[Cover art by Alan “Medusawolf” Brown; click here for the full painting.]
Esoctrilihum’s lone member Asthâghul is the kind of prodigious talent that really makes a guy question his life’s achievements. Over the course of four fairly lengthy albums in only three years, he has shown constant growth in songcraft, production, and identity. His music largely fits into the “cosmic” side of black metal with its immense atmosphere – the debut could even have been genre tagged as “atmospheric black metal” – but a continual insurgence of death metal makes it something else. Each of the first three records was quite nice, but there was a sense that project was merely teasing at its full potential.
The simplest way of describing the sound of Telluric Ashes is as a combination of Leviathan and Morbid Angel. The album’s atmosphere is vast and horrific, while the rhythmic riff attack is often that of the Steve Tucker era—blunt, intricate, and massively heavy. But there is of course much (much much much) more going on than just a couple well-known influences, and everything down to Asthâghul’s vocal attacks (spitting growls, deep gutturals, howling screams, etc.) carries with it a ton of variety. The black metal riffing, for example, runs the gamut from proggy Emperor worship (“Black Hole Entrance”) and a darker take on Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta side (“Black Hole Exit”) to weirder stuff like Negative Plane (“Kros Ö Vrth”). Even the record’s frequently caustic atmosphere never has the, uh, personal feel to it as that of Wrest’s music, instead taking on a more “unseen cosmic horrors” feel.
The death metal side, meanwhile, also gets spaced out, extending the Morbid Angel influence to its natural Mithras terminus while calling to mind plenty of other bands without ever directly aping any of them. “Aborted Sun,” with its planet-hefty downbeat drive, is about as close as the record gets to a direct nod to Gateways to Annihilation, at least until it channels Incantation’s unique ability to be blunt and greasy at the same time. “Inexorable Plague of Time” even has a bunch of riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early aughties Cannibal Corpse record, but the rest of the song means that even such catchy passages end up sounding alien.
It seems like a lot on paper, but the record never feels schizo for even a second, relying on its combination of entrancing atmosphere and infectious riffing to grab the listener. At times it feels as if you’re trapped in some terrifying maze on the run from god knows what, and at others you’re released into unfathomable, not-quite-tranquil spaces. And while the delivery of imagery is great, there’d be no point to being transported without all that aforementioned cool shit, and Telluric Ashes is packed to the gills. There are the pinched leads that just scream out of the background of “Kros Ö Vrth,” the spiraling dissonance and dread during “Listaël,” the straight up sass in the leads of “Thar-Voknargh,” and about 10,000 other things begging for your attention over an hour and a quarter.
Gluing it all together is the production, and like his obvious heroes in Morbid Angel, Asthâghul favors a rather unconventional studio treatment. Telluric Ashes sounds like neither a typical black metal nor death metal album, nor does it sound like a “black/death” album. Rather, it has a sound that enhances both the immense depth while also adding tons of punch to the drums and rhythm guitars; it’s almost a raw sheen, but that still doesn’t quite capture it, and there is a diversity to the sounds employed. For example, some tremolo lines cut right through and pierce the listener while others are given a softer edge to feel as though they are being draped over the maelstrom of percussion. There are even passages in closer “Torment Of Death” that sound as if you’re hearing them from under water, and additional instrumentation such as layered acoustic or clean guitars (often to double the metal riffs) and timpani adds a ton of nuance. Like the music itself, the production is meticulous. It’s also uniquely suited to this band and record.
Digesting 75 minutes of oppressive, brutal music is undoubtedly a big task, and Telluric Ashes doesn’t really have the ambient expanses that sometimes offered respite on its predecessors. But those records also weren’t as loaded with as many unforgettable riffs and moments and songs as this one. It earns its massive run time through an unrelenting quality of songcraft and performances, a variety that only begins to reveal itself after several spins, and a subtle if calculated album arc. Asthâghul has taken very little time to turn Esoctrilihum from very good to downright dominant, and in doing so has delivered a captivating monster of an album.