Review Summary: Even with the departure of a founding member, The Moth Gatherer pull off a rare three-peat on their third studio album.
For most of their short-lived career, Sweden’s The Moth Gatherer has been a band that you listen to mainly because they embody the most endearing qualities of the post/sludge-metal genre. You don’t listen to them because they are groundbreaking or innovative, they simply appeal to what most post-metal fans flock to: crushing walls of sound, distortion and heaviness in heaps, and impeccable attention to the pacing of tracks to induce atmosphere. And they’re quite good at it, despite my harping on their unoriginality. Their debut A Bright Celestial Light
was essentially an incredibly well-done Cult of Luna worship album. It’s not hard to imagine why as they’re from the same country. That album nailed the droney passage’s their post-metal forefathers are known for with a little experimentation into electronics. Follow-up The Earth is the Sky
took that synth-driven aspect and further expanded into it, with songs like “Dyatlov Pass” that were virtually all-electronic. There were even some moments on that album brimming with black metal influence (see “The Black Antlers”). This penchant for electronics is where the band has carved what little niche they could into the genre to make them distinctive. It was interesting to see where they’d take their sound now in 2019, especially since they went through a crucial lineup change in between their 2016 EP and now. Co-founding member Alex Stjernfeldt announced his departure in-between writing and Dan Hemgren has replaced him on bass duties, although Alex was still involved in writing lyrics on the new album.
is the album where The Moth Gatherer truly perfect that balance between heaviness, melodic post-rock and overall patience in their songwriting. The influence of old post-metal greats is still here both figuratively and literally, as Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna) does have mastering duties on this latest album. The band really opts for more drawn-out structures to the songs. Opener “The Drone Kingdom” is perhaps the most patience-testing of the bunch, with a hypnotic and plodding riff to start the song and a leaning towards stretched-out build-ups in the middle sections. That focus I mentioned on electronics bridging the gaps between passages is more present than ever and there’s even a haunting and beautiful female vocal contribution in the back half (provided by Messy Mathi of BARST). “Utopia” also uses this approach in a more upfront manner, launching itself with a distorted, almost grunge-like riff and stretches its capacity to a six-minute runtime, bringing it back just when you think things will remain subdued. Because of this tactic, the vocals are more relied upon to bring energy into the songs. Fortunately, sole remaining founder and vocalist Victor Wegeborn is up to the task and songs like this and “The Failure Design” showcase him testing the limits of his vocal chords in astounding fashion.
There’s also plenty for longtime fans to soak up. Lead single “Motionless in Oceania” continues their welcome inclusion of electronics, mixing them seamlessly with tasty riffs that bounce between Victor’s bellowing roars and surplus of synths. “Phosphorescent Blight” is a fantastic closing track to the album, imbuing this majestic and trance-like atmosphere that harkens back to Cult of Luna’s more modernized sound they had on 2013’s Vertikal
. Victor’s roars also recall a young Scott Kelly (Neurosis). This closer is clear post-metal fan service at its finest.
follows the typical arc that maturing post-metal bands tend to take during their lifespan: that is, a diversion away from immediacy and towards balance. Some listeners will notice the heaviness is not quite the same. It doesn’t envelop and consume you like past releases. Listen to their earlier LPs with a good pair of headphones and it’ll feel like the heaviness swallows you. In the early days of the genre, most bands were focused on pummeling listeners like that (think albums like Celestial
, Enemy of the Sun
, or Cult of Luna’s first two albums). Then, bands started to work with the dynamics and pacing of their albums, balancing things out with softer post-rock passages that progress to heavy ones. Now you had albums like Somewhere Along the Highway
, The Eye of Every Storm
, or In the Absence of Truth
coming out. Those latter albums are what I’d say Esoteric Oppression
resembles the most and in some ways, that enveloping sense of heaviness is missed here. But what it is being replaced with shines in its own bright way, showcasing a band that wants to do more than just be heavy. And now we have another stunning album by one of post-metals more consistent modern ambassadors, and one of the best releases out of the genre you’ll likely hear all year.