Paragon of Dissonance
posted on 11/2011 By:
Funeral doom is, in most appreciable ways, a niche within a niche. Forcing the listener to bear witness to a cripplingly slow march to oblivion is not, it must be said, the easiest way to win friends and influence people. Nevertheless, for those of us slavering pursuers of the deepest slow and darkest doom, the UK’s Esoteric has been churning out psychedelic funeral doom / death metal of unmatchable brilliance for nearly two decades. While the band is still a fiercely psychedelic trip through and through, with most of the songs summoning a towering groove to sink into and then ride out to its furthest possible limit and beyond (see “Cipher” in particular), sixth album Paragon Of Dissonance is undisputedly beautiful in a way that Esoteric has never before embraced so fully. Though this particular writer finds it difficult to over-enthuse about Esoteric, Paragon Of Dissonance just might be the band’s finest album yet, and easily stands as one of the most monstrously satisfying albums of the year.
Although the band has undergone subtle shifts between each album, the contours of Paragon Of Dissonance suggest that Esoteric’s career to date can be segmented rather neatly into two-album epochs. Epistemological Despondency and The Pernicious Enigma presented the band at its most hostile and nihilistic, capturing the sprawling corrosion of Disembowelment as it disintegrated into shimmering waves of disorienting noise. The two single-disc albums, Metamorphogenesis and Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum, pulled back ever-so-slightly on the suffocating weight of earlier efforts in order to make room for a bubbling undercurrent of increasingly woozy psychedelia. The most recent pair of albums, 2008’s The Maniacal Vale and the current Paragon Of Dissonance, has reverted to painting on a more expansive canvas, but with a completely cleaned-up production that is no less crushing for its occasional serenity.
Thus, Esoteric circa 2011 is less about the inescapable, gnawing horror of the band’s early work, and more about the glimmering seduction of willingly submitting to a beauty that conceals unsounded depths of malevolence. On that count, Paragon Of Dissonance picks up exactly where The Maniacal Vale left off, but most likely edges out the previous album by a narrow margin for having a slightly more compact duration that touches on a broader range of tones and moods. As always, band mastermind Greg Chandler’s vocals are a true jewel in the crown of doom, tirelessly scraping the murky depths of guttural extremity and reeling for the high heavens with occasional bursts of near black metal treble-puking.
The first five minutes of “Abandonment” are essentially one massive and soulful guitar lead with the world’s most crushing doom band playing back-up until its midsection eases off and becomes a thing of airy wonder. A simple, repeated guitar figure glows insistently in the distance, eventually bending your pulse to its rhythm, until just after the 10:00 mark, the entire blighted world explodes around your head, mimicking the unseen death of a thousand stars as that guitar still undulates, forcing a circadian obedience as it bears you ceaselessly down a river whose shores you cannot see, and at whose end is only ruin. Oh, and by the way, that’s just the first song. For a band that operates through a pitiless assault on one’s senses and sanity, these otherworldly lurkers in human form are outrageously canny songwriters, leavening their hideous gestalt with novel touches like the piano and patiently martial snare work of “Loss of Will,” or the album-closing coda of “Torrent of Ills,” which manages to work both as a noise-blanketed comedown and an increasingly panicked eruption of existential dread.
Other highlights include “Non Being,” the first third of which is marked by more beauteous snare work and electrifying, triumphant, fizzling shredding. Yes, friends, that’s no typo: goddamned shredding on a funeral doom album. The fact that this five-minute introductory section spills into the most despondent stomp of the album’s first half lends further credence to the image that keeps springing to mind: Steve Vai being slowly sucked into a lightless ocean of tar, scored by the hungry ghost of Thergothon. The last few minutes of the song are a miasma of paranoid open space and enough thick buzzing noise to send the entire staff of the U.S. Geological Survey lunging after their seismometers. The album’s first half thus closes in gloriously uncomfortable fashion, matching (and then some) Unearthly Trance’s V for its ability to incite horrific daydreams of the earth trembling beneath a relentless hailstorm of electricity.
The album’s apogee, however, comes with “Disconsolate.” Its opening is spare and desolately lovely, setting a deceptively placid prelude for the unstoppable juggernaut that the remainder of the song becomes, the tempo gradually increasing until it erupts into the album’s most aggressive bass drum pummeling. The song’s floor drops out suddenly, leaving a minimal architecture of intertwining guitar leads that writhe and bloom like Esoteric’s version of My Dying Bride’s “The Cry of Mankind.” The last several minutes of the song revisit the haunting mise-en-scène of its opening with a fuller palette, featuring relatively busy off-beat drumming, the omnipresent wash of Chandler’s coruscating howl, and some of the album’s most face-slappingly, kidney-punchingly, universe-explodingly gorgeous soloing.
For all this effusive praise, funeral doom will likely remain a niche. Yes, Esoteric’s songs are as lengthy as ever, and yes, a nice immersive sit-down with this album will run you nearly an hour and forty minutes, but because each stretched-out composition is clearly animated by the pacing and songwriting acumen befitting such a veteran band, that time never feels a burden. The lengthier songs are generally constructed according to a mathematical logic of either halves or thirds, using connected introductions and codas, brief instrumental breaks, solo spots, and a wisely limited number of obvious build-and-burst crescendos. Esoteric thus remains, without hesitation or equivocation, the best funeral doom act ever visited upon this world, handily besting even their finest progenitors and contemporaries: Disembowelment, Thergothon, Skepticism, Ahab, Mournful Congregation, Evoken, Asunder, and all the rest (no slouches, either, those). More importantly, for all its outwardly imposing (even off-putting) factors, Paragon Of Dissonance manages the kingly feat of being entirely uncompromising and effortlessly accessible. Abandon hope, all ye who dare challenge these titans.
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