ESOCTRILIHUM – Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac (2023)REVIEW

A bespoke war torn cosmogony in a secreted language built to attract the influence of daimonian forces becomes tainted by the schizoid, stranger-than fiction of temporal conspiracy theorem today as the ambitiously parallax vision of French hermetic occult-spiritual misanthrope Asthâghul arrives upon its most egregious, gorgeously excessive lore dump to date. Rapid evolutionary wiles spanning seven years and ten plus major releases have given way to rabid, poisonous oeuvre as this ~130 minute monstre of a triple LP, ‘Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac‘, appears to coalesce all gained knowledge into a grand tapestry of imaginative obsession. Less an intentionally connective stylistic arc and more a set of three works with an interconnected lyrical theme this latest and largest yet work from Esoctrilihum concerns itself with the demented comptrollers of the unseen cosmos as an illustrative documentarian, unperturbed by the editor and informed by three very different states of mind. Inimitable and esoteric as these works are by design the listener is encouraged to set their own pace, consider each piece its own elaborately voiced volume, and incur no decisive conclusion from these events beyond deep immersion unto demented world building events.

Created in solitude, fueled by loneliness and delivered with sadistic intent toward other human beings Esoctrilihum is the vessel of sole protagonist Asthâghul who has been clear enough in his anti-social spiritus from the start. Formally introducing the entity circa 2016 and releasing one (or more) full-length albums per year since, the most common remark from the artist in interviews in terms of where the drive for such prolific output comes from suggests mental instability as the antagonist, irreconcilable dark urges which are fended off or kept at bay by hands that are never idle in constant creation. For the adventurous experimental black metal fandom the project was a quick hit back in 2017 and on a roll since then, generally picking up steam with the internet nerd collective around the release of the brilliant ‘The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods‘ back in 2019 and its equally grandiose but different follow-up (‘Eternity Of Shaog‘, 2020) which I’d reviewed favorably, marking it as one of the best albums of the year. Fans of Abigor, Blut Aus Nord, and Leviathan and the many experimental reaches of those groups immediately connected with these works and perhaps because of the pandemic or the amazing response to those works about seven full-lengths worth of material has been recorded and released since then.

The trüe VIIth album ascendant. — Naturally, the question of quality versus quantity is the most common discussion among listeners surrounding Esoctrilihum‘s output and most of the time the amount of variety and bold enough experimental intent has justified the flamboyant, homebrewed ambition of the project. The waters began to recede for my own taste as the greater pastiche of each release beyond the exceptional ‘Dy’th Requiem For The Serpent Telepath‘ (2021) became unfocused, quite poorly rendered works which I saw as personal experimental projects and points of focus which didn’t match up with the “canon” of their work prior. Reading that the three part ‘Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac‘ was written/recorded between 2020 and 2022 potentially suggests that either the three prior full-lengths were necessary stepping stones/experimentation in order to realize and workshop this far superior work, or, that they’d suffered due to this trilogy collecting the most prime works within that period of time. As you’ll find in my analysis of each of the three ~45 minute full-lengths that make up this boxed set all of the issues I’d had with the previous three records (‘Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh‘, ‘Saopth’s‘ and ‘Funeral‘) are remedied herein. Not to mention having G.G. (Cosmic Putrefaction, Vertebra Atlantis) master this release has helped the artist find a necessarily glowing, celestial space to inhabit beyond the coldest, rawest machinery of the recent past.

A black metallic “space opera”, a complete assault upon the senses, a complete overdose. — As a physical item a triple LP box set containing a trilogy of works is both an outlandish dump of new original material and a functional item which serves these works as an unreasonably portioned great work to suit the over the top nature of the act. To put it bluntly, if these weren’t all great records front to back the whole thing might’ve been a horrendous mishap; A total of four incredible paintings by Slovakian artist Dhomth grace this initially daunting box of goods and immediately insist on their value proposition, intimidating as this might appear as an endeavor for even the most devout fan this will not be such a frightening beast when taken one at a time rather than one after another. I’ll keep it as succinct as possible: Best production values yet, perfect album art curation that is fitting for each work, and ultimately three of Esoctrilihum‘s best works separated into three categorical clumps which continue the thread beyond ‘Dy’th Requiem For The Serpent Telepath‘ and reflect some notion of past successes in the midst of said evolution.

