Although the origins of funeral doom are credited to Thergothon and Skepticism, a case can be made that Esoteric’s 1993 Esoteric Emotions – The Death of Ignorance demo was truly the genesis of the subterranean subgenre.
Although the Finnish bands (as well as Australia’s Disembowelment) were all coming onto the scene around the same time, the Brits’ first demo seems to have, in retrospect, been the most fully-formed salvo to emerge that early in the game.
After over 25 years and an eight-year hiatus, Esoteric show no sign of slowing down … Well, in their case, make that speeding up.
In all this time, the band could be counted on to pummel the senses with delicately overwrought passages that are overcome with emotive force, and A Pyrrhic Existence is possibly the most coherent example of this. It’s astonishing that the band’s seventh album is where they perfected their craft, and some will say that 1997’s The Pernicious Enigma remains the standard bearer.
It would make for a lovely debate over absinth and petit fours, but it must be conceded that kicking off the album with “Descent,” which clocks in an almost a half hour, shows a certain audacity. It definitely lives up to the title as it twists and turns but always seems to head downward.
There’s a famous photo of a 23-year-old woman who jumped off the Empire State Building in New York in 1938. She landed on a car, and the image of her, still beautiful and serene even in death atop the car she crush would go perfectly with “Descent” as the soundtrack.
The entire first side is seemingly torn from film noir soundtracks. “Antim Yatra,” the only song less than 15 minutes long, is a nothing but swirling synths. “Rotting in Dereliction” is not as dynamic as the rest, instead flat-lining and settling into a melancholic malaise.
The second side sees Esoteric living up to their name, if not their game. “Consuming Lies” has a breakdown about a third of the way into the track which is like a molten core mosh part that comes closest to death doom before it spirits away into the heavens like a funeral in space.
“Culmination” has vocalist Greg Chandler at his most verbose while the track actually approximates prog metal complexities. The album ends with “Sick and Tired,” permeating with blissful atmosphere.
Not only does A Pyrrhic Existence do nothing to diminish Esoteric’s history as a pioneer, against all odds, it builds upon their legacy, showcasing a band that is just as important now as it was a quarter century ago when it helped birth funeral doom.