The term "esoteric" refers to knowledge only known to a select few. It's mostly used when describing occult teachings and philosophy, often sought after by scholars and seekers of enlightenment. Funeral doom pioneers Esoteric are keepers of a treasure that's just as coveted. For three decades they've developed an uncompromising sound and have continued to strive for perfection with each new release. Time and again, founding members Greg Chandler (guitar/vocals) and Gordon Bicknell (guitar) have proven to be a formidable team that refuses to rest on their laurels. Merging elements from doom, progressive music, and even death metal–their sound is truly original.
A Pyrrhic Existence is the groups' newest offering since 2011's Paragon of Dissonance. It's a near-perfect example of a band refusing to yield in their efforts to achieve perfection. Pyrrhic is a Greek term that describes a victory that's so costly that it results in self-defeat. This definition in question perfectly describes the atmosphere that emanates from each passing moment on the album. The well-crafted compositions harness desperation, dread, and hopelessness and merge them with discord and melody. Esoteric construct barren landscapes with their music, that are uninhabitable as they are brooding.
The album opens up with "Descent." A 27-minute opus that's best described as a sparsely populated wasteland. It completely pummels the listener into submission as it crawls slowly like a nomad dying beneath a desert sun. Refusing to remain dormant, "Descent" continually weaves in and out of abrasiveness and friction with brief moments tranquil melody. Grating on the senses, it's the perfect start for such a remarkable release. This is songwriting worthy of Pink Floyd, albeit with slightly more transgression.
Ebbing and flowing like a cascading stream is "Rotting in Dereliction." Maintaining the continuity of the atmosphere established in "Descent" —it also takes things further. While it still grates on the senses with its unwavering abrasiveness, there's also a fair amount of technically proficient guitar work on the part of Chandler and Bicknell. Chandler's guttural vocals on this track, in particular, are just as hard-hitting as everything else that accompanies them. As the title suggests–there's a strong feeling of isolation in the song. It's as if the journey across the wasteland that began on "Descent" comes to its conclusion as one suffers in agony. This is unquestionably the greatest attribute that Esoteric provides their audience–the music manages to engulf the listener and force a mental image. In short, someone doesn't just hear the album, they experience it.
Complete madness reaches a crescendo on "Culmination." Another song that lives up to its title in every conceivable way, its bloodcurdling screams and marching rhythms show a group crafting masterpieces by taking inspiration from a wide variety of influences. Even as the song approaches its inevitable conclusion the chaos reverberates strongly right until the end. "Descent" was the perfect song, to begin with, and "Sick and Tired" is the perfect curtain call. Eliciting strong feelings of weightlessness, it takes the form of a dirge or funeral requiem.
While A Pyrrhic Existence has a lengthy runtime, there's not a single moment that's wasted. Once again, Esoteric has raised a bar and set a standard that other acts should strive for. A modern Greek tragedy told in six parts, it's nothing short of a theatrical masterpiece.