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Messial - Ellipses II: Astronomicon Collapse review

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Band: Messial
Album: Ellipses II: Astronomicon Collapse
Release date: January 2023

01. A Simplified Adaptation Of Copernicism (Intro)
02. Sub-Neural Exclusion Principle Bonded In Astral Nucleus
03. Thermoclastic Exoplanet Electromagntism
04. Let Fall The Earth From It's Cluster

Recent discussion threads of an album that I actually quite liked and its associated review brought to my mind the question of what exactly it is that separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to extreme doom; come Awards season, it’s not always easy to determine what makes one slow, trudging, heavy release stand out against a lot of the pack. Unfortunately, it’s easier to identify what differentiates them from albums such as Ellipses II: Astronomicon Collapse.

Messial is a one-man space-themed funeral doom band that is the work of Wayne Sarantopoulos, who may be more familiar to some as Elektrokutioner. Sarantopolous is evidently a very handy musician; Conjureth have backed up the praise placed upon their second demo and their full-length debut with another solid death metal outing this year, while Encoffination released a very decent split with Rotting Kingdom in 2022. On the same day that the latest Conjureth dropped, however, Sarantopoulos also unveiled full-length release from Messial, and unfortunately, to my ears it seems that Sarantopoulos had only a 50% hit rate on 23 January 2023.

Ellipses II: Astronomicon Collapse features 4 tracks; however, with the opening and closing ones being comprised of ambient synths, sci-fi sound effects, and, in the case of closing track “Let Fall The Earth From It's Cluster” (typo intended, that's how it's written on Bandcamp), extended robotic voice-over, there’s only 2 metal tracks here, each running over 15 minutes. The first of these, “Sub-Neural Exclusion Principle Bonded In Astral Nucleus”, is fairly stylistically consistent throughout; aside from a brief dalliance with more up-tempo bursts of drumming midway through, this song sticks to the glacial beats and churning drones of funeral doom, with meandering lead guitars offering some form of melody.

Unfortunately, anyone that struggled with The Howling Void’s latest will likely suffer with this song, as there is simply nowhere near enough evolution or growth from what is a fairly unremarkable starting point on this song; the aforementioned passage around halfway through when the drums morph into something slightly more marching is a welcome change, but one that really needed to be the platform for further growth, rather than an endpoint from which the song subsequently reverses back to the initial approach. “Thermoclastic Exoplanet Electromagnetism”, in contrast, does have some variety; following the initial electronic sound effects, the first metal passage in the song is comparatively up-tempo, going in almost a stoner/sludge direction with the guitar fuzz and swinging nature of the riff, and even after it slips into a funeral doom trudge, it does find the energy to pick up the pace again later to offer some sense of direction and purpose.

The way I’ve described the foundations of Ellipses II: Astronomicon Collapse above hasn’t been particularly enthusiastic, and I have to admit that I do not feel very enthusiastic when listening to them; there’s too little substance to the first of the two main songs, and even the substance that “Thermoclastic Exoplanet Electromagnetism” has is only really in comparison with what came before. However, there’s greater things holding back Messial from competing with Elektrokutioner’s other projects. Anyone who’s listened to Conjureth will know that Sarantopoulos is a very capable death metal vocalist, with forceful, fiery growls. In contrast to this, the extreme vocal style used for Messial attempts to replicate the drawn-out, ultra-deep style of many other funeral doom growlers, but it’s far less successful.

There are times when the almost whispered, chilling nature of them brings a voidlike vibe that seems fitting for the intended theme of the record, so I can see them working for some people, but the more material growls a just a bit lacking. There are also some semi-sung vocals on this rcord; the sinister, low-register utterances midway through “Sub-Neural Exclusion Principle Bonded In Astral Nucleus” are passable (think “God Of Emptiness” by Morbid Angel), but the muffled, distorted spoken/chanted approach early in this song and late in “Thermoclastic Exoplanet Electromagnetism” is a real ‘swing and a miss’, rather distracting from the intended tone of the passages they grace.

The other thing that really hinders Ellipses II: Astronomicon Collapse is the use of synths and sound effects. It’s not unusual to use such sounds on a space-themed metal record, but the execution is something that I find perplexing; I have to assume that, within the context of the album’s world-building, they serve a thematic purpose to the composer, but as a listener without this kind of intimate relationship with the material, they can be rather offputting. The occasional scrambled sounds in “Sub-Neural Exclusion…” are forgivable, but the persistent atonal siren sounds and discordant ‘Close Encounters’ synth patterns in “Thermoclastic Exoplanet Electromagnetism” really kill the remaining goodwill I still harbor towards the album when they arrive, and leave me thoroughly unwilling to deal with the 4(!) minutes of scattered sounds and synthetic narration in “Let Fall The Earth From It's Cluster”. These are the kind of artistic choices that one can just about get away with on an album that otherwise is on the money (see the interludes on Bongtower’s Oscillator II), but they’re fatal to the chances of a record that is already struggling in other areas.

I gave this album a listen because of my positive experiences with Conjureth’s latest and the Encoffination/Rotting Kingdom split last year, and after subsequently going back to check out this project’s debut, I must confess myself slightly baffled as to how someone who clearly has the ability and know-how to write not only solid death metal, but solid death/doom metal, has managed to so miss the mark with both Messial albums thus far. One would think that the skills required to write slow, dense, suffocating doom such as this would translate naturally to funeral doom, but perhaps those subtle factors that make the best funeral doom records stand out are elusive even to those working in immediately adjacent genres. I hope it can be fixed, as celestial funeral doom is a promising musical concept that I'd be interested to hear if the delivery was altered from this.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 5
Songwriting: 4
Originality: 5
Production: 5

Written on 02.02.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not

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