To have witnessed ‘Through Silver in Blood’ change the world of heavy music from the inside out first hand has knowingly created a sentimental, almost elitist, attitude towards the birth of post-metal from the loins of atmospheric sludge and experimental post-hardcore. There was some personal difficulty that came with moving beyond that ‘first’ spawned generational inspiration of ‘Celestial’, early Cult of Luna and perhaps Pelican that’d expand so quickly in a million directions. The old guard spread their wisdom upon the new through behind-the-scenes ushering and self-dismantling into multiple pieces to give rise to Amenra, Minsk, Mouth of the Architect and countless others. While all of these artists are no doubt proven worthwhile, it each case it took some adversity or breakthrough to get to that point. Stockholm, Sweden post-metal artists The Moth Gatherer arrived in light of adversity, a shared gloaming post tragedy between two musicians that continues to attract an impressive list of collaborators since the release of ‘A Bright Celestial Light’ in 2013; From Terra Tenebrosa, Refused, to Cult of Luna the projects discography serves as a sort of amber containing many of Sweden’s most forward-thinkers adorning The Moth Gatherer on their trip through fully modern, boundary stretching post-music and ‘Esoteric Oppression’ is yet another step beyond prior work.
A huge piece of The Moth Gatherer‘s sound floats into the aether as bassist, vocalist and co-founding member Alex Stjernfeldt (Mr. Death) exits and this finds co-founder Victor Wegeborn breathing a bit deeper while handling all of the vocal work and performing bass duties on record. That isn’t to suggest that he struggles, though, as ‘Esoteric Oppression’ is the most balanced effort from the group yet, offering less jagged atmospheric sludge aggression that rolls in and out of intimate Isis-esque instrumental transitions; For a band that’d always felt like a ‘softer’ take on Cult of Luna‘s post-2006 output this lives up to the ‘atmospheric doom metal’ tag a bit more than previous (see: “Utopia”), with an ‘extreme’ doom feeling without any emphasis on harsh metal tropes outside of brief dips into ringing discordance. Folks who’d fallen for ‘The Earth is the Sky’ (2015) should recognize The Moth Gatherer from the start without any major change in tone or approach but I would suggest something slightly more direct in the sense that they’ve not drowned themselves in a wash of ‘easy’ atmospherics.
But is this ye olde atmospheric sludge metal? Are there big, burly riffs and roaring vocals? No, this is exactly what ‘The Comfortable Low’ (2017) EP had hinted at in terms of a true post-‘post-metal’ reduction of those hard edges. The music is yet driven by downtuned guitar work and a somewhat aggressive vocal range but there was never a raw extremity to be expected from The Moth Gatherer. “Phosphorescent Blight” does hit the right notes in that sense, though, as they’ve hit upon what I’d call a ‘Eye of Every Storm’ moment with some electronic elements emphasizing their post-metal idealism. Opening track “The Drone Kingdom” does something similar but the main riff is a sort of sludge/post-doom hit, not far from a band like Morne, that is appropriately gloomy-yet-searching. The trail of dead that ‘Esoteric Oppression’ is yet ‘lighter of foot’ than say The Ocean by a mile and closer in kin to Minsk‘s ‘The Crash & the Draw’ or Dirge‘s ‘Elysian Magnetic Fields’. It isn’t metallic heaviness that characterizes any The Moth Gatherer release but the atmosphere and this is where the third full-length from the band continues their legacy of improving values in fine form.
For my own taste I found ‘Esoteric Oppression’ distant, detailed, and at times impassioned on a more sincere level than the previous album. Maybe Wegeborn‘s shouts are coming with some new pain or, perhaps an increased sense of melody refracts more easily upon me. In any case, I enjoyed the gloomy and generally dark emotional ride of this record. There is some danger in toying with the ‘knock you down, build you up, repeat’ ethos of classic post-metal but The Moth Gatherer display professional handle upon this dynamic, though the process of rebuilding was often dire, providing a sinking feeling across the full listen. Perhaps I am too used to the harrowing degradation of extreme doom metal but ‘Esoteric Oppression’ felt as if it were chipping away at me rather than sledging directly. I can recommend the experience as it provides a niche for the modernist with very little breathing room for the dryly regressive sludge metal fan. Moderate recommendation. For preview I felt that “Utopia” provides an excellent sum of the recordings reach but you shouldn’t move on until you’ve heard either “Phosphorescent Blight” or “The Drone Kingdom”.
Exploding beneath the clouds. 3.75/5.0
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