Editing is a big part of the creative process that few non-creators see. For every song set to record, there are others that remain demos or are simply never recorded. For every painting in a gallery, others sit in storage or are scraped away to salvage a canvas.1 Novelists work with editors before their books hit the shelves, and this is after they’ve already narrowed down their own ideas. When a band announces a new album in consecutive years, it’s reasonable to worry that whatever they’ve been baking is still doughy in the middle. So when I saw that the mad Frenchman behind blackened death metal project Esoctrilihum was set to release his FOURTH MOTHERFORKING ALBUM SINCE 2017, I was dubious. It’s not generally advisable to go into a review looking for a specific problem, but I must admit Asthâghul’s prolific streak combined with The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods‘ girthy 75-minute run time had me mentally checking the “has trouble editing” box even before I hit play.
Arriving courtesy of I, Voidhanger Records, The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods is a claustrophobic concoction of black and death metal from a singular view point. This is dense, occasionally dissonant music full of discomfort, but also long on melodies and textures roiling just under the surface. Asthâghul’s vocals alternate between death growl and clenched teeth hiss, but their distinguishing characteristic is his often halting, chant-like delivery. Lyrics are delivered in multiple languages, but the end result often sounds like Klingon. It’s fitting, since I can easily picture Worf and General Martok drunkenly trashing a holosuite to Esoctrilihum. Songs like advance single “Kros Ö Vrth” nicely illustrate the album’s tenuous stylistic balance with its death-heavy front half and black metal ending. There are one or two straight death metal tracks, notably “Aborted Sun,” but these don’t play to Asthâghul’s strengths. More successful are the crunchy guitars and frenetic drumming that inject thrashy diversity into songs like “Thar-Voknargh.”
The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods reveals its intricacies slowly. There are countless surprising tremolo melodies and subtle timing shifts lurking in the oppressive murk, making this an album that richly rewards repeat close listens. For instance, the second half of “Kros Ö Vrth” shifts from classic echoing tremolo to dissonant blast to galloping riff and ends on a lilting, otherworldly guitar line. Many of the best moments arrive late in the album. The one-two punch of “Black Hole Entrance” and “Black Hole Exit” deals in the kind of pitch dark terrorscapes that call to mind Dodecahedron. “Inexorable Plague of Time” features perhaps the most memorable melody and a thrashy punch that keeps the track ripping along, while closer “Torment of Death” places Esoctrilihum squarely in the European black metal zeitgeist with a constantly evolving nine minute epic that earns its sprawling run time.
Speaking of run time, let’s revisit my previous concerns about editing. To paraphrase an anonymous member of our staff, it’s a burden being right all the time, yo. The 75 minutes of The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods provide no surfaces on which to perch and rest. While each song offers something to like, many are of such similar shape and consistency in sound and composition that if one or two were cut, they wouldn’t be missed. On a track by track level, “Invisible Manifestation of Delirium God”—let’s face it, these titles could also use editing—gives us five solid minutes of good ideas in eight minutes of song, and it isn’t the only one that feels padded.
Asthâghul’s uncommonly prolific output shows a creatively restless mind and enough talent to be a big fucking deal in the blackened corners of the extreme metal community, but it is entirely possible to render something great merely good through oversupply. The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods is full of tasty brutality and terrific terror, but Esoctrilihum could take a lesson from Michelangelo and learn to remove every bit of marble that isn’t David.