Esoteric has set the bar for funeral doom metal even higher with their 2008 release The Maniacal Vale. Spanning two CDs, this hour and forty minute affair bursts with doom so introverted and gloomy it is downright cerebral. More importantly, Vale is the singularity between the stoic melancholy of classic British doom/death and the laborious trudge of funeral doom. Few albums are so stately, and yet, so slow.
Kicking things off with the gigantic "Circle," Esoteric immediately blindsides listeners with a dense, twenty minute behemoth. Beginning with swirls of anxious, glittering guitar chords, "Circle" slowly works its way into a lugubrious dirge. Once there, the tension relentlessly builds into a deliciously mournful guitar solo followed by a ghostly acoustic passage. As this frightening wall of sounds rings ominously, the song gradually builds itself into a series of moribund grooves, the shuffling of some vast life form beyond the veil.
"Beneath This Face," meanwhile, flickers with brief orchestral swells before descending into a morass of buzzing, glacial guitars. This plunge is lined with single notes, the likes of which sparkle pathetically amidst the darkened atmospherics. Upon hitting rock bottom, the song tosses up a curveball once Esoteric launches into a full-on death metal freakout laced with chaotic symphonic effects and even mid-paced percussion. Devastating and brutal, it is just the kind of surprise which makes the plodding finale more gripping.
"Quickening" does anything but, cavernous sound effects slowly disappearing under rumbling bass lines and ethereal guitar chords. Wispy and transparent, the song's eerie journey takes a turn for the worst when it erupts into grim, stubbornly sluggish riffs which hammer and pound at the listener's ears. Creepy yet crushing, it is the perfect close to the first half of Maniacal Vale.
Part II starts off with "Caucus of Mind," a mid-paced steamroller of noxious riffs and claustrophobic misanthropy. As the song builds in speed, so does its otherworldliness, resulting in a low-end mosher amped up on menace. Ending with nervous rumbling and weak murmurs of sound, the song's finale serves as a welcome respite after its earlier suffocating aura of hatred.
"Silence" proves equally soothing at first, its elegant guitar strums twisting upwards into the sky. Shimmering bands of psychedelia weave in and out of the anguished howls and lethargic drumming, producing an image of a starless vista stretching out for all eternity. In this realm of perpetual night, "Silence" hits hard with soft, moody washes of sound.
"The Order of Destiny," however, shows more variation with a mix of mammoth riffs and spastic lurches of speed. Leading surge after surge of abrasive noise is a seemingly-endless guitar solo, the likes of which utilizes a pattern so unorthodox it operates on a seemingly-alien musical scale. Ending with a surprisingly epic, upbeat passage of ringing melodies, the band astounds yet again with a collapse into bleak, trudging funeral doom for funeral doom's sake.
Last but certainly not least, "Ignotum Per Ignotius" lets crystalline guitar lines sway listeners into a false sense of security before obliterating them with a towering swell of rattling sound. Though the band dips into the realm of quiet creepiness again, "Ignotum" stands as one last monolith of funeral doom, a fitting end to an arduous journey.
Laboriously crafted and wholly uncompromising, The Maniacal Vale is a challenging CD which requires patience and commitment. For those capable of making such sacrifices, the end result is a rewarding quest through the darkest recesses of the mind. The Maniacal Vale stands tall as a mountain of quality funeral doom, fit for only the strongest of climbers. Begin the ascent at one's own risk.
Beneath the Face
Caucus of Mind
The Order of Destiny
Ignotum Per Ignotius