Review: Eshtadur – From The Abyss

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Taking The Bull By The Horn Section.

In my last review, (Valkyrie’s Fear), I harped a lot about the more subtle merits of copying and embodying a well-explored genre at a high level of execution. Now, on the flip side, I’m listening to Eshtadur‘s new record, From The Abyss, and remembering why that approach is risky. More imitation than innovation, it showcases some strong moments but also has a bit of a hard time taking its own path away from its roots.

The stylistic influence is usually very obvious from riff to riff. One moment, we’re in string-jumping At The Gates land, next we’re in snaky tremolo Fleshgod land, then sliding over to harmonized low-string-bending Carcass land, occasionally seasoned with baroque horns that sound like they got lost on their way to a Behemoth record. The building blocks get a little mixed up, but they’re all coming from the same toybox. Sometimes a little clean guitar and strings are brought in to make things feel enigmatic and shadowy, but that’s still a pretty predictable part of the melodeath playbook. The only really left field track is “All She Wrote”, a cover of 80s glam band FireHouse. Far be it from me to say stadium rock can’t get heavy, but the oddball cover tune really feels like a do-over of Children Of Bodom‘s already done-over joke of melodeathized pop rock tunes. Furthermore, what’s it doing chilling in the middle of the album? The most enigmatic, shadowy question of all, right there.

Thankfully, the solos really boost each song by a full letter grade. They’re full of life, boasting a bottomless bag of tricks and phrases, screeching and snarling with classic shredding flavor. The absolute catchiest melodic moments are strung together in these passages, and what’s more interesting is that the songwriting underneath the solos seems to markedly improve as well. Since there’s actually one instrument taking center stage, the other sections get dialed down in ferocity and do a much better job at supporting the leads, emphasizing buildups and releases with adroit flair. There’s clarity, focus, an overall vision being served, which makes the parts feel much more unified instead of just laid over one another. That’s really what this record could use more of: unity.

There’s sweet material all through this record, but it’s little bits of hamburger mixed in with a bit too much helper. Eshtadur’s lineup has been a near-solo project at times and August seems to be the guiding voice (and source of all those horn synths), accompanied by new lead guitarist Alejo Bet and session drumming from Decapitated‘s Michal Lysejko, so perhaps it’s a problem of divided attention. Bet’s top-notch lead work saves a lot of compositions from their own unguided arrangement, but for the most part, all the sounds have a hard time linking up in an interesting way.

In those bursts where all the sections move with the same purpose, however, the results are grand. Just listen to the post-chorus break from “The Oathbreaker”, where the big splash chord gets followed by a severe tremolo sting, with the drums kicking in and out of high gear to emphasize, the horns playing back and forth between August’s commendably hoarse mantra. It’s fucking villainous, deliciously diabolical. Consider as well the opening to “The Red Door”, which does genuinely deliver on the dark, foreboding majesty that any band using horn synths this heavily must clearly have in its sights. It goes from staccato and striking, built on a backbone of Hitchcockian guitar stabs, backing it up with a muscley chug riff while the drums start really stirring, launching forward into another roiling tremolo run properly bolstered by the brass section.

I can’t help but feel this record could have been re-arranged and boiled down into a pretty damn good EP. It does a whole lot of things right! It’s just that all those things are what other bands have already made a whole career of. But that’s not a bad foundation to work from, and if a little more revision gets all the players on the same page, Eshtadur’s next long player could make a splash.

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