Esoctrilihum - Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac (I, Voidhanger)

Esoctrilihum’s Asthâghul has made a career prodding metalheads’ funny and entrenched notions about how long an album has the right to be. Though many cast aside the niche short-form releases that we try to cover here at Mutant Breakfast, there is no better way to get a self-important purist riled up, than to release something with an ostentatiously long runtime. This stubborn attitude poses many obstacles along metal’s multifarious fringe, with some subgenres (think goregrind and war metal) tending toward brutal-haiku minimalism; others (prog and drone), languid and ouroborotic compositions. Black metal (BM) has always sat somewhere in the middle, but you’d think Xasthur's Malefic had skewered baby pandas, the way his lengthy records offend some kvlt sensibilities. Thankfully, with Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac, I, Voidhanger have trusted and indulged Asthâghul the way they did Neptunian Maximalism, by permitting him to release a career-defining triple LP. It’s a hefty preorder, no doubt, but the record offers the most magisterial example not only of Esoctrilihum’s mythic BM, but of Asthâghul’s  recent experiments in eclecticism. Though we can’t promise he won’t follow up this release with a four-hour montage of taiko samples, this one’s got all that new Esoc juice—from the dungeon-synth stylings of its spiritual predecessor Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath, to the industrial war-metal abrasion of Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh, to the moorland gothicism of Funeral. Whether or not that’s your kind of cocktail elixir, it shouldn’t be a crisis that Asthâghul took 130 minutes to refine the absinthe, toast the salt-crystal garnish, and set the concoction ablaze. Aside from Paysage d’Hiver, perhaps, no other act of international renown relies more on broad swaths of black metal to summon different vibes, atmospheres, and in Esoc’s case, legends. Simply put, some mystics need time and space to work.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest development on Constellations is that another trailblazer has finally wrangled the hermetic Asthâghul into an act of cooperation. Fresh off his veritably Marstonian wonk job mastering Atemporal’s prickly Thorn Genesis, Cosmic Putrefaction and Vertebra AtlantisGabriele Gramaglia brings new depth, dynamics, and subtlety to Esoctrilihum’s trademark strain and grit. His mix manages not only to ride the fluid swings between raw-BM riffage and technicolor synth-phony, but to assist in surprising new twists—like the stripped-back, ZOS-like ritualism on “Ѳxphiliastisme”; the intense drum-focused section on “AlŭBaalisme”; and the layered harsh and clean caterwauls bouncing around on “Uran-Ѳx Death Star.” More than offbeat esoterica, these components illuminate Esoctrilihum’s cathartic approach like mirrors on a disco ball. While Consecration felt like an acid bath for the soul, exfoliating emotion in a blaze of fury, Constellations follows Funeral by compounding and not castigating the music’s underlying sentimentality. “Tȃimonh Ѳx” begins in an (almost) uplifting manner, building a New Age-y soundscape from flute and piano sounds, before resolving with a determined vocal chant. Thankfully, this sensitivity and attentiveness to detail only enhances Esoctrilihum’s more sinister sonics. Just listen to the buzzing and clipping menace behind Asthâghul’s unmistakable snarl on the opening to “Skorpïus Nebŭlah Tyrant.”

Still, the growth on Constellations becomes most obvious in the conclusion to its disorienting odyssey—a third disc, whose twin tracks run even longer than Funeral's mammoth cuts. Maybe emboldened by the prospect of working with Gramaglia, Asthaghul commits these compositions to his flowering love of synths. “Zi-Dynh-Gtir - Eon Devourer” stands out for its dramatic tension, wrought as much from the droning post-rock playbook of Godspeed You! Black Emperor as from the long-form emiseration of depressive BM. While it opens almost like a palate cleanser, Asthâghul and Gramaglia shift the work’s center of gravity from space fantasia to tortured romance, before the whole thing erupts in apocalyptic proportions. Those patient enough to appreciate Esoc’s grandeur will find tokens here that others who mistake it for lethargy will miss, because the transitions tingle the spine differently, when you’re keyed into the tidal pace. This is a new and somewhat fitting feature, considering all the cries that Asthâghul needed a producer to trim his work. Here, it seems, he found one who understood what he really needed: encouragement and guidance in making his biggest, baddest record yet.