Review Summary: Esoteric are the undeniable and unparalleled masters of 90s doom metal. Epistemological Despondency is a true classic that needs to be heard by all.
Esoteric are a painfully excellent doom metal band, incorporating elements of various styles, always being extremely creative, original and bizarre, and never releasing a remotely bad album. Their legacy began in 1993 with the release of their "The Death of Ignorance" tape under the name Esoteric Emotions, which encapsulated many key aspects of their style. But this style wouldn't be fully realized until their monumental debut album, 1994's "Epistemological Despondency".
Although they're frequently labeled as funeral doom, Esoteric are moreso a death/doom metal band played at intensely slow paces with strange and experimental aspects. Unlike the weepy and soft bands that are dubbed "funeral doom" nowadays (Evoken, Mournful Congregation, Pantheist, etc.) Esoteric deliver the goods with heavy, sluggish, bizarre and interesting music without using samples of rain falling with mournful piano breaks and operatic female vocals. Honestly, that funeral doom and "atmospheric" death/doom that's constantly related to Esoteric is the worst *** out there.
Anyhow, what we get with this album is low heavy chords ringing out at super sluggish paces. Since the band uses three guitar players at once, typically there will be at least one lead going on. These alternate between strange sounds with effects put on them to slow and eerie melodies over the plodding rhythms. The vocals are very unique and add a lot to the atmosphere of the music. Singer Greg Chandler has a lot of range and alternates between low death metal grunts and super high screams ringing out with effects over them (often meshing in with guitar effects and synthesizer sounds to create a strange cacophony). The drums are well played and follow the usually very slow rhythm. Rather than just bashing one gruesomely slow beat for the whole album they do vary with different fills and patterns. The bass is largely hidden behind the distortion of three guitars, but in the very heavy low end parts it certainly adds to that sub-end filth. Also it should be mentioned that the album isn't completely snail-paced. For instance, following the 20-minute opener "Bereft" we get a roughly 2 minute quick death metal song "Only Hate (Baresark)" (just about every Esoteric release briefly splinters into a speedy aggressive song).
The overall composition of songs (handled primarily by singer/guitarist Greg Chandler) is particularly of note. Every aspect of the music seems meticulously orchestrated, and it flows with the precision of classical music, albeit much darker and filthier. With three guitars, bass, drums, strange synth effects and highly variable vocals, each aspect of the music is arranged just perfectly (this quality is seen throughout Esoteric's entire discography). The album is very captivating and powerful, and not an endeavor to be taken lightly (clocking in at around 88 minutes, it will at the very least consume a lot of your time).
The sound production is also noteworthy. The sound is extremely dull, low end, warm and crushing (as with their 1993 demo tape and their 1997 follow-up "The Pernicious Enigma"). This sound can be largely attributed to the use of analog equipment, and while more recent Esoteric releases are still great, they don't match that perfect nostalgic tone.
Esoteric are one of my all-time favourite bands, and certainly my favourite of the 90s doom metal scene (which contains many greats such as Unholy and diSEMBOWELMENT). I would dare to say "Epistemological Despondency" is their overall best album, but every time I listen to the 1997 follow-up "The Pernicious Enigma" I change my mind. The early sound of Esoteric is unparalleled and in most conceivable ways perfect. While taking on the sound of the "second wave" of doom metal they also endeavored to push it in new directions and create some of the most excellently strange and heavy music to date. I very very very strongly recommend this to any fan of modern doom metal (death/doom, funeral doom, etc), and really any fan of death metal or metal at all. If you haven't already heard this and you're into underground metal in any capacity you're ***ed, really. Get it now, I urge you!