Getting Into: Agalloch
Agalloch was my favorite band for a really, really long time, and maybe they still are, maybe not, but I'll always appreciate them for the importance they've had in shaping my musical taste. Having thankfully seen them at one of their last-ever performances is probably one of my proudest lacks of regret, if that makes sense. Deciding to write my first Getting Into, there was really no second-guessing as to which band I would dedicate it to. Regardless of how many bands I've grown to love in the meantime, Agalloch will always be Agalloch. But now, with all my writing and reviewing experience, I hope I can give a somewhat detached but respectful overview of their discography and evolution while still acknowledging the huge fanboy feelings that I still harbor for them, which almost made me just five-star every release.
Started by our own Baz Anderson more than a decade ago, the Getting Into series was something I was instantly a fan of when first stumbling upon this website. Continued and discontinued, there was clearly a lot of effort, dedication, and love necessary to take on a commitment like this. I'm so glad that I'm finally at the point when I feel ready to take on such a daunting task, and for a band that honestly deserved one years ago.
Photo by Veleda Thorsson
Agalloch are an important band for a lot of people, myself included, and it's not hard to see why. They were never really a black metal band, though they were lumped into the atmospheric black metal bucket. They had some of that as well, sure, but their sound was such a fresh mix of that with neofolk, post-rock, and even some progressive, industrial, ambient, and gothic sounds. Each release had more or less of each of those, and having been active for as long as I was alive (well, up until they broke up, but honestly has anyone really felt alive since?), they certainly have earned their place in the music history books. Their breakup, a somewhat messy but understandable one, has left a pretty big void in the metal world, one that can't really be filled by either bands influenced by Agalloch or the band members' following projects.
The Main Records
1997 - From Which Of This Oak
This is Agalloch's very first release, recorded some time in late 1996 by John Haughm, Shane Breyer, and Don Anderson. Some songs on it found their way to subsequent records, like "Forliorum Viridum" on Of Stone, Wind & Pillor and, obviously, "As Embers Dress The Sky" on Pale Folklore. While it isn't too much of a reach to understand why, out of all the songs, this latter one was selected to be featured on their debut record, it being the best-written song on the record, the first and last track on this demo, both over 10 minutes in run time and full of potential for improvement for following records, have sadly been left to rot here. Black metal influences are felt here much stronger than ever and the riffing is quite melodic and dynamic, reminiscent of but more so than on Pale Folklore. Haughm's vocals are more aggressive and raspier as well, and joining him on occasional vocal duty is the gruntier Breyer and the female vocals of one Karen Cox for "As Embers Dress The Sky", who supposedly isn't also the one who contributed female vocals on their debut record. Shades of what's to come, especially seeds of Pale Folklore, are clearly felt, especially in the songwriting and the blending of acoustic passages and clean vocals. Obviously, it being a demo, especially one recorded in the '90s, the quality of the music isn't anywhere near amazing, but the sound isn't too raw or too dirty for the music to be unintelligible; quite the opposite. Every important sound is clearly heard, but more often than not, it's quite awkward-sounding. Some instruments aren't heard at all until they have their spotlight, like Breyer's keyboards on "Forliorum Viridum" and Haughm's bass on the intro of "This Old Cabin". Add to this the sloppy performance and it's quite clear why this isn't the best place to start with Agalloch. But it was the best place for Agalloch to start. One year later they were joined by Jason William Walton on bass and released a promo that got them picked up by The End Records. Material on both demos as well as songs that wound up on Of Stone, Wind, And Pillor were later compiled on The Demonstration Archive: 1996-1998.
