, and tears shed along the way. Their heady mix of funeral doom and death metal has paved the road for modern classic bands like Ataraxie and Doom:VS, the intense and claustrophobic sound something not easily created nor maintained in such high quality, and certainly not in the quantity that Esoteric have put out.

‘A Pyrrhic Existence’ is, much like most of their discography, a long double-album comprised of three songs per side and also their first release in eight years (the previous album, 2011’s ‘Paragon Of Dissonance’, was a monster). The years have clearly been worth the wait as this record highlights all of Esoteric’s strengths and talents without the need to dilute their formula to fit into any modern pigeon-hole (something that the band has never bowed down to). And the album is STRONG.

All the Esoteric trademarks are here in proverbial spades: unquestionable weight and heaviness; sloth-like tempos; death metal darkness; and ebbs and flows through vast doom metal territory. One needs only partake of the fruits of album-opener Descent to understand how perilous and rewarding the journey will be – at just under half an hour, it moves at its own pace and in its own time, a monstrous wave of distorted and dissonant volume that allows some respite, but not enough for the listener to even take a breath before being swept back up in the froth and boil. If the album was just this song in EP form, it would be more than enough to satisfy the hardest of doom-heads. But wait – there’s more where that came from.

The rest of the record follows suit with abrasive swells across expansive sonic tundras, monstrous canvasses that permit the time to pick up intricacies that might not be seen at face value but that add so much more to the overall picture. The songs each have their own personality, but it is the album as a whole that tells the story, each track being a cog in the giant machine that builds this massive and bloodstained epic.

The production is confined and oppressive, but it does allow the dogs off the leash when they need to stretch their legs, ie: it’s totally on-point for funeral doom. The rhythm section of Mark Bodossian on bass and Joe Fletcher behind the kit are, as needed, the mammoth foundation that this house is built on, their locked-in fusion of low-end and sloth-like groove an unbreakable bond of sound. On top of this lumbering mass of thunder is the down-tuned distortion of guitars courtesy of Gordon Bicknell, Greg Chandler, and Jim Nolan, whose riffs are stretched to their limit by the slowness of the music but add all the flavour to the gargantuan stew of filth and heft. Speaking of Chandler, his low and thick gutturals are the best they’ve ever been and add the final piece to the puzzle with abundant abrasion. As a unit, they couldn’t be tighter or more intact with how they work off each other as musicians and storytellers, almost a case of military precision executed at the slowest tempo imaginable.

The final song is Sick And Tired, a quarter-hour walk out of the cemetery in the drizzling rain, tears streaking the face and a feeling of desolation, isolation, and elation all at once, proof that this internal musical odyssey forced feelings out that have never before seen the light of day. ‘A Pyrrhic Existence’ is the album that Esoteric have been working towards since their inception, a sprawling epic filled to the brim with exhausting volume and emotion, and easily one for the books. Do yourself a favour, and allow the darkness in. 

★★★★✩

A Pyrrhic Existence is out November 8 via Season of Mist. It can be purchased here.

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