Beats and yelling from: Esoctrilihum, Dødssanger, Black Spells

Esoctrilihum: Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac
Out 12th May on I, Voidhanger

Esoctrilihum sit at the apex of third/fourth wave black metal conceptualised as a playground for individuals with a rather generous assessment of their own significance within extreme experimental music. They self-identify as mavericks and outliers, and to some extent they are. Only the most wilfully blind would deny the imagination and craft stretched behind the output of Esoctrilihum, The Ruins of Beverast, Spectral Lore, Blut Aus Nord, Urfaust et al. All boast a clear and distinct vision of how their work should be perceived, and all have a demonstrative ability to communicate at least a precis of this vision. But all got perhaps a little too caught up in their own mythos and perceived calling in life, to the point that delusion replaces craft, and their inflated perception of themselves as outliers and visionaries leads to an excess of surplus content creaking under the weight of overcooked conceptual delirium.  

This point extends beyond the sheer volume of material these artists have released, (Esoctrilihum are on album ten in seven years, averaging well over an hour a pop between them) or the convoluted thematic universe cluttering their work. These features certainly function as bright florescent warning signs that a poison lurks beneath the packaging even before one hits play.

But Esoctrilihum’s overestimation of their own significance is more apparent for the fact that they always appear on the point of unleashing a grandiose statement of cinematic, experimental extreme metal, but are never quite able to cohere the mental image of their music into a holistic, tight, focused artistic vision with deeper resonance for an audience. To be vulgar, we are forever on the point of orgasm, only to never arrive at a satisfactory completion.

Esoctrilihum are perhaps the worst offenders in this regard. Having crafted a compelling, angular take on dark, understated symphonic black metal that borrows heavily from the drama of blackened doom and the technical prowess of regal death metal a-la Septic Flesh, their work since the turn of the decade reads more like a set of hastily scribbled post-it notes after a prolonged fever dream. A dream that perhaps held internal logic at the moment of experience, but the logic quickly dissolves upon contact with reality, leaving only disconnected images, and concepts that look compelling on the surface, but melt into incoherence upon closer inspection.

‘Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac’, as a three part album centred around some tediously overcooked space adventure from the mind of Asthaghul, is both a continuation of this artisanal degeneracy and a vast expansion of it. It’s worth noting two facts about this album, both of which can be concurrently true.

  1. This is a finely crafted, well executed piece of broadly symphonic atmospheric black/death metal.
  2. This is an endless tome of confused vignettes clusters, unfinished riff sequences, and contextless ephemera.

How is this so? Each track boasts at least one compelling melody (often more), an engaging riff, or idiosyncratic theme. But surrounding these attention grabbing moments is a surfeit of inexplicable compositional choices we could charitably describe as “ill fitting”, to the point that the experience of listening to ‘Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac’ is akin to skipping through a playlist covering five decades of metal music on shuffle. From surplus thrash chugging, to hastily inserted tech-death, to tonally jarring hints of folk metal.

This is not experimentation, this is an artist in dire need of an editor and arranger. Someone to comb through every idea sprung from the deranged mind of Asthaghul and ruthlessly chop away the fat. Then for someone else to organise the remaining material into a serviceable sonic representation of whatever tedious cosmic fantasy narrative Asthaghul insists on inflicting us with.

The problem with Esoctrilihum’s music is Asthaghul himself. A taut, quality album of eccentric extreme metal of – perhaps modest – experimental import sits somewhere beneath the obfuscated mulch of ‘Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac’. Like David within the marble (or maybe not something quite so epoch defining), we await, yet again, for the emergence of an artistic vision worthy of the name, we await our moment of orgasmic climax. And the main obstacle to Esoctrilihum ever realising this moment is Esoctrilihum itself (and this point extends to many of the other modern bastions of orchestral, experimental extreme metal).

Dødssanger: Reflection of a Wretched Soul
Out 12th May on House of Ygra

Vietnamese DSBM inserts itself into the narrative of the genre at the point of its transition from early ambient black metal to an explicitly depressive artistic endeavour via post 2000s USBM. Think I Shalt Become circa ‘Requiem’ and ‘The Pendle Witch Trials’, or early Leviathan through the lens of antecedents such as Judas Iscariot, Krieg, and of course Burzum. Dødssanger make repetition their focus and goal in life on ‘Reflection of a Wretched Soul’, and once one resigns themselves to this fact the experience can become surprisingly meditative.