1999 - Pale Folklore
Agalloch's debut would come in 1999, the first and only album to be recorded by the Haughm, Anderson, Walton, and Breyer formula, as Breyer left the band before the album's release. Breyer also didn't contribute any vocals on this album, giving Haughm full control of the vocal field, but he instead wrote and performed "The Misshapen Steed". A few of the songs had been previously released as demo versions, specifically "As Embers Dress The Sky" on From Which Of This Oak and "Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony" and "The Melancholy Spirit" on Promo '98, although the latter was not publicly released. Pale Folklore continues the sound that was already brewing up on their demos, a blend of the folk-influenced black metal of Ulver's Bergtatt and the autumnal gothic sounds of Fields Of The Nephilim and early Katatonia. With this being a very guitar-centered album, a lot of the songwriting depends on the dynamic riffs that drive the album, less atmospheric and crescendo-based than later albums. This doesn't mean that the album isn't at all atmospheric; the acoustic interludes, the cover art, and the gothic influence found in the songwriting, the female opreratic vocals, and in the lyrics do give the album a very autumnal feel. Perhaps the track that feels most like the upcoming albums is "The Melancholy Spirit" with its much more gigantic feel and post-rock influence. But the riff-centered songs do come off as surprisingly upbeat and life-affirming for a band better known for its melancholic mood. The clean vocals and drum performance aren't as good as on the following albums; the former would go on to become a trademark Agalloch sound and the latter would become such a detriment that this is the second-to-last Agalloch album to feature Haughm behind the drum kit as well. Another detriment to the album is that the production is still too raw for its own good, making parts of the album, like certain transitions, sound awkward. It's definitely not as bad as on the demo, but it still slightly detracts from the experience, an issue that has been diminished with the 2013 remaster. Also, some vinyl versions rightfully combine the three parts of "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline" into one track. Pale Folklore is fit to be the place to start with Agalloch if you don't mind the production issues and you're looking for something less atmospheric but with some gothic influence.
2001 - Of Stone, Wind, And Pillor
With this release, Agalloch started their tradition of releasing an EP between every full-length, even though originally it was supposed to be released in 1998, before Pale Folklore. The album is divided into two parts, the first comprising the first three songs, which were supposed to be released on an EP in 1998, and the second comprising the other two, recorded specifically for this release. Of Stone, Wind & Pillor would be the last release to have contributions from Breyer, both in the three 1998 songs as well as his performance of "A Poem By Yeats". The title track is the most developed song of the bunch, being somewhat akin to the songs that found their way onto Pale Folklore, riff-centered and with acoustic passages interspersed. "Foliorum Viridium" is a re-recording of a song from From Which Of This Oak, performed by Breyer, and thus just an ambient keyboard interlude. "Haunting Birds" is Agalloch's first acoustic guitar-led track. Despite these tracks being earlier than Pale Folklore and produced by the same man who produced their demo, the production quality is on par with Pale Folklore. Ronn Chick, who produced their debut album, also not only produced "Kneel To The Cross", but participated in the choir in the song's intro along with Haughm, Anderson, and Brian Yager of Sculptured. Besides the title track, this cover of a Sol Invictus song is the EP's highlight, giving us Haughm's clean vocals at their most expressive yet, maybe ever; and also giving us an indication of where Haughm's neofolk influences have come from. "A Poem By Yeats" is just that: Breyer reciting the poem "The Sorrow Of Love" by Irish symbolist poet William Butler Yeats over a keyboard- and piano-led composition with a hidden track. Overall, a more disjointed release, with two amazing tracks and three that feel like interludes.
2002 - The Mantle
This is the album that got me into Agalloch and probably the only album I can clearly recall changing my life in regards to music. Pompous as it sounds, I was young and had a pretty dad rock and elitist taste, so I have this album to thank for a lot of my development. Just those opening acoustic guitar strums on "A Celebration Of The Death Of Man..." were an indication of how much of an impact this would have on me. Indeed, this album has something a bit magical about it even to this day, with how beautiful it is and still feels. It is a clear improvement on the songwriting and performance of Pale Folklore, especially in terms of clean vocals and drum performance, the former more than the latter, as this would be the last Agalloch album to have Haughm do the drumming. The clean vocals here are absolutely fantastic, though, from the whispers to the very emotional singing, and even the shrieks feel like they weave seamlessly into the beauty of this record. If Pale Folklore had a more autumn-like feel, The Mantle is pure winter. It is still a very guitar-centric record, but less focused on riffs and more on the interplay between acoustic guitars and electric ones, especially on long epics like "In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion", and what makes it so immersive is especially how well each track flows into the next as well as how great the progressions within each track go in an almost post-rock-like manner. A lot of acoustic motifs are repeated throughout the album, thus enhancing the unitary feeling that the record has, but with that repetition and the first half of the record being slightly better than the last, it's understandable why that might feel meandering to some people. Most of the album flows at a pretty slow pace, with the most traditional metal song being "I Am The Wooden Doors", which also serves as a testament of how Haughm's drumming has evolved, but even that song has all the trademark acoustic guitars woven into it. The trio also has a few musicians joining them at points, like Ronn Chick, who not only produced the album, but also did keyboards on a few tracks and mandolin on the somber ballad closer, "A Desolation Song"; Ty Brubaker also contributed accordion and contrabass. Other than them, there are some other less conventional instruments who sometimes find their way on The Mantle, especially on the three instrumental songs in the middle of the record ("Odal", "The Lodge" and "The Hawthorne Passage"), from some field recordings to trombones and a deer's skull. Even if the acoustics and the slower pace did come at the expense of some of the aggression, this makes The Mantle Agalloch's most mellow and melancholic release, with an almost bittersweet view of life and nature and how they're sometimes at odds with one another.
