Funeral Doom Friday: ESOTERIC and Their Brilliant Debut, Epistemological Despondency
It’s the weekend! What better way to get it started than with the latest installment of “Funeral Doom Friday”. This weekly column looks to shed some light onto some of the darkest, most depressing, and discordant metal out there. Funeral Doom stems from the deepest depths of Death-Doom and Dirge music. Each week, the goal is to highlight some of the newest music or rediscover classic works from some of the earliest bands and originators such as Australia’s Mournful Congregation, United States’s Evoken, UK’s Esoteric and the Finnish Thergothon. Feel free to share your opinions and suggestions in the comments!
We're throwing it back this week. Way back. July of 1994 to be exact. The UK legends, Esoteric, have been constructing some of the world's finest Funeral Doom since the early 90s. They have become quite the personal favorite as well. Their storied discography hasn't a weak link in it. Their albums have been lauded for pushing the boundaries of the genre into more extreme and abstract territories. Greg Chandler and Gordon Bicknell have been the longest tenured members of the band, being present since its inception in 1992. Over the past 25 years, they have been joined by a number of musicians to create different iterations of Esoteric, but for this week's feature, we will take a look at this single moment in the funerary legends' career.
Their full-length debut, Epistemological Despondency, was one of the earliest signs that Esoteric was building something momentous. Many of their early contemporaries dealt with subject matter surrounding death the overall nature of sorrow. Esoteric meanwhile channeled isolationism, misanthropy, and, as the album title might suggest, different concepts of knowledge. The two-disc album clocked in at almost an hour and a half long. Chandler and Bicknell were accompanied by Simon Phillips, Bryan Beck, Stuart Blenkinsop, and Darren Earl. Together the six of them constructed a bridge between the unforgiving style of disEMBOWELMENT and the lugubrious tone and tempo of funeral forefathers, Thergothon.
Each disc is broken up into three songs. Throughout the course of the album, the lyrics craft a loose narrative of humanity continuously failing the central character. On "Bereft", the 20-minute opening track, Chandler roars "Bereft promises made unto me / I always remember watching them fade. / Upon winds of blackened torment, / The promises' I couldn't see. / For they are just words, / And your words are empty." These despondent words, laced with chagrin, echo across towering edifices of instrumentation. Epistemological Despondency's inclusion of synths (played by Bicknell) fabricates a strong sense of tension, like anxiety bubbling deep within. A descent from disappointment into malevolence begins to build. Chandler's protagonist becomes cynical and develops a desire for exacting revenge.
Following the brief, deathly second track, "Only Hate (Baresark)", and an array of debased emotions born out of solitude from "The Noise of Depression" and "Lamented Despondency," rage has spilled over into the final third of the album. "Eradification (of Thorns)" is driven by malice and death doom motifs. Bicknell and Blenkinsop's frenetic guitar riffs ignite, engulfing the penultimate song in a fiery blaze by its conclusion. Yet, this fiery wrath is (relatively) short-lived. It quickly rose only to be extinguished by an overwhelming poignancy. At 26 minutes, "Awaiting My Death" is Epistemological Despondency's longest and most emotive track. The protagonist, broken and bleeding, comes to grips with finality as life exits the body. The soul fleets and so too does the music. Earl's drum hits become more scarce, the string section begins to fade, Chandler's screams are no more, and the album concludes.
Epistemological Despondency built Esoteric's foundation in Funeral Doom. It was such a unique creation for its time and truly welcomed the Birmingham natives to the realm of extreme music following their 1993 demo. Greg, Gordon, and company have continued to go on and make engrossing albums every handful of years. Each one is as captivating as the last. Yet, sometimes it is an enjoyable experience to reflect on a band's cornerstone and to see what 20-plus years of excellence has been built on. Personally, it is a near-impossible task to pick a favorite Esoteric album. Epistemological Despondency makes an incredibly strong case for it, but the hope is that this column present readers with the challenge of finding theirs. Funeral Doom Friday covered another Esoteric release, The Pernicious Enigma, almost a year ago. The band is also on Facebook and their albums can be found on Bandcamp now (here and here.)