Esoctrilihum – Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh (I, Voidhanger)
Having released seven full-length records in the span of five years, if the word prolific does not describe Esoctrilihum then I do not know what does. Since 2017, the solo project of Asthâghul has been exploring the cosmically inclined, progressive edge of black metal. What defines Esoctrilihum is the aspiration, a necessity to stretch the notion of extreme music further. With this as a driving force, Asthâghul has produced excellent works, with 2020’s Eternity of Shaog standing out. Now, Esoctrilihum return once again to plunge the world in their celestial darkness.
Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh is an interesting step forward for Esoctrilihum. For one, it is the act’s shortest work, clocking in just over 40 minutes. This is actually a huge step forward for Asthâghul. In the past, it has felt like Esoctrilihum were trying to fit too much into their scope, which at times came across as a lack of focus. That is not the case here. From the blackened blaze of glory that introduces the record in “Spiritüs Flesh,” this intense ride never loses its grid. The interstellar journey is highlighted by a black/death brutality, at times overtly technical as with “Tharseîdhon” and others purely primal in the likes of “Therth” and “Shohih”. What is also different here is that for most of Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh it is the dissonance that defines the work. Sure, certain melodic inclinations do appear, leading to grand moments like “Sydtg” and closer “Aath,” but they are held at bay.
What is even more impressive is the incorporation of Esoctrilihum’s experimental tendencies within this scope. Simple additions such as clean vocals provide a mystical essence to the proceedings, while at the same time certain psychedelic tendencies make this trip that much darker. A touch of an industrial side with “Tharseîdhon” and even more in “Scaricide” go a long way, while the seamless incorporation of the saxophone in the opening track and “Therth” projects the extreme metal self into a space of higher dimensionality. Everything is possible here due to the intense focus that Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh retains, and that was the missing piece for Esoctrilihum to move to the next level. – Spyros Stasis
Final Light – Final Light (Red Creek)
Originally conceived as a live project for Roadburn, Final Light is the collaboration of two heavyweights in James Kent (Perturbator) and Johannes Persson (Cult of Luna). The first impression might be that this sounds like a strange mix. On one hand the electronic foundations and post-punk extension of Kent, and then the sludge-informed, post-metallic grandeur of Persson. But still, not only can these two worlds co-exist, but they fit perfectly on top of one another.
There is a common thread that runs through the works of Perturbator and Cult of Luna. Both acts are rooted on an atmospheric foundation. So, when the initial ambient openings of “Nothing Will Bear Your Name” come in, this ambient realm takes on a subtle dreamlike form. A glacial presentation that carries on with “In The Void.” Subtlety is key in many of the passages from Final Light, as the beautiful melodies of “The Fall of A Giant” suggest. Digging deeper, both Kent and Persson have moved beyond just the atmospheric and into the cinematic. It is true that their respective projects have the ability to communicate an almost visual component through their sonic imagery. It is the juxtaposition of these two worlds that makes Final Light so enticing, as if someone has placed two labyrinths on top of each other, each complimenting the other perfectly in their symmetry.
The result is a melting pot, with Kent and Persson both adding components of their musical identities and visions to create a cohesive result. In that regard, this experiment is nothing short of a success. The synthwave of Perturbator fills the space and the harsh weight of Cult of Luna destroys the soundscapes. Electronic drums and big synths collide in “It Came With The Water,” seeing the Vertikal-like industrial dystopia being augmented through this psychedelic lens. What is more impressive, however, is the sentiment that Final Light are able to transmit, delivering moments of grand, melancholic beauty in “The Fall of A Giant,” or fervent rage and conviction in closer “Ruin To Decay.” Do not treat this as another side-project or supergroup collaboration. Final Light deliver much more than just that. – Spyros Stasis
High Castle Teleorkestra – The Egg That Never Opened (Art As Catharsis)
Originally from Santa Cruz, Estradasphere belonged to a group of elite Californian avant-metal bands that were absolutely on fire during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bridging metal with jazz, folk, and loose experimentation along with Mr. Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Idiot Flesh, and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, they opened the eyes and ears of many young metalheads. At the time, their music sounded daring and fresh, offering glimpses of a world beyond cookie-cutter genres where anything could and did happen.
