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The unexpected news that Esoteric have finally decided to re-release the long-unavailable 1993 demo meant that we felt we should have an in-depth chat with Greg about its significance to the band...

Interview with Esoteric.
"25 years on from its original tape release, and 17 years since an unofficial CDr found its way into the marketplace, Esoteric's much-requested demo recording finally gets an unexpected official resurrection through Aesthetic Death Records. It's something the band were quite adamant would never happen, so we thought we'd better ask Greg about what prompted the change of heart, and what to expect from this piece of band history."

Talking to us today, Esoteric frontman Greg Chandler.

(1) Hello Greg! Always a pleasure to chat to you! How're things in the world of Esoteric right now?

Hi Mike, Kris, things are okay at the moment thank you. We are currently rehearsing and working on the songs for the 7th album. We haven’t taken on too many gigs in the coming months due to needing to spend more time focusing on getting the album writing finished and ready to record. We will start playing live more often again after the album is recorded.

(2) My colleague Kris (ex-of the band, as he occasionally likes to remind us, and co-interviewer here) did a pretty massive interview with you last year on the re-release of 'The Pernicious Enigma'. And here's another, shall we say, retrospective conversation...so, before we plunge into that, any news on a follow-up to 'Paragon Of Dissonance'?

Yes, we should have the 7th album recorded next year. It will be another double album. At the moment we are unsure of the exact schedule/details, but we have already been playing a couple of the new songs live and will continue to play more of them live as we approach the album recording.

The Esoteric full-length discography: 'Epistemological Despondency' (Aesthetic Death, 1994), 'The Pernicious Enigma' (Aesthetic Death, 1997), 'Metamorphogenesis' (Eibon Records, 1999), 'Subconscious Dissolution Into The Continuum' (Season of Mist, 2004), 'The Maniacal Vale' (Season of Mist, 2008), 'Paragon Of Dissonance' (Season of Mist, 2011).

(3) On the subject of retrospectives, you've been doing some sterling work with Stu at Aesthetic Death to get the entire Esoteric back catalogue re-released in its fullest possible glory. So, how close am I to being able to finally buy the complete ultimate vinyl boxed-set of everything?

Well, the last existing album to be pressed to vinyl is “Metamorphogenesis” which will be released on Aesthetic Death next year, 2018. We should also have the 7th album included in the box set. Given how long it has taken to get to this stage, I don’t imagine a box set being available until 2019 or later. It is a huge outlay and there are a large number of details to get right in what will be a bespoke package. The main reason Aesthetic Death had to release all of the albums on Vinyl individually as a precursor to the box set, is simply because the outlay to do it all in one pressing would have been prohibitively expensive.

(4) To cut somewhat to the chase, I'm sure I've heard it said/seen it written on a number of occasions that there were no plans to redo the original demo, and (I'm paraphrasing) that it wouldn't really be possible to make it either particularly great or particularly relevant, in any case. Is that right, and if so, what made you decide to do it anyway?

Well, basically we didn’t have any intentions of re-releasing the demo. The main reason being that we were never really that happy with it, or the mix of it, and since we couldn’t afford the analogue tapes at the time there was never any chance to go back and make any changes or re-mix it. Also, it was our first ever recording, written while the band was in its embryonic stages and we felt the music no longer represented what Esoteric did in later years. However, over time our stance on this softened, simply because we have had so many requests from fans for the demo to be re-released, and a lot of labels have asked us for the opportunity to do this over the years, which we always turned down.

I think the final push to re-release it came after we noticed some unscrupulous bastards bootlegging CD-R versions of the demo on Discogs at quite an unreasonable price. This is both stealing from the band and ripping off fans of the band. Discogs do not care to put a stop to such practises whilst they can profit from them too. So it is a combination of many reasons really and we finally relented now. It also coincides with the 25th anniversary of our existence, so it finally felt right. We chose to release it with Aesthetic Death because Stu is the perfect choice. It was upon receiving this demo that he offered us a deal to release the first album. He was the only label that believed in the band right from the beginning and was willing to take a risk.

The Aesthetic Death repackaging: 'Esoteric Emotions - The Death of Ignorance', digibook and limited edition bag.

(5) I've seen it claimed (on Wiki, for example) that despite the inner credits to 'Esoteric', and the separate 'Esoteric' logo on the cover, that the band were actually called 'Esoteric Emotions' at the time, rather than the demo itself being named 'Esoteric Emotions - The Death Of Ignorance'. Is that true?

No, it is a complete falsehood. I don’t know why that is written on Wikipedia, but as with most things on Wikipedia, it cannot be taken as true without further research. The band has always been called Esoteric since we formed with the original line up in July 1992. The title of the demo is “Esoteric Emotions – The Death of Ignorance”. The original demo cassette which I am holding in my hands right now has the “Esoteric” logo on the bind of the cassette. In the credits the line-up is titled as “Esoteric”. Also the copyright is assigned to “Esoteric” on the inlay. You would have to be pretty blind to miss all of that. The misconception possibly comes from the fact that on the cassette itself, the band name was omitted and only the title displayed as “Esoteric Emotions – The Death of Ignorance” due to space limitations – this was down to the manufacturer at the time. The misconception on the name seemed to come about in later years, since I don’t recall anyone making that mistake at the time of release.

Original cassette inlay for 'Esoteric Emotions - The Death of Ignorance' (self-released, 1993).

(6) How was the band itself, in that early incarnation? Were you all on the same wavelength when it came to working together and developing your own sound? Did you have any kind of longer-term vision for Esoteric?

I think the core of the band were all on the same wavelength, yes. Myself, Simon, Bryan and Gordon were really the core of the band at the time. Stuart and Darren both left after the first album recording, which wasn’t a huge surprise to us really. We had more free time in those days, and used to spend a lot of time together, writing, rehearsing, experimenting with hallucinogens from time to time and exploring or listening to music. At that time, the difficulty was more in how we would get the equipment together - we were all young and pretty broke, so it took some time to build up the effects before we could use them at a level we were happy with. The demo itself was fairly barren compared to later recordings, mainly because of the limitations of what we were working with. But the idea was always there to have sonic soundscapes and atmospheres aided by a heavy use of effects. We knew what we wanted to do musically, sonically, but achieving it took a little longer. We had our own sound at the demo recording stage, but our inexperience allowed the engineer to shape it away from where we wanted it, I would say. So it came out a lot less heavy than the recorded sound, and the drums and vocals were too high in the mix. We didn’t really have a long term vision, we just had a basis of ideas for the band and music and wanted to experiment and create music without any set or generic boundaries in mind, letting the music evolve and progress as we did.

Esoteric - 'Scarred' (Demo):

(7) What were your main inspirations back then? Were you aware of the nascent, not-really-official "extreme Doom" scene, and the bands contributing to it - for example: Thergothon, Winter, Unholy. They weren't exactly household names at that point, but were they any kind of influence...?

At the time the only way we would find out about other bands was through underground fanzines and tape trading, which was slow and often several months or even years behind what was actually happening at the time. There were also a lot more record stores back then, where you could go and see what had been released. So bands like Thergothon, Unholy, etc, we didn’t hear until after we’d recorded our first demo or album and were getting reviews or features in fanzines that contained the same bands. I am trying to recall exactly when we first heard Winter, but the timeline is quite hard to remember now. I just remember having their album on cassette and listening to it (amongst other music) whilst on an LSD trip. Initially we were inspired by the slow, heavy and dark sections of some of the early death and doom death metal bands, such as Autopsy, Morbid Angel, My Dying Bride, even Cathedral’s first album, etc, and we wanted to create something extreme, slow and psychedelic, something we didn’t hear in other bands at the time that was also very personal to us – music that could be made as a reflection of our darker states of mind, emotions, experiences and so on. The use of effects in our music was inspired by our experimentation at the time and being into psychedelic, progressive, industrial and dark ambient music. We were often listening to bands like Pink Floyd, Spacemen 3, Monster Magnet, King Crimson, or bands like In Slaughter Natives, Raison D’etre, Skinny Puppy, GGFH, Godflesh, etc. Our tastes in music were both individually and collectively broad – we also listened to a lot of music that was not metal, but some of it was just as dark, if not darker. The use of effects was pretty unusual at the time in extreme metal, but we didn’t really think about that as being a barrier.

(8) The original 'Fuck off and die' liner notes (more or less reproduced on 'Epistemological Despondency') read rather like a Crass-style 'hate everyone, smash the system' manifesto. There's always been an iconoclastic, anti-system theme running through Esoteric's music, but were you all genuinely angry about so many things, back in the day? How much has that been refined or redirected since?

Well, looking back of course, we tend to feel that these kind of rants were a product of our young age and rebellious nature. Nowadays we may feel the same way, but channel it through the music and lyrics without feeling the need to add to that with any kind of message. We were angry and very much genuine in our animosity. The future of society looked bleak from where we were standing and with hindsight, it has continued in a way that is much as anticipated. We are still the same people, perhaps slightly more rational with age, but still true to our roots in many ways.

Esoteric in 1997: Bryan Beck (Bass), Simon Philips (Guitar), Steve Peters (Guitar), Gordon Bicknell (Guitar), Greg Chandler (Vocals).

(9) Personally, I've never really felt the 'Funeral' tag was anything like a match for what Esoteric do. But did you acquire it from the very beginning, or somewhere later on in your release history? Would you consider it a reasonable or hopelessly misplaced one - or does it perhaps not bother you either way?

To be honest, I don’t really worry too much about genres or name tags. It may be important for marketing and for the media, but for me, its only value is to give a general impression/idea to the prospective listener as to what the music may be relative to. I know for some people it is important, but for us it has never been something to really worry about. The term funeral doom didn’t exist until several years after we formed as far as I am aware. I don’t recall seeing it anywhere until much later. Obviously there are some parallels you can draw between Esoteric and the definition of funeral doom, but I think we are not really limited to one genre as that is a little misleading as to what someone might expect to hear. In the early years of our existence we were more used to hearing the opinion that our music was not doom at all. But genres expand and mutate over the years and sub genres are created.

(10) So, how did you feel about the demo at the time? Were you satisfied with the results, especially given the technical and financial restrictions in place back in the day?

At the time, we were not that happy with how the demo and particularly the mix came out. The whole process was new to us, being our first professional recording, and we had just under 3 days to record and mix a 78 minute demo. The whole band recorded live in the studio and we just overdubbed vocals and a few guitar leads/harmonies separately. Studio prices were actually higher back in the early 90’s than they are today. But from the start of the band, we each put in £10 a month to create a band fund, which we then used to cover the cost of recording. The main element that was missing from our first demo compared to later years, was that we only had very basic equipment at the time, and the number of effects we could afford at the time was quite limited. We had some effects for guitars and bass, but we also had to rely on what the studio had somewhat at that stage, without much time for experimentation or adding as many sounds as we would have liked.

Esoteric - 'Bereft' (1994):

(11) And how was the tape/demo trading scene back in those days? How did you actually get set up with partners, and distribute your own works? Did you ever get ripped off or completely stiffed on deals?

The tape/demo trading scene was strong. A lot of bands and fans did it and it was a great way to discover new music. It was much more laborious and time consuming than it is for bands and fans nowadays, but I think there is a value in that which is much missed nowadays. Now anyone can preview a band on Youtube or somewhere online and decide in 20 seconds if they want to continue listening to it, and it’s very easy to acquire more music than you could possibly listen to. Before the internet, you either had to pay for an album with hard earnt cash, trade for music or invest time into getting it. Even if you could get a copy, it would still cost something for the blank tape and/or postage and any copying was done in real time. And albums, whilst cheaper to buy (particularly vinyl) were in real terms (considering inflation) more expensive than they are today. So we would give each album a fair chance to grow, listening objectively before coming to any conclusions. That is often a blessing because a lot of albums take time to grow on you as a listener. But now, there is so much music out there and it is so easily accessible, I think the value has become lost somewhat. This is also reflected by the change in how people access and consume music. Personally, I still listen to CD’s and vinyl and do not own an mp3 player or subscribe to any streaming service. I may preview some music online, but as a music lover I want the actual album of bands I really like since that means a lot more to me than having a library of files. As a youngster I would listen to music with the album in front of me, following the lyrics, looking at the artwork. I think for me, that close connection to a band and its music is somehow lost when I just have a file to click on. But that is probably just an isolated view, since convenience and the ability to get music free or for a very low price has clearly contributed to the global decline of physical album sales. I would say that the decline of record stores and insane increases in postage costs in the UK and elsewhere have hurt album sales a lot also. If you cannot find a distributor in your country for an album, especially vinyl, the postage can be a huge part of the cost when ordering from abroad.

The way we operated was a little different back then. Everything went through the postal service. We would send off demos and albums to distributors and it all worked fine most of the time. There was the occasional flaky character but it was a smaller, more tight knit scene back then and rip offs would usually be ousted and warned against. Most of the deals were just done on faith and for the majority of the transactions, there were no issues.

(12) From a technical point of view, I'm told you were using the same half-octave downtuning for the demo that you still use now. Is that true - and, if so, what does it bring to the party that you've stuck with it ever since?

Well, initially we settled on this tuning because it was about as low as we could go on a 6 string with the string gauges available back then. They were still pretty loose because really heavy gauge strings and such low tuning were rare amongst bands then, so manufacturers hadn’t caught on to the need. 7 string guitars were rare and prohibitively expensive, at least for us. We just never really felt the need to go lower later on. We could have done it, but we felt the tuning we had fitted the band perfectly and the more music we released, the harder it would have been to change it without affecting older songs. There is also much more to creating a heavy sound than in the tuning alone.

Esoteric in 2014: rather less limited in terms of gear!

(13) What gear did you use to record to record the demo? How much of it are you still using today?

Well, we had a selection of Boss pedals for guitars, like flangers, delays, phasors, and a Zoom multi-fx. Bryan had a Boss multi-fx for his bass. It was all cheap and cheerful stuff, most of which we bought used. The only pedal I had that survived from that period was the Boss PS-2 pitch shifter/delay, which I only got rid of quite recently. The pedal was 25 years old with only one service in that period. Well fucking made. Pretty lo-fi compared to most delay pedals made today, but it had its own character and was good for self-oscillation. It also had a fair breadth of parameters and capabilities of sound. It has actually appeared on all Esoteric albums to date in some form.

(14) Stylistically, the demo keeps a reasonable separation between the Death/Doom and the weirder experimental segments, with some vocal effects bridging the two in places. But by the time 'Epistemological Despondency' came out, the various elements were more or less completely integrated. Was that progression organic or deliberate, or perhaps a bit of both?

The progression was deliberate. Other than a handful of primitive rehearsal recordings, the demo was the first real recording we had done, and it was just a year after the band had formed. So that gave us the chance to listen to our music properly and gain a little hindsight. It is always a little different to listen back compared to actually playing the music. The hindsight from this and the original vision we had helped us to develop further, boosted by the continued acquisition of equipment we could use to create better soundscapes and effects sections. The demo showed signs of the direction we were heading in, but it wasn’t developed enough. There was too much repetition and it was a little too stripped down. So the goal then was to improve everything and capture a recording that was more fitting to our sound. The recorded sound of the demo didn’t end up quite as we had anticipated.

(15) Were you playing live from the beginning, and through the demo period, or did that come later?

Our first gig with Esoteric was around November 1993, at the Jug of Ale in Moseley, Birmingham with Cain. So it was after we had recorded the demo. In the early days we really only played a few shows in and around Birmingham, until 1994 after the first album was released. We then played some shows in London with bands like Hecate Enthroned, Cradle of Filth, Dearly Beheaded, etc, getting support slots from Mike who was running the Devils’ church at the Dublin Castle. Our first trip abroad was in 1995 when we played a few shows in Germany, one in Northern Ireland and Scotland on the UK tour. But our live appearances were then cut short due to a van fire destroying much of our equipment on the UK tour as we headed from Berwick down to London for the next show. It took a little while to rebuild our gear, since only half of the band had insurance at the time. We were without a drummer then for some time, since we had used a session drummer for the tours. We then focused on the 2nd album, and apart from a very brief run of 4 shows in Germany in 1997 with Sleeping Gods, we didn’t return to playing live regularly until 2003, as we were getting ready to release the 4th album.

Esoteric - 'The Blood Of The Eyes' (Live in Arnhem, 2007):

(16) With the benefit of a few years hindsight, what do you consider to be the most important thing 'Esoteric Emotions' achieved - on a band and/or a personal level?

I guess it is important because it was our first recording. It was a decent starting point for the band from which to develop properly. A starting point from which we could improve as musicians, improve our song-writing and arranging and to develop our integration of different sounds and atmospheres into the music. We learnt a lot from this. One of the main reasons we held off on re-releasing the demo for so long, is because we always felt it was just a little too pre-mature in terms of where we would have liked to have been. We always considered the first album as a defining moment of when the band started to really click and create unique music. But the demo still has its place.

(17) One last question - you may have heard this one before ;) Why weren't the lyrics to track 6 (Infanticidal Fantasies) published? Would you like to take the opportunity to share them with us at this point?

No. The lyrics were never published because they were out of character with the rest of the demo. This song was, if you like, our homage to the humour and sickness of extreme, gory death metal. It was totally tongue in cheek, but went hand in hand with our own brand of dark humour and love of the macabre. I guess we didn’t print them mainly due to the fact that such a display of humour might detract from the seriousness of the content of the other lyrics, which were based in the reality of human emotions and experiences, rather than fantasy or humour.

(18) Well, I hope that's covered a slice of the early band history, but if there is anything you'd like to add, please feel free.

Thank you for the interview guys! Your support is much appreciated!

Then I'd just like to thank for your time. Hope we'll be meeting up again sooner rather than later!.

Reproduction of the original flyer: click to order at the Aesthetic Death webstore.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Esoteric bandpage.

Interviewed on 2017-12-26 by Mike Liassides and Kris Clayton.
Thermal Mass
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