Chaos, isolation, and madness have always been integral themes within the realm of black metal, increasingly so since the advent of the one-man BM project and the genre’s more atmospheric, introspective variants. But none have combined these aesthetic themes and compositional formats into such a majestic, uninhibited headfirst dive into the arcane as France’s enigmatic Asthâghul and his Lovecraftian blackened death metal project Esoctrilihum.
To simply label Esoctrilihum’s music as blackened death metal is an oversimplification and a definite misnomer. However, more appropriate descriptors such as cacophonic, apocalyptic, or gravitationally pulverizing don’t fit easily into pre-defined subgenres, and although this music leans much more heavily towards elements of black metal than death metal, blackened death certainly sounds a hell of a lot better than “deathened black.” On Inhüma, however, both elements are employed in full force, dragging the listener downwards into a dark odyssey of obscured, incomprehensible forms.
Released via Italy’s celebrated underground label I, Voidhanger, Inhüma will be Esoctrilihum’s second album this year, and third overall after appearing completely out of nowhere with his debut in 2017. An incredibly prolific artist, Asthâghul is the sole contributor to the music of Escotrilihum, assuming the role of both composer and performer of all vocals and instrumentals, including the smattering of strings and elegiac synthesizers found throughout his catalog. Furthermore, he is also the project’s sole producer, leaving the duties of recording, mixing, and mastering all to himself. Asthâghul is a full-fledged mystery; we do not know his true name, his age, or what he looks like. Beyond simply being “from France,” no one even knows his base of operations. The same could be said of his music, as it is characterized by a sort of shapeshifting, faceless horror that refuses to reveal its true nature to the listener at all costs, growing increasingly grotesque as it descends further into indecipherable chaos.
Even when compared to his first two albums, Inhüma is a nightmarishly mortifying beast. Its massive sonic assault thrashes and writhes somewhere between a titanic cosmic inferno and the electrical desert storm from Fury Road, creating a monstrous visage that resembles early Mayhem on a heavy dose of phencyclidine. Clearly, the aesthetics of this towering, reverberating wall of feedback were crafted intentionally to create an authentic trve kvlt experience; if any installment within Asthâghul’s personal Necronomicon were produced with cleanliness or polish, it would lose much of its atmospheric heft. This is not to say that Esoctrilihum’s music relies completely on its garbled, murky nature, but its overall effect is undeniably bolstered by it.
Inhüma’s tracks are titled with an ungodly combination of Latin, German, Scandinavian languages, and the tongue of whatever interdimensional prophet inspired Esoctrilihum’s existence, with lyrics occasionally performed in English. Asthâghul’s vocal incantations range from guttural, animalistic growls to piercing, static shrieks, to eerily whispered or chanted passages. The track “Blodh Sacremonh” fully exhibits this frightening array with all three voices joined together in a demonic chorus of utter devastation, conjuring forth the image of an elder god stretching wide its infinite maw to consume your entire being. Occasionally, there are moments of more melodic vocal reprieve, as choirs of deep, solemn churchlike voices steeped in reverb echo in the background of Inhüma’s heavily layered auditory soup.
In terms of Inhüma’s harmonic strategies, diminished chords and atonal scales reign supreme, exemplified by moments such as the particularly twisted violin motif towards the end of “Yhtri’lhn (The Last Age of Ukhn),” which swirls around itself but never truly resolves. This discord comes to a terrifying head on tracks like “Exhortathyon Od Saths Scriptum,” which begins with a ferocious tremolo riff, underlain by pummeling blast-beats and backed by unearthly crashes and explosions. This added element of ambient noise is a recurring feature on the album, with tracks such as “Incursus Into Daeth Hausth” including moments of hissing feedback that boil and simmer before exploding back into more organized dissonance.
Despite the record’s vicious, spiraling onslaught, it boasts considerable emotional range in many of its tracks. Often, the black curtains of pandemonium part to reveal moments of quixotic, medieval glory. Using synthesizers to emulate a wide range of additional instruments including horns, flutes, and organs, Asthaghul reins in his vortices of insanity to offer victorious moments almost reminiscent of dungeon synth. The fifth track, “Ƨinsnhy’lh” features a melancholic outro whose slow march is encased in a cloak of shimmering keyboards, while “Aevendh Sadh” transitions from undistorted guitar lamentations into an epic quest of blackened horns and harpsichords sailing out into a vast interdimensional sea.
Tying all of these ideas together, Inhüma’s final track “Lörth Volth Lynhnzel (Lost in the Storm of Itshka Blood)” features a mournful violin riff pulsating throughout its entire duration, joined by harrowing shrieks that feel as if they were uttered directly behind your shoulder, creeping over your scalp with bone-chilling anguish. Thundering blast beats eventually subside into a warbling sea of synthesizer tones played backwards before an abrupt silence, the album’s massive unrelenting swarm snuffed out in a sudden instant with all the weight of an O-type main sequence star collapsing into a black hole.
Indeed, Inhüma is a record that in many ways describes itself, and Esoctrilihum’s identity as a hallucinatory portal to unholy dimensions of pure, merciless chaos. Even more so than his first two LPs, Inhüma is a piece of art that will be extremely difficult to digest for those not already accustomed or attuned to this particular style of metal; however, if you are willing to let Asthâghul wrest your mind from the grip of sanity, Inhüma can be a deeply hypnotic experience, to the point that it can actually become hard to stop listening. Few black metal records have yet to tread upon such challenging, hellish territory while still ultimately retaining a menacingly majestic musical quality, but Esoctrilihum easily accomplishes this balance with each successive release, proving Asthaghul’s might as an unrivaled force in the genre.
Inhüma was released Friday, October 19th, and can be purchased or streamed in full via I, Voidhanger’s Bandcamp page.