In 2015 I reviewed the sophomore album from Swedish post-metallers The Moth Gatherer (TMG). It’s an album on which I dwelt somewhat and their name is an amusingly evocative one for me. I affectionately refer to them as The Moth Botherer with an accompanying internal image of a child wielding an old-school bug catcher trying to swipe moths from the air. Indeed, this portmanteau and rhyme generator recently unveiled to me generated the genius fusion of ‘Chrysolicit’. There’s a lot to be said for an imagination-inducing title so it was with interest that I approached Esoteric Oppression. Is the oppression esoteric? Is it oppression of the esoteric? So many questions, not the least of which is whether it represents a worthy release.
Esoteric Oppression very much sounds like ‘classic’ post rock but with the sorts of additions which elevates ordinary rock into ordinary metal; that is, meatier riffs and heavier vocals. The riffs are less doom-influenced than previously and slightly more proggy, landing somewhere near The Ocean but with fewer hooks, whereas the hardcore-inflected roars and shouts recall Josh Middleton of Sylosis. Long-form compositions characterize the song-writing; layers of guitars and programmed synths continually add to, and peel away from, the songs which gradually unfurl over 5 tracks which average over 8 minutes a piece. Layers in these songs fluctuate between not just melodies and rhythms within those layers but the numbers of layer themselves. Esoteric Oppression can be simple and thematic but also complex and knotty, which means there’s a lot of get your head around on the first few listens. It certainly takes time to embed and more is gleaned from extended sessions with it.
The key issue is truly committing your attention to such extended sessions. Although the record is best appreciated when actively unpicking the layers and observing how they interweave, the total effect is too gradual and almost droning such that detailed observations in the moment-to-moment are difficult to maintain. It appears that a trance-like overall impression is sought by TMG above the immediate impact of attention-grabbing techniques. However, the music is insufficiently atmospheric or emotive to satisfactorily execute this and also too leisurely in pace to be hooky. Long introductions and conclusions abound, as do hypnotic repetition of guitar leads and synths. I wouldn’t consider that I’m a ‘typical’ ADD-afflicted Millennial incapable of focusing for any length of time. For example, I like the artful nothingness of Samuel Beckett and the subtle electronica of Witxes. But the likes of “Phosphorescent Blight” are simply too slow and insufficiently engaging across too much time to enjoy.
“Phosphorescent Blight” demonstrates the worst of this feeling. I was shocked at the capacity of my brain to leap to something, anything, more engaging than it. To name 3 examples, my nails, the folds in my clothes and the dirt on my window were firm favorites during my ‘dedicated’ listens. It’s compounded by running for over 11 minutes as the closer; the record finishes limply and forgettably. I don’t mean to suggest that the remainder of the record of the record is great by comparison; sure, some riffs are decent, some electronic melodies good, and some of the denser arrangements work impressively, but my overall response is one of general lethargy. I mentioned earlier that extended (and, indeed, repeated) listening sessions benefit Esoteric Oppression as some familiarity will enable you to pick out the more interesting elements, but I must qualify this with the fact that even repeated listens do not ultimately yield anything special. Repeated listens will improve the experience but not to a level where I can really recommend it.
TMG have crafted an album which is far from terrible but also far from essential. I accept that die-hard post-genre aficionados may glean more from the knotty, dynamic compositions but the overarching dreariness invoked is simply not conducive to a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable 43 minutes. At least their name will always raise a smile for me.