Despite the pedigree of its influences, the mix on this album is notably bright and clear, by the standards of the genre at least. The guitar tone, whilst trebly and distorted to fuck, lacks the swirling inertia of Xasthur, instead opting for bright, sharp textures that – if anything – only augment the monomaniacal motivations behind these repetitions. This clear yet rich undercurrent of static leaves room for clean arpeggios to cut through the mix, adding lyrical and emotive depth to an otherwise sparse picture.

Slow, plodding drums sit beneath, and – whilst they largely stick to linear metronomic pulses – offer a groundswell of earthy depth to the mix via peripheral bass pulses and an assertive snare. Vocals stick with a fairly straightforward black metal style, controlled, monstrous, they approach the emotive context of depressive black metal from a point of acceptance, a resignation already reconciling itself to a state of acute despair, now ready to process this at an intellectual level.

‘Reflection of a Wretched Soul’ may be sparse, circular, its musical developments achingly incremental, but there is purpose and forward motion to these pieces. Once one adjusts to the cyclical structure, accepting riffs as drawn out ruminations on a single state of mind, only occasionally transitioning into a new phase, at this point the psyche begins to settle into the groove of the music with ease, and submit to the drab gloom.

But whilst the focus appears to be on establishing this character, Dødssanger do offer developmental material. A basic shift in pitch, doubling the tempo, overlayers of minimalist harmony, all basic techniques yet highly effective in expanding the aesthetic surroundings of the album given its explicit austerity. A work that seeks to eek out new terrain and meaning from a subgenre often dismissed as a dead end for black metal. By supplementing a finely crafted mood music with subtle evolutions, DSBM retains its purpose without sacrificing its fanatically glum ethos.

Black Spells: Transcend to Ascend
Out 5th May, self-released

Mournful delicacy meets raw aggression on the debut EP from LA’s Black Spells. Black metal at its most melodic and reflective is expressed through a no thrills package of DIY garage band aesthetics. That being said, the production is sharp enough to allow Black Spells to add choppy tempo changes and expressive staccato punches to supplement the ethereal, almost cathartic elements of reflective black metal.

Drums boast a clear yet organic sheen, grounding the music in a sense of punk realism, offsetting the peripheral mysticism that pervades throughout these tracks. The guitar is raw, but relatively full bodied by traditionalist black metal standards. Despite the demo quality, this is not a work of raw or vampiric black metal. The intent is more toward a direct, uncluttered presentation of creativity within the confines of familiarity. Vocals are reminiscent of Neill Jameson for their mixture of high emotional content of an explicitly human core combined with the suppression of this individual self in favour of transcendent spiritualism.

Black Spells make much of their traditionalist credentials. And whilst it’s certainly true that one will find scant novelty here, there is much to be said for finding a voice and identity on terrain oft dismissed as derivative. They combine elements of primitivist black metal, old school thrash, and some basic death metal interchanges to supplement the central thread of frigid, mournful black metal of a surprisingly meditative ethos. And through this intersection they find scope for intrigue, expression, and character despite the prima facie derivation of this work.

Each track offers a clearly defined central melodic thread, a motif of reassurance collided against atonality, or ascensions of ambiguous resolution. But Black Spells always bring the music back to a sense of catharsis, of rest, through a disciplined melodic and dramatic character that proves to be the lasting impact left on the listener as the chaos resolves itself.

2 thoughts on “Beats and yelling from: Esoctrilihum, Dødssanger, Black Spells

Add yours

  1. Assigning so much more to esoctrilihum than has ever been implied by the artist themselves. Seems to me the reviewer has a far more skewed view of reality.


    1. Hi Someone, thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve attempted to assess the artist on the merit of their recorded output and the conceptual material it’s wrapped in, I can’t speak to
      Asthaghul’s private assessment of the significance of his work, but I think we can make a judgement on the output of Esoctrilihum on it’s own terms here.

      Out of interest, could you maybe elaborate on how I’m being unfair here?


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