Review Summary: Esoctrilihum's most eclectic offering to date might also be his best.
There are some things you can always count on Esoctrilihum for: an LP every year (sometimes two), beautifully orchestrated chaos with synths occasionally poking through the blackened death metal smog, Asthâghul's trademark demonic snarls, and brazen creativity that doesn't alter the project's core DNA. Esoctrilihum is prolific enough to never leave listeners' collective radar while the music constantly engages unfamiliar territory – a formula that has allowed Asthâghul to accumulate something of a cult following.
Esoctrilihum's ninth LP upholds Asthâghul's standards in typically reliable fashion, but it's also the biggest boundary-pusher of the bunch. Funeral
is more spacious and somber than prior works, even prominently featuring his rarely heard clean vocals. The album swirls through hazey doom-like passages and Celtic/folk melodies while seamlessly integrating them into Esoctrilihum's established sound. In theory, it's the closest Asthâghul has come to changing the the project's overall course, but it's still unmistakably Esoctrilihum in a way that feels satisfyingly true-to-form.
wastes no time letting fans know what they're in for, with the eponymous opener launching Asthâghul into his haunting clean verses only a little more than four minutes in. Somehow his cleans seem even more unsettling than his barks and snarls, and as the opener gorgeously unfurls into its lengthy doom soundscape we're treated to an eerie blend of powerful drum fills, synths/organs, and Asthâghul's visceral growls. It's the perfect tone-setter for Funeral
– a piece that unsurprisingly plays hard-to-get when it comes to the genre compartmentalizing game.
'Annobathysm' begins like a course correction for anyone alienated by the opener, arriving in a similar vein as 'Baahl Duthr' from 2021's Dy'th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath
or basically all of 2022's aggressively forthright Consecration of the Spiritus Flesh
. Despite hinting towards being an uncompromising banger, the song uncovers added depth across its sprawling second half, replete with additional clean vocal melodies (which even approach 'infectious' around the 7:45 mark), maniacal drumming, and a synth surge near the track's semi-abrupt conclusion. At this point, it's evident that Funeral
was designed to extend Esoctrilihum's sonic reach, a goal that he seems to achieve from the record's onset.
As the album progresses, it continues to reveal itself to be a conscious inverse of last year's Spiritus Flesh
, opting for elaborate song structures, depth, and nuance over naked aggression, rawness, and simplicity. 'Thürldaesu' takes us on a fifteen minute odyssey which navigates breathtaking vocal/synth harmonies and terrifying amalgamations of instrumental brutality, while 'Pact' reveals Funeral
's subtle layers and overarching complexity by way of its quietly twisting riffs, rich symphonic components, and Asthâghul hitting just about every level of his vocal range. The penultimate 'Aïthaith' is perhaps the heaviest moment here thanks to the intensity of the drumming and the visceral screams/snarls that span the song's entire length. From one track to the next, Esoctrilihum refuses to settle into a groove, always exposing a new wrinkle in his musical fabric to keep listeners invested from start to finish. In a way that's what Asthâghul has always done, but here the experimentalism feels even more magnified. On past endeavors, it seemed like Esoctrilihum had an established home base and enjoyed the feeling of exploration; here, it's as if these creative impulses are doing all of the driving.
By the record's conclusion, you'll be left with the strange sensation of having been entranced, alienated, and disoriented all at once. Funeral
covers a lot of ground and boasts a rather lengthy runtime, but it's worth immersing yourself in at least a few times whether you're a newcomer or a steadfast Asthâghul disciple. This may be the project's ninth full-length effort in less than six years, but it's hardly "just another Escoctrilihum album" (if there is such a thing in the first place). If you need proof in short order, just cut right to the concluding 'Païthas' to hear Asthâghul going full Celtic with a nyckelharpa and kantele. Funeral
is easily the most eclectic and sonically adventurous Esoctrilihum offering yet; whether or not it is his best
will depend on how much you vibe with the changes on display here. At the very least, it marks an expanded arsenal for one of the busiest and most underrated frontmen in metal.