The Maniacal Vale - A study in the art of Doom Metal

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Esoteric, for those who might not know, is a funeral doom outfit hailing from Birmingham in the United Kingdom. They are one of the most superb, dynamic and consistent metal acts around. Now, I don’t give out this sort of praise willy-nilly but this band really deserves some serious accolades. On the other hand there are doom metal bands and then there are doom metal bands. I have come across many varieties: some have bored me to death (maybe that was the intention?), others that you really have to be in the right mood to enjoy or be a fan of the genre, and others that blow you away from beginning to end. With the last on the list are examples, I feel that anyone should be able to appreciate regardless of your personal taste in music. But that’s just me. Not all people seem to have an open mind or ear to different musical experiences.
Now onto the actual subject of this review: The Maniacal Vale. Clocking in at around 100 minutes of air play this is a real monster of an album. Some feel that a funeral doom band has no business making such a lengthy album. “Surely, doom is already too much of a labour to listen to without it being looong as well?” I hear those dissenting critic voices say. But they can go to hell. Do not let the length of this album deter you. Even if this album was twelve hours long and it would not make any difference to quality of music.
The album begins with ‘Circle’ and the title track is real doomy lullaby. Starting delicately and building slowly (it’s almost always slowly); the song begins as a sort of veiled entry into an ever-increasing darkness, savagery and oblivion. The guitar work is so beautiful (many non-metal heads will be surprised to find how prominent ‘beauty’ is in a genre known for being uncouth, dumb and ugly) that it threatens to seduce your heart right out of your chest.
And then there’s the voice. Greg Chandler has a magnificent growl: menacing, desperate and insane. I love the way he seems to roar against the music. Many metal singers have the same signature, for example Scott Kelly from Neurosis. Actually, there is something quite ‘sludgy’ about this album. The dissonant and repetitive riffs that build and build, growing in layered intensity until you can’t recall how the song progressed to this point. (You’re so fucked up by now that you don’t really care either.) You can almost imagine the guitars, keyboards and drums rising up like an angry grey ocean, while the singer stands on a cliff edge beating back the waves with his immense animal roar.

Over-the-top much?
Yes and no. this is an extreme form of musical expression and is so expressed in a severe manner. The tempo is slow and deliberate, the keyboards are ethereal in a not-too-comfortable sort of way and the guitar riffs and solos are treacherous in their splendour. The pace does pick up here and there (check out ‘The Order of Destiny’) but it’s a funeral march most of the way. Desperation and apocalypse have never been so welcomed to my ears.
It might take you a few tries but giving this album a go will not be without reward. The trick is to just let yourself go and let the music envelope, overcome and ultimately destroy you. It’s a wonderful destruction, mind you.

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