With this context in mind, it might seem strange that a remote reunion of members collected from across all these bands—Tim Smolens (Estradasphere, Secret Chiefs 3), Chris Bogen (Doc Booger), Dave Murray (Estradasphere), and Timba Harris (Estradasphere, Secret Chiefs 3), among others—instills not a feeling of pushing musical boundaries but instead embraces warm nostalgia. Throughout most of the ten cuts on The Egg That Never Opened, High Castle Teleorkestra sound eerily close to Estradasphere’s original acrobatics, fusing angry grunge and sludge riffs with blistering Eastern melodies, Balkan folk, Jewish traditions, bits of idiosyncratic tropicalia, vocal harmonies in the vein of The Beach Boys, Spaghetti Western violins, and DJ Muggs-like giallo/horror atmospheres.
Despite the inherent anachronism of their approach that at times almost feels like an homage to their past selves, this ungodly concoction of styles still easily works its miracles, providing irresistibly wacky passages like those found on “Klawpeels: Mission Checkup”, which opens with a surf rock ride, stumbles into a sweltering desert haunted by Dirty Three’s morose guitar licks, and comes out the other side blazing with seductively smokey saxophone lines. It epitomizes a summer album as perfect as one could wish for in these increasingly fiery and strange times. – Antonio Poscic
Hilning – Råtijinn (Suicide)
Hilning is the new one-person project by guitarist and vocalist Andreas Baier alias Aldriendir, perhaps best known for his participation in two Stockholm-based groups, Besvärjelsen and Oak. Unlike the stoner doom and eco sludge practiced by those two outfits, respectively, Baier’s new solo work takes an unexpected detour into the mystical lands of pagan and folk-inspired black metal. Make no mistake, Råtijinn is cold and grim music, raw black metal born in the howling winds of mountain plains and the canopies of centuries-old trees. Yet its soul is warm and refined, imbued with myth, magic, and communal pagan practices from the north-western part of Sweden’s historical province Dalecarlia.
Akin to its inspirations, the atmosphere is grandiose, maintained by synths caught in rapture by folk melodies and driven insane by roaring black metal attacks. Throughout, the music teeters between the classic uncut beauty of early Darkthrone and Emperor and the earthy impressions of Moonsorrow or Einherjer, crafting its own arcane story. – Antonio Poscic
Inexorum – Equinox Vigil (Gilead Media)
For fans of Inexorum’s unusual take on melodic black metal demonstrated on the superb 2020 record Moonlit Navigation, there is no need to read beyond this sentence: Equinox Vigil is another scorcher. Everyone else should know that like its predecessors, this new album by the Minneapolis duo of Matthew Kirkwold on bass and backing vocals and Carl Skildum on guitars and lead vocals combines the aggression of raw black metal with stunning inner lyricism.
But unlike many other bands that fall into the aforementioned category, Inexorum’s melodies seem to be embedded in the music, not ripped apart from everything else. They always lurk in the background yet never overload the cuts into syrupy mush. Take the opening “Creation Myth”, for example, which comes into life on waves of sludge energy, only to start twisting and rolling through labyrinthine sections chased by thrilling tremolos and leads.
Elsewhere, hymnic choruses connect segments of driven second wave black metal on “Equinox Vigil”, the almost doom metal inflection in the rising and falling flow of “Secret Language”, and the bumbling insanity and fiery solos and leads that strike through “Memoriae Sacrum” to bring together strains of heavy metal, atmo-black, and folk metal. Add to that the buzzing atmospheric tension that Kirkwold and Skildum maintain through subtle orchestral elements and flourishes, wrapping a wandering spirit around the pummeling flesh, and you get one of the standout releases in the genre this year. – Antonio Poscic