Many metal fans have issues gobbling down funeral doom. In that regard, I suppose it could be considered the creamed corn of our beloved genre. Actually, that seems a bit harsh, as some of us truly love funeral doom, and I have my doubts as to whether or not anyone truly loves creamed corn. Perhaps it’s the escargot of metal – a somewhat eccentric food that doesn’t appeal to everyone, and those who love it don’t necessarily consume it every day. That’s funeral doom in a nutshell. A snailshell.
Esoteric are a group of snails hailing from the UK, and they’ve been dropping the funeral bomb on metal heads for nearly 15 years now. Throughout this impressive span, the band’s previous four records delivered lengthy bouts of seriously heavy and sloooow metal that’s smothered in a sickly creeping fog of mind-bending schizophrenia. Just one listen to the band’s seminal Epistemological Despondency could leave one clawing imaginary bugs from the walls and fashioning together endless tinfoil hats. That’s Esoteric in a nutshell: schizophrenic, occassionally uncomfortable insanity delivered via crawling funeral doom.
It’s been four long years since the release of Subconscious Dissolution, and all that time in a padded room has done interesting things to this now 6-piece outfit. The unmitigated derangement still hangs in the air — shrill-shredding leads woven into the backdrop, plenty of flanged effects, slow drifts within dripping sewers, and of course, the occasional screeeeching lunatic screams — but The Maniacal Vale introduces a new focus on beauty that really helps to set it apart from the band’s previous works. This new concentration gives the album quite a bit of diversity and added flavor, which, in turn, also makes The Maniacal Vale one of the more accessible funeral doom releases I’ve heard in some time.
“Circle” opens the record and brings about the first dose of true beauty upon introducing a wonderfully sweeping guitar measure at the 3:30 mark. Swirl in a grandly tragic guitar lead a minute-and-a-half later and you’re more than ready to be transported to a rolling English hillside suitable for tipping a fancy lid to all that’s miserably lamentable. “Circle” is the crowned jewel in terms of tragic beauty on the album, but portions of “Beneath This Face” and the closing of “Quickening” also sample from a similar blueprint of sweeping sorrow.
Another lovely element that The Maniacal Vale manages to weave into its funeral cloak is the touch of pure prog rock that dapples the corners of “Quickening” and the two opening numbers on disc two, “Silence” and “The Order of Destiny.” The trippy rock details fit rather snuggly, as they deliver a more stark contrast to the band’s opposing insistence on beating heads to a pulp. In other words, the ebb and flow here is more severe, which certainly adds to the overall enjoyment of the record.
The record’s production is certainly more polished compared to previous outings, which results in a “cleaner” riff that’s not quite as…imposing as past years, but it does do a fine job of spotlighting the heaviest element of Esoteric: the bellowed vocals of Greg Chandler. I don’t think there’s another man in extreme music today that can scrape his chords as brutally low as this dude, which makes me wonder if he spent at least part of the last four years riding wild horses across Mongolian plains with Tuvan throat-singers.
With two discs and over 1hr and 40minutes of music, The Maniacal Vale is a sizeable chunk for any metal fan to swallow. But Esoteric‘s decision to focus more on sweeping and atmospheric beauty helps contribute to the overall flow of the record, and it also keeps things fresh in terms of long-term playability.
If you’ve been curious about this genre and haven’t yet settled on the right album to properly sink your teeth into, you’ve just found one of the tastiest gems on the menu. All hail the snail.