CRASH COURSE: Agalloch
(I tried this form of overview on Death Metal Baboon for Anaal Nathrakh and it seemed to go well, so I thought I would continue the idea here!)
Having previously covered their latest album Marrow of The Spirit, I thought I’d give a fuller overview of one of my favorite metal bands. As I stated beforehand, Agalloch’s style is very difficult to describe, combining elements of folk, post-rock and black metal in varying proportions throughout their albums. Given how diverse they are, the best option would be to describe and provide a song from each (excluding the latest), and I’ll throw in a non-album favorite along the way.
Forming in 1995 in the Seattle area, the band quickly set about releasing a demo tape (From Which Of This Oak) which then developed into a full-length album, entitled Pale Folklore. This album showcases a softer folk-black metal approach, and each song is well-crafted as a standalone piece as well as being integral to the album. Lyrically the album focuses on pagan references as well as the loss/betrayal of loved ones, shaped into more a poetic form than ‘traditional’ stanzaic form. One such example of this can be seen in “As Embers Dress The Sky”, which also artfully mixes folk interludes with the heavier sections in a smooth fashion not unlike Opeth. Pale Folklore always seemed the most ‘straight-forward’ Agalloch release, if such a concept is possible, and if pressed I would state this as my personal favorite.
The following album took 3 years to emerge, and when it did, it surprised both fans and critics alike. The Mantle showed a stronger post-rock influence than previously, which also resulted in one of the most beautiful instrumental songs I have ever heard, “Odal”. The metal aspect was still present, but in a different form, and there were fewer moments of ‘black metal’, it more being mixed in a more diluted form such as on “…And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth”. There was also a lyrical shift to a more nature-based stance, with only one song retaining the theme of love lost from Pale Folklore. In my opinion, The Mantle is the hardest album to fully appreciate, but more than worth it when it finally ‘clicks’ into place.
4 years later, Agalloch released another very different album under the title of Ashes Against The Grain. This time they shifted to a fuzzier post-black metal sound, with less of the folk element present, and even more pagan-inspired lyrics. This album also strikes me as the most depressive of the three, in both its somber tone and slowed-down tempo. The added ambient atmosphere and layers of guitar effects were also something novel for the band, but the result is a wonder to hear, whether focused or in the background. “Not Unlike The Waves” is one such example, also containing some impressive vocal delivery and complex drumming, and is one of my favorite Agalloch tracks.
Ever since discovering Agalloch, I have always placed them under the heading of “thinking metal”, with their poetic pagan-inspired lyrics and music soundscapes often provoking pensive moments and transporting the listener to somewhere in the imagination. I would hardly call them accessible, but after some time spent with them, I think they can surely be appreciated as a talented group of musicians who have created some thought-provoking and beautiful music.
Naturally all bands have their own influences, and Agalloch’s own are as diverse a bunch as any. From post-punk such as Swans to the oldschool black metal of Ulver, it is interesting to note where each influence can be placed in their own music. I’ll leave you with their cover of “Kneel To The Cross” by neofolk band Sol Invictus, as one such example of this, and hope that you will take the time to investigate one of the most intriguing metal bands I have discovered.