No descent but vitreous, crystalline, and unalterable imprisonment unto singular grisly netherworld holds ‘God’ immemorial, the eternal tormented Shaog Og Magthoth in solitude beyond all relativity. Embodiment of the self-destructive inner beast held within desperately struggling mankind, deemed a ‘sovereign of nothingness’, and a third angle towards all void revealed by prophesier Asthâghul, Shaog is never to emerge; Yet the hoary skull-accursing wight’s enticing haunt lasts ’til death, a demon of nightmares and flesh threshing maw who can only project himself through the weakened minds of men — He preys upon our dreams! The fifth unholy Esoctrilihum album and third supernatural daimonian force unleashed by prolific French extreme metal musician Asthâghul since 2017, ‘Eternity of Shaog’ is a lushly composed esoteric leap beyond the past, deeming all history relevant but formative by comparison. Alone, the artist’s torment guides these painterly strokes towards readily known genius, a Through the Gates of the Silver Key-esque journey where the price of an encounter with Shaog is madness, psychic gifts of pure guile, and empowerment for all deranged minds torn apart.
Appearing with this utterly ambitious solo black/death metal project seemingly out of nowhere, Asthâghul must be the product of empowered ritual and discipline as no amount of haphazard grinding can attain these grand transcendental avant-black highs without some daunting devotion. Chthonic inspiration and a richly achieving culture of black metallic creative warping year-over-year must’ve drawn into labor the first birth, (‘Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension‘, 2017) an inspired and formative work from the not-at-all distant past for this well-polished and prolific project. With every leap that Esoctrilihum takes from album to album there comes the inevitable shoving of past works to the background as Asthâghul achieves something exponential, self-transcendent of any assumed permanence while retaining the voice and the muscle memory of a storyteller, an intensely capable whirler of all manner of dark sorceries. When the second full-length (‘Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken The Blind Sovereigns Of Nothingness)‘, 2018) released no doubt it proved the French solo multi-instrumentalist was more ambitious and capable than previously thought. Doubly aggressive, and perhaps with a lighter editing hand, some meaningful comparisons to Ævangelist could be made early on but perhaps the closer suggestion would be ‘Scar Sighted’-era Leviathan in terms of the bidirectional, polyrhythmic, contrapuntal atmospheric blackened death metal that Esoctrilihum would quickly develop into distinction. ‘Inhüma‘ (2018) came just a few months later, an eager evolution that was perhaps rushed but all the more interesting for its lack of any serious warts. It’d been around this time that I’d remarked that Esoctrilihum is an all-or-none act, a psychotogenic-charged extreme metal fever dream that you must be one hundred percent engaged with to make any sense of, and if you lost focus during those first 3-4 albums, a profound feeling of disorientation pervades. All skin-shedding ceases beyond that point, though.
Last year the fourth full-length from the band (‘The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods‘, 2019) saw a concerted effort to refine and perhaps most tightly achieve major goals in chaos-strewn, semi-dissonant black/death metal. A feat achieved through refreshingly fiery and exotic eruptions of burly n’ chaotic extremism driven by a lunging avant-black spirit. Think of that prior album as if Morbid Angel‘s ‘Heretic’ were deconstructed with Alexander Von Meilenwald levels of insight. Without downplaying the significant growth spurts of 2018 it was on that fourth album that Esoctrilihum began to embody their lore most readily while realizing the Lovecraftian theogony as a real force beyond the darkness-ensorceled mind of the Asthâghul. Touching upon what I’d consider some adjacency to earlier The Ruins of Beverast material and perhaps Tchornobog on some level, yet songs like “Thar-Voknargh” from the fourth album contain a notable hint of folkish (or folk metal) edges that add some great dynamism to the black metal centric riffing that Esoctrilihum brings. These elements have now become far, far more prevalent on ‘Eternity Of Shaog’, guiding melodies along with chamber-soaking piano, echoing kantele, and violin work that is undoubtedly a ration of golden wheat’s grinding reeds in the winds of Elysium.
