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Album Review: Chaos Moon – Eschaton Mémoire

It’s only been a few months since I did a deep dive into Chaos Moon main man Alex Poole’s entire discography. I was doing prep for a massive interview I did with Poole for a retrospective piece for Invisible Oranges that coincided with the 10th anniversary reissues of the first two Chaos Moon albums, Origin of Apparition​ and ​Languor into Echoes, Beyond. I don’t mention this as a claim that I’m some sort of expert on all things AP. However, since I have spent quite a bit of time recently with just about all of his projects, starting with Troglodytic and extending through the most recent Skáphe release, I am having a bit of a hard time just thinking about Eschaton Mémoire as the long-awaited new Chaos Moon record. I want to try to fit it into the overall arc of his career, assuming that’s even possible – because if there’s one thing that’s characterized his output over the last eighteen years (yep, dude started making bedroom black metal when he was like twelve, when most boys are still trying to figure out how to jerk off), it his willingness to follow wherever his creative impulses lead.

If there’s one notable thing about Poole’s recent discography, it’s how much more compartmentalized it seems than some of his earlier releases. Esoterica continued the more claustrophobic direction Chaos Moon was heading in when he originally put that project to rest. Skáphe is more avant-garde/experimental. Krieg feels like a much rawer entity since AP joined, and on Transient they more or less morphed into the crust/black hybrid I think they were always meant to be. Lithotome sounds like death/doom filtered through the lens of bad hallucinogenics. Martröð leans more towards chaotic second wave. And Chaos Moon? Somehow Chaos Moon ended up being the most polished of AP’s bands.

Go back and refresh your memory on either Origin or Languor and then listen to the first couple minutes of Eschaton Mémoire opener “The Pillar, The Fall, and The Key I.” The song’s atmospheric sludge/post-metal tendencies scarcely sound like the product of the same band. To be fair, though, there are several reasons for that. Even though the rest of Chaos Moon’s currently lineup aren’t new to collaborating with AP—Steven (guitars) and Jack Blackburn (drums) were both involved with Esoterica, Lithotome, and earlier incarnations of Chaos Moon, and vocalist Eric Baker joined the fold on 2015’s Amissum EP—the only constant since those first records is Poole himself, and he’s not the same musician or songwriter that he was at sixteen or seventeen when he wrote most of the material on those first two albums. He’s also written more songs and appeared on more albums in the intervening decade than I have the patience to count, and that’s only what he’s released. Given his Ryan Adams/Neil Young-level of prolificness, I can only imagine how much archived material he has hidden away on a hard drive somewhere. But I digress…

I guess my point here, some 500 words later, is that it’s fucking difficult to know where to place Eschaton Mémoire in the overall arc of Chaos Moon’s discography, much less compare it to anything else he’s ever done. Aside from those first two Chaos Moon records, which were essentially written concurrently, there’s really no sort linear progression that a listener can follow from one AP album to the next. And judging Eschaton Mémoire solely on its own merits, it’s a really fucking good black metal album: kind of psychedelic, kind of atmospheric, more than a little suffocating, and completely engaging from first note to last.

As a Chaos Moon record, though, I wish there were more keyboards. There are keyboard accents on the album, but I’m talking about the extended ambient keyboard passages that characterized the first two Chaos Moon records. I know some of the extended intros/outros on Languor were actually composed by Mark Hunter, and that Poole lost interest in creating those kinds of textures a while ago, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who misses them. Nor am I likely the only one secretly hoping that AP and Neill Jameson are secretly working on a dungeon synth side project (please let this happen)…

Keyboard wishes aside, Eschaton Mémoire sees Poole push Chaos Moon’s sound into previously uncharted stylistic waters. With its compositional complexity and overall feel of thematic unity, this might be the closest he’s ever come to Emperor territory. In fact, the record sounds as though it were composed and arranged to be experienced as a single, near-continuous piece of music. Moody two-part opener “The Pillar, The Fall, and The Key I and II” starts things off in slow-building, atmospheric fashion, and unfolds dramatically from there. It often threatens to open up into full tremolo-and-blasts, but consistently pulls back at the last possible second. The keyboard presence might be the strongest on this track, providing a consistent ambience behind the more exploratory sections of riffs. Album centerpiece (and likely my favorite track) “Of Wrath and Forbidden Wisdom” continues to gradually increase the record’s overall intensity, interspersing plenty of double-blast driven sections among some of the more progressive-sounding sections. Two-part closer “Eschaton Mémoire I and II” stays fairly aggressive throughout most of its 20-minute combined run time, releasing all of the accumulated tension from the previous few tracks and then some before finally dissolving into the album’s ambient guitar-centric final movement.

In spite of its relatively brief 41-minute run time, there’s a lot for listeners to wrap their heads around on Eschaton Mémoire. Honestly, it took a couple of listens for me to decide whether I even liked the album, and then at least five more before I started gradually puzzling the record out. In many ways, the music sounds as inscrutable as Jef Whitehead’s Lovecraft-meets-Dali cover painting, and I’m not even close to ready to delve into Baker’s vocals, which have more depth to them than the average black metal shriek, or what’s happening lyrically. I do know, however, that Eschaton Mémoire will be spending quite a bit of time on my turntable for the next couple of months as I continue attempting to unravel its mysteries.

Eschaton Mémoire will be available on November 17 via Blood Music/Fallen Empire Records.

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