Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence Review

Funeral doom must be the most impenetrable iteration of extreme metal. The genre’s painfully protracted process either engrosses or evades the listener entirely with its inevitable crawl and morose mass. Cherd of Doom and I are blood-bound for the cause where as “metalheads” like Holdeneye harbor a taste to offend the soul. This lack of middle ground has been exploited to great effect by many bands over the years, but the fittingly named Esoteric take the proverbial cake. The Brits’ particular brand of doom is about as challenging as it gets and wields an entire weather system of psychedelic textures and thunderous passages. A Pyrrhic Existence arrives after an eight year absence and is absolutely no exception. But what may represent the tedious inevitability of an unloved season to some, might just be perfection to others.

Long-form metal can often represent a challenge to quantify. It’s easy to imply gravitas with slow pace and ringing chords, but the proof lies in the writing. If you’re of a mind to do so, the best way to approach Esoteric is to consider their work as close to traditional theater as possible. The material’s depth and span collides with the authors’ compositional intent in the same way a play divides a lifetime into requisite acts. A Pyrrhic Existence is another double-disc experience whose first song clocks in at just under twenty-eight minutes. “Descent” is the best self-contained doom metal EP of the year and shrugs off the potential tedium with unnerving ease. To trivialize such a hefty track is no mean feat, but it’s apparent brevity and immersive quality is surely the finest commendation I can give such an inaccessible genre.

Any funeral doom record worth its salt requires a narrative to provide structure. “Descent” revels in lilting leads and introspective soundscapes but is consistently anchored by tumultuous doom. The song acts as an immaculate microcosm of the entire album, which soon bleeds smoothly into the melancholic fugue of “Rotting in Dereliction.” Greg Chandler’s vocals walk hand in hand with the music’s dramatic state, matching guttural lows and pained highs with the relevant instrumentation. A Pyrrhic Existence makes a point to play with tempo, so it’s no surprise when the song reaches fever pitch with blastbeats and a particularly emotive solo. During the album’s second half, the guitar work – shared by Chandler, Gordon Bicknell and Jim Nolan -becomes more robust. “Consuming Lies” quakes with the permanence of the Finnish death/doom bands. The huge riffing provides a memorable anchor for the entire record. By the time A Pyrrhic Existence nears its exhaustive end, I feel like I’ve borne silent witness to a mental breakdown. And that’s exactly what the album is: a collection of debilitating episodes that commence, peak and fade with lasting consequence.

Albums as vast as A Pyrrhic Existence are definitively situational. There is nothing casual about a ninety-eight minute run-time and therefore represents a divisive experience. For those listeners who contend with lesser attention spans or just prefer a more straight-forward flogging, a new release by Esoteric probably won’t even register. To some, the mesmeric “Antim Yatra” might appear indulgent. Such an extensive album could certainly bear some editing and this instrumental aside feels like the perfect candidate. But to call it superfluous would be a mistake. It neatly transitions the album’s halves and provides an unnerving calm before the inevitable storm. “Culmination,” with its array of Oldpeth-adjacent riffing and frantic soloing, wouldn’t be the same without the contrast. Equally, closer “Sick and Tired” couldn’t be as clear in its resignation without the necessary context.

A Pyrrhic Existence may not quite match the tenebrous magnificence of The Maniacal Veil or even Ataraxie‘s Résignés, but it remains another stunning entry in a consistently powerful discography. Esoteric are masters of the long-form technique; now, more than ever, they represent the creative potential of a genre so mired in impatient perception. A Pyrrhic Existence yearns to be absorbed and those with the necessary mettle will experience an admittedly overlong record. But one teeming with deceptive musicality and emotionally intelligent entropy. In a year so well populated with doom, from the epic to the gothic, be sure to follow the funeral march. Especially as it strides atop list season.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 8th, 2019

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