Aiming for new ground that is ‘symphonic’ and mystical in its emanating aura the major breakthrough here is almost immediately obvious as melody quickly molds the eager mind towards repeatable and gorgeously memorable long-form hooks. There are eight gateways to witness passage through and ten total pieces that complete the indoctrination into the ‘Eternity of Shaog’ which asks a full hour of attention from the listener. I’d complain about that length but in context this is mercifully shortened compared to the near 80 minutes of the previous album. As the first two pieces storm in I’d initially wondered if I’d put on the right LP, snarling a couple minutes beyond a yearning lead and spaciously resonant chords from a kantele make quite clear that this is a new and exciting side of Asthâghul‘s oeuvre that expresses as a gnarl-edged epic and melodic black metal presence, having some relevance to German avant-garde black metal to some degree but likewise the French sense of direly romantic melodicism. In this sense “Orthal” and “Exh-Enî Söph (1st Passage: Exiled from Sanity)” serve as portal approached and dimension travel respectively, where first passage finds an arrangement that is not only incredibly detailed and sharply performed but an 8+ minute song that maintains it’s illustrious mystique and powerful sweeping melodic statements throughout. It is a veritable blackened cosmic whalesong to my ears and I yearn to push play every time I see this record because I want to live within the caged horrors of nothingness that it presents.
What unfolds beyond is an enriching tapestry of otherworldly textures from the blasting vacuum that kicks off “Thritônh (2nd Passage: The Colour of Death)” into an ominous celestial carnival where a shower of angled-down violin layers drag the beast to the bottom of its cage with ruthless gravitas — One of countless ‘hooks’ achieved within its nine minute expanse and surely one of the most memorable pieces on the album. I’d throw my hands up and beg mercy as the shuddering luminescence of a somber and deep-space radiation scorched soul of “Aylowenn Aela (3rd Passage: The Undying Citadel)” rumbles in, spiraling even more violin driven trills, celestial synth and staccato riffing. Beyond the intense feeling presented by the luxuriously achieved pieces the non-traditional instrumentation employed might initially recall folkish black metal but I’d say this actually leans towards avant-garde black metal on a different level, yet I can’t decide if I’d rather reference Blut Aus Nord or Nocte Obducta depending on the song in question. The bigger picture provided upon reflection envisions a true extension of Esoctrilihum‘s already kosmik reach beyond any other headspace of the past, where the artist appears remarkably adept in creation of atmospheric and melodic pieces that are entirely appropriate for rumination upon a grand celestial evil’s solitary station as they infect humanity with subconscious derangement. “Shtg (4th Passage – Frozen Soul)” provides respite with a calming piano arrangement, and as we reach for Side C the pieces begin to reach a classic Abigor level of intensity with heightened double-bass battery and less ornate aggression. “Namhera (7th Passage – Blasphemy of Ephereàs)” is perhaps the ‘pay-off’ for all of the accumulated tension of the full listen, a nigh progressive psychedelic howl into the void and an undertaking grand enough that it will undoubtedly sit well with fans of the latest Oranssi Pazuzu record. Hard as it is to avoid a full track-by-track I’ll conclude for the second layer of the finale’s apex with the melodic attack of “Eternity of Shaog (∞th Passage: Grave of Agony)”; This piece would help to bookend the experience with some emotional resonance and muscular riff flexing in summation.
The normal reaction to this hour long and intensely detailed myriad of thoughtfully arranged avant-garde black/death metal work, a melodious and brutal soul-raking experiential sojourn towards damnation, is that it is “a bit much” and yet a completely addictive listening experience. It doesn’t hurt that the vinyl double LP package, and its brilliant cover from Alan E. Brown, is an immaculate and cherishable item to begin with. I wouldn’t say the only reason I was sold on this record so quickly (within the first three listens) because I’ve been following this project since the second album and particularly loved the direction taken on ‘The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods’. If anything I’d felt like this is a full step above any past work regardless of whatever provenance was available. It may alight the senses with a riotous blast of cosmic horror and an impressive dark fantasy narrative but Esoctrilihum‘s fifth album arrives with some crazed and rapidly beating heart that one cannot miss if they’ll allow such attunement and that’d make all the difference for me as a listener and a fan. ‘Eternity of Shaog’ easily elbows its way through a year packed with unforgettable extreme metal experiences by the sheer will of inspiration shining through every piece, it is well deserving of a high recommendation on my part.
Very high recommendation. 4.5/5.0
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