Part One: “In The Mystic Trance of Tȃimonh Ѳx, The Cosmic Bull God” — This first set of six songs is suggested as the occult-psychedelic munition and the melodic heart of the experience and this is a good start in describing what is essentially a space-faring symphonic black/death metal aria of thoughtfully crafted celestial tilt and appreciably brutal striking of the drum. Eerie, volatile and impressive in its hallucinatory longform rants this is exactly the sort of voice I’d hoped would develop beyond the folken streams of Esoctrilihum‘s sixth album while also reflecting the sometimes unpredictable spirit of past works. Though each piece here is valuable and I’d found myself completely stricken by this opening set it was the pairing of “Tȃimonh Ѳx” and “Ѳxphiliastisme” that served as the greatest point of fixation and expression on that first album. If there was a best foot forward, or, an album seller among the three records here this is it from my point of view.

Part Two: “In The Presence Of AlŭBḁḁl, The 5-Eyed Star Beast” — This second set of six songs initially seems like it’d meant to take a similarly brutal, thrashing approach as that of ‘Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh‘ but these pieces quickly become far more sophisticated in their composition and arrangement and find no relation to that chapter of raw, brutal and screaming excess. “Skorpïus Nebŭlah Tyrant” is inarguably where this album cracks wide open beyond the strength of opener “AlŭBaalisme” as it creates a deep focal point of complete delirium for this second album. The breaking point between meditative mid-paced hum, howling existential ruin, deadpan determination, and poison-coughing furor on that song is one of Asthâghul‘s best moments of unbridled, caustic horror and one of many moments on the album which best showcase just how different the artist’s sensibilities are compared to most any similarly notable group. The only real ding I’d give this record is the guttural, yowled vocals which are given an unnecessary amount of reverb and only momentarily emphasize the ugly, aggressive confrontation of the songs before they become repetitive and dry. On the first pass this’d been the weakest of the three parts but it grew on me after some extensive listening sessions.

Part Three: “In The Mouth Of Zi-Dynh-Gtir, The Serpen-Time Eater” — The intent on this third album is to unite these two voices, the symphonic psychedelic arm of grand operatic forces and the brutal violence of the mind and the medium they’ve chosen for this is two ~21 minute suites which serve as each side of the vinyl. Since I’d been listening on digital files I will say that “Omnicidal Zodiac War”, the closer for ‘In The Presence Of AlŭBḁḁl, The 5-Eyed Star Beast‘, acted as a buffer and a point of introduction into the final chapter and always felt necessary before I’d head into the depths of these two very involved longform pieces. I believe Asthâghul is a fan of atmospheric and symphonic-adjacent works of death/doom and black/funeral doom and in some sense there is a twinge of this type of orchestration available to these pieces despite the pace never quite dipping below a certain hyper-spaced level of activity. This means the symphonic black metal fan will probably feel served the most heaping glut of keyboard/synth drenched activity though we find the violin featured prominently within “Zi-Dynh-Gtir – Eon Devourer” and the avant-garde death/doom metal fan might find at least one portion of “Serpathei-Ӿythion – Reptilian Time Reversed” particularly riveting for the very strong death metal vocals we all known Asthâghul is capable of. This would serve the most taxing part of the complete listen but rivaled part one in terms of providing a standalone experience outside of listening to the three records all in a row.

There are many considerations one could heap upon the collective work otherwise. Could these ideas have been condensed down to one exceptional album? Probably not considering how often they hit a serious pocket of interest and there is something to be said for the immersive value of putting three very different full-length recordings into one larger narrative. That said, the vocal performances could lean into proven strengths (such as death metal style vocals) more often in conveying this greater narrative and I’ve no lyric sheet to confirm how it all works otherwise. Are each of the three albums related enough to make sense as a three album concept? Yes, they appear to be intentionally different while still using a similar enough palette; Despite a few “could be better” moments we find just as many successful melodic stretches, increasingly dynamic drum arrangement and general pacing which makes enough of a difference in the space of ~two hours.

Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac‘ is far too outsized to fit into the mind palace of todays shorter attention spans and it is a luxury item in that sense, but I suppose the huge upfront ask in terms of time and engagement only helps Esoctrilihum link up with their most serious and dedicated audience, those who would show up for an expectedly overflowing event and roll the dice on how substantive it might actually be. For my own taste there is more substantive, memorable and engaging work here compared to anything the artist has released since 2021 but that wasn’t the initial conclusion beyond the first listen to its 2+ hour spin, rather it took me an inordinate amount of time attempting to tackle the full three album push at once ’til it became clear that this would be best enjoyed as three separately considered experiences which do generally work in quick succession. The experience will likely overwhelm most folks taking it all on at once and some of the more repetitious performances will grate some listeners but these are all known quantities per their prolific work prior. However you decide to experience it I would say, again, this is where all of the best work from the artist was funneled over the course of the last two years and it makes for what is ultimately one of the best releases from the artist to date. For my own taste there were more hits than misses to be found once I’d given this whole deal a some serious ear time and reflection. A high recommendation.


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