Release Date: May 12, 2023
Esoctrilihum is a project that has been well respected in the black metal underground for some time now. The project’s sole member Asthâghul is known for his longform compositions, mastery of atmosphere, unusual time signatures amazing album art. However, his latest release Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac is a monolithic offering of complex black metal madness, even by his standards.
I think I must start by stating that the album is made up of three parts (or three discs or vinyl in physical format), each of which runs from 42-45 minutes in length. What this means is that the release has a total run time of 130 minutes or so, a MASSIVE undertaking for the listener, let alone for the artist behind creating this beast. Don’t let the album’s length deter you from experiencing what the album has to offer though. If you are intimidated by the undertaking of finishing the full album, then simply break it down into its three manageable parts. Remember, this release took three years to record, nobody expects you to hear it all in one sitting, unless of course you want to, and in that case good for you.
Now, onto the music. The release is very clearly based in black metal, but it isn’t your run of the mill raw, atmospheric, symphonic, or melodic black metal. It’s a culmination of all of the best elements of all four, creating what is best described as avant-garde black metal. What makes this release so special though is that each track has its own unique blend of influences and elements and when looking at the bigger picture, each part of this release has its own mood and tone. The presentation and tone of the vocals, the instruments and the mixing and mastering varies just enough on each volume that it gives it a completely fresh feeling, while still very much being part of the same release. Making something this large that is both continuously progressing and evolving and yet cohesive in nature shows Asthâghul’s true depth of talent and foresight.
Let’s actually talk about foresight a little here. To have created this release over the span of three years, he would have to have planned out their entire album this far ahead of time. He would have to have written songs over that period and shown the restraint needed not to release them for that whole length of time. Then the fact that the release was created to be a cohesive story shows that there was a high level of planning involved from the very start. Some artists write an album in a week or two and pump it out, but not Asthâghul, nor is he some disappointing, underwhelming artist who promises a new album for a decade and then gives us something fairly average with 8 tracks (cough, cough, TOOL and Wintersun (if the next album is ever in fact on its way))
“But what is the album about?” I hear you asking, well it happens to tell the story of an intergalactic space war between monumental cosmic deities. This is a fitting them seeing as I have seen ongoing discussion into whether Asthâghul is in fact human, or a cosmic deity made up of pure talent and genius. There’s always been an interdimensional, galactic, haunting, otherworldly theme, aesthetic and energy to Esoctrilihum’s albums, so this won’t surprise any of his long-time followers. However, if you are a newcomer to his music, this will probably seem highly interesting and exciting, while being a breath of fresh air from some of the more standard black metal tropes.
The vocals on the release are a blend of rawer black metal shrieks and howls and somewhat gruffer, more guttural offerings. There’s a noticeable yet tasteful level of faded echoed effects applied to these that help to build on that cosmic theme and essence. They sit at a solid level in the mix, being clearly audible and distinguishable from the instrumentals and yet not overpowering them. There are vast segments throughout the release where there are no vocals and the music, and the atmosphere are given time to shine and space to breath. A smart move, as an album this monumental would wear anyone out with non-stop vocals.
Instrumentally we have a great blend of varied black metal styles, as well as outside influences. The guitar tone brings us some nice variety throughout the album and shifts as is needed to match the ever-shifting energy of each track. There’s a fantastic balance struck between technical complexity, atmosphere, and underlying melody, all of which are equally as important to the album. The extensive inclusion of synth and piano elements really helps to elevate the album and works wonders for its cosmic, haunting atmosphere. Although they also play into a sort of epic symphonic feeling at times, adding a nice dramatic flourish. The drums range from furious blast beats to calm rhythmic patterns as is required of them and the same can be said for the bass, which works to elevate the guitar and vocal elements on the album.
I’m not going to give you a favourite tracks section on this one because that is honestly impossible with an album this long and this diverse. I will say though that the first disc is my preferred of the three, it comes across as the rawest and most powerful. Note though that is simply a matter of personal preference, I have spoken to others that disagree. That’s one of the great things about this album, there’s something here for everyone.
I don’t like to quote other people’s reviews in my reviews but sometimes someone says something that you simply can’t beat. In this case I want to share what lossisforever commented on the album’s Bandcamp, as their point outlines exactly why this album and this project are worthy of your attention and your praise, and I want to leave you with that thought:
“Some artists get better and better as they go on. Some artists continually evolve. Some artists are prolific at a high level of quality. A very few artists manage to exemplify all three.”
Listen to and order the album: