n recent years, The Esoteric (not to be confused with UK doom act Esoteric) has built one of heavy music's most sophisticated balancing acts. The Lawrence, KS band has members whose resumes include metalcore pioneers Coalesce, indie popsters Reggie and the Full Effect, and noise metal legends Today Is the Day. But The Esoteric has achieved a nuanced sound that transcends these varied backgrounds. The band is truly unclassifiable, drawing from metal, hardcore, prog, and shoegazer rock to form a passionate, uplifting hybrid.
Starting in the late 90s, the band has amassed a discography of underground splits, full-lengths, and compilation appearances. Its present incarnation, however, really began when the group's house burned to the ground in February 2005, leaving three members homeless and their equipment destroyed. Ironically, the masters to their newly-recorded album, With the Sureness of Sleepwalking, arrived that same day. The band hit the road and proceeded to build a reputation as a formidable live act. Sureness was epic and emotional, with complex chords, visceral odd meters, and gorgeous, abstract melodies. But the band's trump card was Steve Cruz, a charismatic frontman whose midrange scream combines hardcore punk oomph with indie rock vulnerability.
On Subverter, The Esoteric reins in its songs, with tighter structures, catchier riffs, and better song sequencing. However, the band still hits breathtaking peaks. After two functional but propulsive songs, a brief instrumental deploys drum 'n' bass-eque beats and processed guitars. The key then drops a whole step and the speed a few bpm's into the ringing chords of "Shipyards of Foreign Cities"; the album feels like it's taken a short, yet ecstatic freefall.
"We Will Not Be Convinced…" adds further momentum; its pogoing post-punk kicks give way to mammoth blastbeats, only to yield to crashing waves of chords and ringing tones. The album peaks with "Don't Waste Guts," a tour de force for Cruz. In this song, he alternately sounds like Geddy Lee pitched down to a male range, Al Jourgensen singing shredded-throat anthems, and Aaron Bedard of Bane barking out hardcore punk. The music follows suit, going from melodic prog to Tool-esque grooves to double-time mayhem. A final peak comes in album closer "Clone Culture and the Cut-Up Method." Tritone-laden guitar harmonies spiral higher and higher above bruising syncopations, and when Cruz exclaims, "When the symbols shatter and the sky falls, something that sleeps inside us all…Wake up!"—it's impossible not to take heed.
A slight gripe: the production is over-compressed like most albums these days. The drums often feel like they're trying to punch through a blanket. But the mix itself is clean, with a great deal of separation between the instruments. At times the sound is too pristine, tucking in edges where they would otherwise add teeth. Thankfully, Cruz is mixed upfront. His commanding vocals and the songs' inherent dynamics would cut through any hack mastering job.