Italy's I, Voidhanger Records has established itself as a haven for compelling black metal generated by one-man projects, each with their own unique voice. The label has carved out a strong niche by finding these musicians, seemingly out of nowhere, as evidenced by two of 2019's strongest black metal releases, MIDNIGHT ODYSSEY's "Biolume Part 1 – Tartarean Chains" and AN ISOLATED MIND's "Losing Myself". The former blended ambient beauty with black metal chaos, and the latter explored the more depressive side of the genre. There is another artist though that sets the label's benchmark for unsettling black metal mysticism.
ESOCTRILIHUM is the product of prolific French mastermind musician Asthâghul. His latest record, "Eternity Of Shaog", is his fifth record since 2017. For those who are new to this metallic entity, the opening track begins in a deceptively straightforward manner, while still showing glimmers of the whirlwind to be generated throughout the record. A hard-driving riff lurking underneath a hypnotic industrial-metal drum bash is the main driver of "Orthal", while Asthâghul emits sinister goblin-like vocal grunts. Tasteful moments of acoustic guitars are layered in underneath the cacophony, but only briefly before a moshpit-worthy set of stomp-riffs help lead a segue from brown note-level rumbling synths to shredding guitar histrionics.
The hallucinogenic side of Asthâghul's compositions really begin to come to the forefront on "Exh-Enî Söph (1st Passage: Exiled from Sanity)". Discordant violin strings underscore a large chunk of the track, though the crunch of a great metallic guitar riff never gets sacrificed and remains prominent. Asthâghul's vocals become a bit more frantic, and here he showcases a strong production flair for layering those vocals and the disparate musical elements so that the overall sound remains sinister without becoming an overwrought mess. That tightrope walk is a precarious line that has felled many musicians with similar artistic ambitions, but this track is the first of many on "Eternity Of Shaog" where Asthâghul proves to masterfully keep the chaos coherent.
"Thritônh (2nd Passage: The Colour of Death)" continues the trend of Asthâghul's vocal howls and growls becoming more tortured, while upping the ante with bigger bursts of black metal bombast, bludgeoning drums and what seems to be the sounds of actual bomb blasts. Violins lurking underneath become more and more off-kilter, adding to the aura of disorientation. "Aylowenn Aela (3rd Passage: The Undying Citadel)" is perhaps the most musically unsettling track on the record. The violins that have been building throughout the record finally take over as the main musical force, sounding even more bent and ugly than the more traditional black metal instrumentation that becomes the secondary source of sound. A small respite from the musical lunacy comes with a beautiful piano-driven interlude on "Shtg (4th Passage: Frozen Soul)", before the uncomfortable musical maelstrom begins again and plays out for the remainder of the record.
ESOCTRILIHUM has repeatedly proven, in a relatively short time, to be a masterful exercise in juggling musical chaos with carefully crafted coherence. "Eternity Of Shaog" is another ominous musical masterpiece showing that there are still plenty of dark corners to be fruitfully explored within the black metal realm.