The Maniacal Vale
posted on 8/2008 By:
Many metal fans have issues gobbling down funeral doom. I suppose it could be considered the brussel sprout of our beloved genre. Actually, that's a bit harsh; some of us actually love funeral doom, and I have my doubts as to whether anyone really loves brussel sprouts. Perhaps it should be considered the escargot of metal: a somewhat eccentric (and very slow) food that certainly doesn't appeal to everyone, and those who love it don't necessarily consume it every single day. That's funeral doom in a nutshell: odd, slow, polarizing and not meant to be consumed on a daily basis.
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, smothered in a sickly creeping fog of mind-bending schizophrenia. Just one listen to the band's seminal Epistemological Despondency back in the day left me clawing bugs from my walls in my finest tinfoil suit for hours. And that's basically Esoteric in a nutshell: schizophrenic insanity delivered through crawling funeral doom.
It's been four long years since the release of Subconscious Dissolution, and that time in a padded room has done interesting things to this now 6-piece troupe. Fear not, the derangement still occasionally hangs thick from the walls -- shrill-shredding leads woven into the backdrop, plenty of flanged effects, slow drifts within dripping sewers, and of course the occasional screeeeching lunatic screams from co-founder vocalist/guitarist, Greg Chandler -- but The Maniacal Vale introduces a new focus on beauty that's never been as prevalent within any of the band's previous works. This new concentration gives this album quite a bit of diversity and added flavor, which, in turn, also makes The Maniacal Vale one of the most accessible funeral doom releases I've heard in quite some time.
"Circle" opens the record and introduces the first dose of true beauty once a wonderfully sweeping guitar measure creeps in at the 3:30 mark. Swirl in a grandly tragic guitar lead at 5:00 and you're more than ready to be transported to a rolling, misty English countryside to tip your hat to all that's miserable and lamentable. This tune is undoubtedly 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 pool of sweeping sorrow. Another beauteous element The Maniacal Vale entwines within its funeral cloak is a little more difficult for me to categorize. I've seen a couple of my more reputable peers refer to it as a "post-rock" infusion, but I honestly don't feel I have enough experience in that genre to confirm with confidence. To me, it sounds as if Esoteric is gleaning influence and leaning heavier on the trippier progressive rock elements flourished by bands such as Porcupine Tree, just for reference sake. This is particularly clear throughout "Quickening" and the two opening cuts on disc two, "Silence" and "The Order of Destiny". The trippy rock fits rather snuggly, I must admit, and it creates a plentitude of pretty atmospheric moments that all eventually crash into the bands signature crawling funeral doom. To be perfectly honest, the album's only sore-thumb moment for me occurs during the surprisingly swift "Caucus of Mind", a tune that travels a little too close to Nile territory to fit amongst the other sprawling tunes presented.
As far as the heaviness of The Maniacal Vale is concerned, the production is certainly more polished this time around, resulting in a cleaner riff (and sad lack of bass sound) that's not as striking as what we've heard in the past, but it also does a great job of spotlighting easily 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 Chandler; the man must have spent time studying amongst the Tibetan Buddhists Monks to find new ways to lower his register to the deepest of deep guttural wails. And praised be: Esoteric thankfully remain clean vocal free, which also helps keep this record firmly rooted within the funeral doom genre.
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 also keeps things fresh in terms of long-term playability. I'd say this is easily the most interesting funeral doom release these ears have heard since Ahab's Call of the Wretched Sea. If you've been curious about this genre and haven't 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!
Register to post comments.