Review Summary: a paragon indeed.
As one of the leading and most consistent funeral doom bands from the 90's, it seems only natural that Esoteric will one day falter. They came close with their fourth album, Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum
, which played out as a very samey and derivative record in many ways, but somehow still managed to pull out a record at least above average, sometimes bordering on the greatness Esoteric have established over the years. But that is as close as they've ever come, and with Esoteric's latest album Paragon of Dissonance
, it looks like it might be a long time yet until that reality will come to pass. Make no mistake, despite Paragon of Dissonance
not quite being the brilliance that this band have been known to achieve, it is a truly excellent album and a stellar addition to an already unbelievable back catalog of absolutely superb albums. It's an ambitious, consistent absorbing experience from start to finish - well, mostly. Where the quality of the material here never hits the mark of the best material that this band have set before, this is perhaps the most consistent album they've done yet, just about every track being as good as the last, guaranteeing you a positive experience if you enjoyed one track.
Not only that but Paragon of Dissonance
doesn't try to re-create any aesthetic the band have performed before. Yes, the staples of Esoteric are definitely here, thank goodness - but Esoteric deliver them in a different tone. This record, far from the suffocating and warm nature of The Maniacal Vale
, offers a much clearer and cold tone, the clarity and cleanliness of the mix shining through very strongly. In many ways this would turn an avid funeral doom listener off, or at least those who were intoxicated by the suffocating nature of the band's previous albums - me included. But Esoteric have a way of making it sound heavy and pummeling nonetheless. Far from Ahab's attempt at a cleaner sound, Paragon of Dissonance
is a leviathan of both proportion and sheer sound. But it's a different kind of heaviness, a heaviness accentuated by the change in songwriting. Just about every track on Paragon of Dissonance
rely on some of the most satisfying builds and climaxes that this band have ever performed. Far away from the continuous crushing wave that is The Pernicious Enigma
for instance, Paragon of Dissonance
is far more dynamic - almost inhaling and exhaling at every given opportunity like a breathing entity. The last album hinted at this, but this album builds every composition based on it, being successful most of the time.
Starting at the very beginning, the latter half of the first track "Abandonment" is a fantastic example of where this works brilliantly. The brilliant and captivating lead guitars that Esoteric have made into one of their leading instrumental trademarks are here in full force, and used in a way that makes the builds both sound unique and captivating. They layer on and on until we have a thick mix of tension and rising dynamics until one of the most satisfying moments of Esoteric's career simply explodes from the tension they built so well - the heavy, energetic and pummeling climax ringing out for a good couple of minutes until it dissolves into a wave of noise and static. Though perhaps a better example of where this works the best, it certainly isn't the only one - tracks like "Non Being" being similarly as satisfying before turning into a cryptically slow and fairly crushing funeral doom epic right after for more or less the remainder of the song. This building/exploding idea is the most prominent songwriting technique displayed in the second disc entirely, each piece here ascending and descending several times in their lengths - all of these pieces around the 15 minute mark leaving plenty of time to captivate you, and it will.
It is definitely true, however, that none of these brilliant moments quite hit the brilliance of Esoteric's past works. The bone-chilling transition from the sample to the crushing wave of doom in "Allegiance" from their early days, or the quite frankly amazing build at the beginning of "Circle" from the last album. That's not to say there's a bad track here, there isn't - every track here has its merits and is excellent in its own way. The pacing of this album only accentuates the brilliance behind it, too. Rather than an album with scattered moments that hit you hard, this album is an experience that you get lost in due to its consistency and control. It's obviously a help that all the performances here are just as good as they've always been - the vocalist Greg Chandler delivering an evoking yet atmospheric performance of his powerful yet oddly airy vocal style. His range is as impressive as it has been over the past few albums, perhaps better - perfectly transitioning between screams and growls that have their own unique and signature sound and adding a whole new shade to the overall mood. His voice alone is truly an asset to the band, not to mention his guitarwork, honestly coming across as one of the best frontmen in doom metal - period. The best bit is he doesn't overshadow the talents of the rest of the band, the bass never being too low or too far from hearing range, the drums knowing just what to do and just at the right time. Every moment here polished to perfection, intricate and atmospheric, both in equal measures.
But for me, at least, the lack of the suffocating and crushing atmosphere holds me back from holding this album as one of their best, despite everything about it being excellent. That definitely isn't to say it's a step down, far from it and quite the opposite. Paragon of Dissonance
is an experiment gone right, despite abandoning what is considered to be one of this band's saving graces, still coming out with something distinctive, impressive and refreshing at the same time. It's such a relief to see a driving force behind funeral doom's conception still innovating nearly 2 decades on, the quality coming before all else. There aren't many bands out there who could ever hope to match Esoteric's discography, and this album only serves to solidify that fact - and even that is a formidable feat. The paragons of their trade, Esoteric keep on delivering - let's hope they don't plan on stopping any time soon. :]