Not a band who can actually be rushed in any way, it’s been a fairly long wait for Esoteric to deliver the follow up to 2011 album Paragon of Dissonance. Fans have been well catered for though due to plenty of activity on the live front as well as some sumptuous re-issues of deluxe vinyl and CD from the label they started out on Aesthetic Death run by former member Stu Gregg way back in 1992. Having witnessed them many years ago and been following the band ever since I knew pretty much what to expect here and was not in the slightest bit surprised to discover that A Pyrrhic Victory was going to be a double album with 6 long songs running at a rather formidable 98 minutes. The masters of psychedelic funeral doom death don’t exactly give ideas away about the inner narrative behind the music itself so one can only really guess as to why this current existence is a pyrrhic one, that is one that is gained at great cost to the side that has come out on top. Anyway, the music itself is going to be enough to try and unravel and fathom out as Esoteric do nothing by halves and have under the helm of band leader and producer of hundreds of bands himself Greg Chandler created one hell of a dense piece of work.
The first track ‘Descent’ is enough to have the unwary blanching being longer than whole albums by other artists recently and coming in at near 28 minutes running time. Its full of leaden slow drum rolls and hefty ponderous guitar and bass and then we get to the elongated echoing roars of Chandler which sound completely demonic and the reason I have at times described this band as the scariest you are ever likely to encounter. Once you have opened the gate here and tumbled slowly down into this pit of doom there is no coming back. It’s a bit like a game of cat and mouse as you are toyed with over haranguing screams, low ebbs of utter despair and turmoil and peaks of sheer violence. Everything is tarred with a sense of psychedelic weirdness, coated in lysergic madness as it attacks the senses one second and then drops into a numbing acoustic passage offering some momentary relief before the next mind-clogging spasm. Its beautiful and horrible in equal measures and perhaps this could be the pyrrhic bi-polar existence itself as the mind tries to battle between control and mania destroying itself in the process. Naturally you will encounter passages of ambience along this vast journey and float off into space with them, suddenly finding yourself brought back to earth with a tremendous jarring crunch further down the line. With so much going on in just the first number it is a lot to take in, there is some sublime melody you will encounter and the guitar parts show progressive flamboyance towards the latter stages that are sheer class and actually upbeat as well. There has always been dichotomy in the music of Esoteric and this is one such case they will take you up to grandiose heights as well as drop you down into horrid depths. Seriously disturbing the fractured sense of dissonance pervading into ‘Rotting In Dereliction’ is inflated by doomy death gallops and sense of a nightmare in a damaged brain to quote a video nasty title. The axe does seem to have very much fallen though. There’s some massively flamboyant guitar raptures and huge peaks that do knock you flat here and the sound is suitably momentous. It’s left to short (yes really under 5 mins) spacey instrumental Antim Yatra to offer last rites here drawing things to a natural conclusion.
Of-course listening to half an album is never advisable and the second disc follows with another 3 hefty tracks. ‘Consuming Lies’ has an arid, expansive and cinematic feeling with guitar melody gathering and drifting off. The defining moment that really sticks out here are sonic pulses striking around the juddering guitar chords. It feels akin to being attacked by some superior alien overlords and has a real dramatic flair that is going to be recognised well if handled in the live environment. It’s pretty damn terrifying before we are cast adrift and thankfully allowed to float off in Floydian ambient space. Hitting shuddering grooves ‘Culmination’ is another 20-minute void to stare into and confront. The distempered growls and roars nothing short of harrowing. The fluidity of shading between light and darkness is never short of perplexing and the listener is kept on their toes and probably suffering serious doom dementia by now. This certainly isn’t for everyone but for those that can ride the progressive waves and ever eccentric guitar noodling there are moments of nirvana but the screams and sheer gibbering madness that this descends into are incredibly challenging in their extremity. So finally, ‘Sick And Twisted’ is the last hurdle, the escape route is still firmly blocked and the determination very much there to drag you kicking and screaming to the very end. What a ride it has been though and 4 complete listens have been more than necessary to get anywhere near formulating this extravagant musical experience into anything resembling what is hopefully an understandable review.
You’ll be hard pushed to find anything around as all-consuming as ‘A Pyrrhic Existence’ at the moment but I honestly didn’t expect anything different from Esoteric. Personally, I need to go and hide in a dark silent corner now and give it a rest before ordering and listening to this again. I’m kind of glad it’s taken so long between albums, I’m definitely not ready for another for quite some time thank you very much!
(9/10 Pete Woods)