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Spewing from Asthâghul’s pure will like lava from the mouth of Krakatoa, the beast of a solo black metal project Esoctrilihum has pumped out five full-length albums in just three years. There have been no demos, no splits, no EPs, and no collabs, just five studio releases all clocking in at the one-hour range or more, and each one features Asthâghul’s particularly rhythmic and thunderous take on black metal.

I first discovered Esoctrilihum in 2018, with the alluring artwork for Inhüma (courtesy Leviathan’s Jef Whitehead) sucking me in, and there was no turning back from there. Asthâghul's compelling riff style -- one that always seems to have an underlying catchiness and memorability to it -- takes a cue from classic metal of the 1970s and 1980s. This is an unquestionable selling point -- Asthâghul's attention to a formidable and colossal drum/bass interplay leaves an equally powerful impression that serves as the bedrock for the project's imposing aura.

But, after listening to Inhüma more and more in context with the other releases, my inner critic spoke up and occupied me with a certain impression of Esoctrilihum: as wonderfully composed and enjoyable as Asthâghul’s music was, it wasn’t really going anywhere in terms of overall evolution and the exploration of new musical territories. This gripped me with the urge that Asthâghul needed to move on from the sound he established with the debut; then, when I noticed a new Esoctrilihum single a few weeks ago from the upcoming Eternity of Shaog, my curiosity piqued considerably.

See where I'm going with an early full stream of the whole album below.

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As fate would have it, I was satisfied with the single because it felt more melodic, airy, atmospheric, and emotive than anything previously released in the Esoctrilihum catalog. Hearing it all in full now, I can happily say that Eternity of Shaog is exactly the step forward I was looking for with Asthâghul’s work. Inhüma and its successor with the obnoxiously long title illuminated with a noticeable Eastern or even Mesopotamian tinge in much of its melody and riff structure. Eternity of Shaog keeps this habit up to some extent, as illustrated by the cover art depicting some towering, djinn-like creature. The compositions here all seem to be a bit crisper and cleaner and more spacious all around.

While far from being a frolic through a field of golden dandelions, though, and still maintaining an overall ensnaring sense of ambiance, Eternity of Shaog could very well be the brightest sounding Esoctrilihum album yet. This is a mood established immediately with "Exh-Enî Söph," the first song after the introductory opener, and one further sustained throughout the album with an all-around keener attention to creating a grandiose and almost welcoming atmosphere. The production doesn’t sound quite as abrasive and gritty as past releases, something that honestly seems to work better here.

Taking a minor step back from the crunchy haze of earlier times, Asthâghul now seems a lot more comfortable with letting undistorted melodies fly about and have their reign, giving the music a bit more dynamism and memorability.

Repeated sessions with Eternity of Shaog reveal that it has a noticeably symphonic inclination, so much so that (while it might piss off some longtime fans) the label “symphonic black metal” wouldn’t necessarily be too much of a stretch. But with this album, we’re talking about a very specific type of symphonic black metal -- it’s not the overblown, dramatic, and somewhat circusy type but rather more akin to the symphonic black metal sound of the late 1990s. It's warm, expansive, and has an almost orchestral feel to the song structures.

These mild similarities notwithstanding, this direction shift for Esoctrilihum still unquestionably has Asthâghul’s mark stamped all over it, and it’s somewhat difficult to compare it too much to what else has been done in the black metal hemisphere.

The symphonic dimension of Eternity of Shaog varies with exactly how it’s presented over the album’s 63 minutes, but it’s most definitely present. Warmly inviting synths helping more furious passages build to a crescendo like on third track "Thritônh." The melodies have a distinctly harmonious and almost Medieval air about them, especially on "Amenthlys." Even the occasional, more pronounced usage of piano ("Shtg") or that twangy, acoustic stringed instrument ("Namhera") greatly help to reinforce the atmosphere on Eternity Of Shaog -- one that treats listeners to a chaotic albeit carefully controlled symphony.

Through it all, though, and despite its more melodious, symphonic, and all-around epic leanings, Eternity of Shaog doesn’t appear to compromise any of the previous Esoctrilihum energy in any way; if anything, this ferocity is present here in slightly smaller doses than before, but when it appears it hasn’t been downgraded. "Shayr-Thàs," for instance, is an absolute banger, seeming to go a little more in the direction of the earlier Esoctrilihum sound -- it's a wee bit dirtier in the production and ups the ante on the frantic rhythm and astounding drumming. This surely isn’t an isolated burst of energy on an otherwise relaxed and passive album, however: ll throughout Eternity of Shaog, that thunderous rhythm at the core of Esoctrilihum (which admittedly is what first sucked me into the project) remains intact.

Asthâghul’s ability to chug out his barreling, catchy riffs consistently is also a key feature of Eternity of Shaog, as its pounding, forward-marching title track more than exemplifies.

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I went in looking for something different from Esoctrilihum, and Asthâghul ended up delivering in spades. The sound at play is refreshingly new and innovative by the project’s own standards, managing to take a different direction without deviating too far from pre-established techniques to the point of morphing into some bizarre, non-Esoctrilihum entity. The more melodic and atmospheric leanings are sure to satisfy fans of the older, more darkly hypnotic take on symphonic black metal, while also pleasing others who may have been curious for a while about whether or not Asthâghul would eventually explore such a dimension with his songwriting or not.

Integrating this more spacious, expansive ambiance and melodic nuance into the larger body of Esoctrilihum, Eternity of Shaog carves out a journey that is equal parts transcendent, aggressive, and monumental. This could very well be the finest hour for Esoctrilihum, just the right injection and fusion of previously untapped ideas with those of old -- just what this project needed to enter its next chapter.

-- Sahar Alzilu

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Eternity of Shaog releases Friday via I, Voidhanger Records in physical and digital formats.

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