Esoctrilihum – Eternity of Shaog Review

There are a couple ways artists find success. One is to have their fingers on the pulse of a particular scene and create something very of its time and place. Capturing the zeitgeist is hard to do, but when a band releases that quintessential album of their decade/generation/chosen style, they tend to be richly rewarded. Think Nirvana‘s Nevermind. The other way is to lean hard into one’s idiosyncrasies, follow a muse no matter how weird and somehow turn out something that speaks to others. Hence, Captain Beefheart. Again, doing it successfully is hard. In the sprawling ecosystem of contemporary metal record labels, I, Voidhanger acts are generally interested in the latter. Anyone familiar with France’s one man black/death weirdo project Esoctrilihum knows that primary member Asthâghul is the kind of singularly driven musician who can’t help but vomit out an hour-plus album of eccentric, labyrinthine darkness every 12 months or less. While some in the underground metalverse have praised his output since day one, our own coverage has been a bit more tepid. Does fifth full-length Eternity of Shaog change that trend?

The broad strokes of Eternity of Shaog aren’t much different than last year’s The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods. This is knotted, compositionally restless metal that falls just on the death side of blackened death. It’s long, though at 62 minutes, relatively less so than The Telluric Ashes’ 75 minutes. The earmarks of past Esoctrilihum releases are all here: a variety of guitar tones within densely layered tracks containing synths and the odd violin alongside Asthâghul’s anguished dry rasps and halting bark. However, the difference in these elements’ deployment becomes instantly clear on first track “Orthal,” with an opening riff that forgoes the usual murky swirl of past releases for a much more direct, fist-pumping blast and a melody that’s almost uplifting. Taken as a whole album, this directness, one might say accessibility, is more a tweak than drastic course change for Asthâghul, but it threads through every track on Eternity of Shaog, complimenting the denser material and elevating the whole.

This isn’t the only way Asthâghul has improved his counterpoint game. The draw of Esoctrilihum has always been the feeling of claustrophobic madness,1 and while there have always been moments of melody and relative clarity rising out of the milieu, they are often only legible on multiple listens. Those moments are amplified here. I hesitate to use the word symphonic, as that term in regards to metal is not a positive association for me, but it’s apt when describing the soaring synth passages in “Exh-Enî Söph (1st Passage: Exiled From Sanity)”2 or the horn sections in “Shayr-Thàs (6th Passage: Walk The Oracular Way),” which lend solemnity and punctuation to the frantic blasts. Adding to this instrumental variety is the harp-like kantele. Esoctrilihum has used it before, but its role is greatly expanded here. A criticism from my review of The Telluric Ashes… was that it was fatiguing and “provide[d] no surfaces on which to perch and rest.” The moments on Eternity of Shaog when kantele cuts through the din like a light beam—see “Exh-Enî Söph” or “Thritônh (2nd Passage: The Colour Of Death)”—are precisely the kind of rests I was looking for, as are the more direct riffs in the second half of the title track, or the violins on “Aylowenn Aela (3rd Passage: The Undying Citadel).”

There is, however, one lingering criticism I leveled at the last album that has not changed in any meaningful way. I don’t see the material here, improved as it is, justifying the hour-plus runtime. At this point, it seems a truth self-evident that Asthâghul is so full of ideas he may never be able to master the skill of ruthless editing. The marathon nature of his work may help the listener get lost in the narrative world of his elder gods and their ever twisting madness, but it keeps the latter half of Eternity of Shaog from lingering in the memory, given how much dense, difficult music there is to process.

You may notice this review comes well after the fact of the album’s release by normal AMG standards. Current global and local events have upended a lot of our schedules, but thankfully the editors agreed to let me run this late. Eternity of Shaog sees a promising talent in the metal underground hitting his stride for—in my humble opinion—the first time. This is another win for I, Voidhanger records as well as for esoteric French metal. 

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Releases Worldwide: May 22nd, 2020

Show 2 footnotes
  1. Indeed the stated theme of Eternity of Shaog is possession by ancient gods succumbing to delusion and delirium.
  2. Yes, the cumbersome song titles persist.
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