2004 - The Grey
Technically, the band released three EPs in between The Mantle and Ashes Against The Grain. Other than The Grey, there is the split with Nest, which has the acoustic neofolk song "The Wolves Of Timberline", and the Tomorrow Will Never Come one, which only has two songs, one of which being a reworking of a song from The Mantle, and is less than ten minutes in length, so I don't really consider them worth calling EPs. Opposed to those two, we have The Grey, which, in its raw form, has two songs and 20 minutes in run time, and most importantly the most fan-despised experimentation in any Agalloch record. The two songs are remixes/reworkings of songs from The Mantle, with "The Lodge" being the first one and "Odal" the second. "The Lodge (Dismantled)" was somehow stretched from a five-minute interlude into a 13-minute post-rock song that replaced the acoustic guitars with electric ones and has drumming, which, for the first time for Agalloch, isn't performed by Haughm, but by new drummer Chris Greene. Other than the loud production, the only difference from a post-rock song is that, during the crescendo, instead of an explosive release we get some swirling industrial noise. Yeah, left-field experimentation indeed, but at least the first part of the song slightly resembled the original, which isn't something I can say for "Odal (Nothing remix)". Nothing is the industrial/dark ambient side project of Jason William Walton, so this remix is an indication of what he was doing with that side project, and whatever might've been left of the The Mantle's residue on the previous song is turned into pulsating industrial noise. If people thought The Mantle was repetitive and overly long, wait until they hear this one. These are just the raw tracks from the original release. A new 2019 remaster also has a third track, "ShadowDub (How Beautiful Is A Funeral)". The Whitedivisiongrey compilation, which compiles this and The White. also adds three new remixes to the Grey side. All of these are pretty cool if you want to hear something different from the usual Agalloch, but there's way better music out there in the same style. Overall: great concept, poor execution.
2006 - Ashes Against The Grain
Stripping away most of The Mantle's folk and acoustic guitars and finally adding a new drummer is Agalloch's third record, Ashes Against The Grain. There are obviously still moments and songs that feel like they would fit on The Mantle, particularly "Fire Above, Ice Below", but it not being really on par with what already was on The Mantle kinda makes it my least favorite song on the album. This is quite a problem I have with most of Agalloch's records: they do seem to have one or two songs that aren't really on par with the rest of the record and make the entire thing drag on for too long, like "You Were Just A Ghost In My Arms" on The Mantle. But at the same time I still wouldn't want these songs to stop existing, nor am I sure would have wanted an extra batch of Agalloch releases just to accommodate these B-sides. And, just like its predecessor, Ashes Against The Grain sheds away a lot of the metal and focuses a lot on the guitar-playing, just replacing the neofolk with copious amounts of post-rock; that gives a lot of the songs here such a great ebb and flow, from the almost perfect opening duo of "Limbs" and "Falling Snow". Other than "In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion", "Not Unlike The Waves" is Agalloch's most gigantic tune, with that absolute colossus of a riff that isn't actually that heavy but feels so heavy in comparison to the rest of the album. And what an awesome feeling it was, the first time I read through the lyrics of the song and realized that my favorite band was unintentionally shouting (also probably the best harsh vocal line in Agalloch's discography) the name of my other favorite band at the time. It's in this song that the acoustic guitar interplay feels a lot more vital than on the previous track. As with most Agalloch records, there is a great flow in between tracks that rewards the full listen, which is especially obvious since the last three tracks also form a trilogy of sorts. It is interwoven with all sorts of interludes and outros that showcase Agalloch's desire to play with sounds and evoke atmospheres and moods, like the short "This White Mountain On Which You Will Die" or the bookends of the "Our Fortress Is Burning" trilogy, as well as the piano moments from producer Ronn Chick. This is probably the easiest Agalloch album to recommend; it still has a few of their usual defects, like fillers, slightly sloppy playing, Haughm's vocals, and all that, but it is the beauty in that imperfection that shines the most here and shows just what a visionary band Agalloch was in combining all of these elements of black metal, post-rock, and neofolk, so much so that a more polished sound and more competent musicians might've fucked up the feeling of the album. And it is here that the feeling of the album is the most grandiose of all.
2008 - The White
The counterpart to the previous The Grey EP, The White instead tackles Agalloch's ethereal wave and neofolk influences by wrapping them around the story of '70s British thriller The Wicker Man (thankfully not the remake with Nicolas Cage, as much as I'd like to hear Agalloch singing about Nicolas Cage in a bear suit punching a girl), about a pagan cult on an island and a policeman sent to investigate it - something that goes hand-in-hand with Agalloch's distaste for the modern world and nature's struggle with it. A lot of the album is purely instrumental and focused on acoustic guitars, synths, and percussion (performed by L'Acéphale's Markus Wolff), with whatever vocals there are being wordless singing ("Pantheist"), spoken-word poetry ("Birch Tree"), or samples from the film, including some really hard-hitting lines like one whose appearance is also emphasized by the music stopping in "Sowilo Rune" (Sergeant Howie: "But what of the true God, to whose glory churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now, sir, what of Him?" Lord Summerisle: "Oh, He's dead. He can't complain. He had his chance and, in modern parlance, blew it.") God, I wanna watch that movie again, especially since Lord Summerisle is played by none other than Christopher Lee. But, for such a great movie, The White EP comes very close to being both a very fitting tribute and an extension of its themes and moods. With the eternal themes of the grandiosity of the natural world, this EP manages to be both very bright and very dark, but evocative all throughout. Only John Hauhm and Don Anderson perform on all tracks, with it also being drummer Chris Greene's last record with the band, though instead of drums he plays synths on a track. Not only that, but it is the last Agalloch record to be produced and have piano performances by Ronn Chick, as well as by Ty Brubaker (who did other stuff besides piano and production, though), and is the first one with contributions from Veleda Thorsson, who would appear on every Agalloch record from then on and would also become Haughm's partner. The November 2019 reissue also includes an extra acoustic Agalloch track, "Where Shade Once Was", that was previously available only on the Oak Folk compilation. At this point I'm not sure why they didn't also include "The Wolves Of Timberline" from the split with Nest and "Nebelmeer", the collaboration with Mathias Grassow, as both of these were also as fitting for this record as "Where Shade Once Was".
2010 - Marrow Of The Spirit
Agalloch were always fans of longer songs, but it feels like they really went all the way with them on Marrow Of The Spirit, on which five of the six songs are over nine minutes in length, with the longest, "Black Lake Niðstång", being over 17. The first and last track act more like mood pieces, the former being cello-driven and filled with various sampled sounds of nature and the latter an apocalyptic expansion of the former's theme. Even outside the actual record, the ambient parts were expanded into two separate single releases, The Weight Of Darkness, which is a remix of "They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness", and Nihil Totem, which is the full piano piece performed by Jeffery Neblock in "The Watcher's Monolith". That isn't to say that the ambient side of the record is limited to those two book-ending tracks and the two extra ones, as one obviously can't write a 17-minute track without having at least half of it be ambient-based. A lot of these ambient pieces are further enhanced by all the different instruments played by different guests. I already mentioned the cello, played by Giant Squid's (we'll meet them again later) Jackie Perez Gratz, and the piano, but other than that we have Moog synthesizers, glockenspiels, and whatever bones, glass, and metal could be used as percussion. Other than the ambient sides, their sound still contains copious amounts of post-rock and neofolk, but this time around much more of the former over the latter. But if there was a big change between the previous Agalloch albums and this one, it is the move towards a rawer and harsher sound. Of course, the rawest and harshest Agalloch record is still far from being raw and harsh relative to other bands. Marrow Of The Spirit doesn't have the low-budget rawness of their first releases, but it attempts to replace Ashes Against The Grain's cleaner production with something more organic and unpolished, which I honestly don't think worked that much to their benefit. What did work to their benefit, however, was the addition of Aesop Dekker on drums (who at one point joked after a show that he would join my band). Him being a much more competent drummer means that bigger incursions into black metal were now possible, which is exactly what Agalloch did here. All of these do make Marrow Of The Spirit the most challenging Agalloch record (other than The Grey EP) because it has the fewest moments that offer immediacy and something to grab on to. Sure, there are plenty of recognizable melodies, my personal favorites being the guitar intro and the guitar solo of "Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires", but as a whole there are way fewer memorable moments than on previous records. Haughm's vocals are also much more restrained and disengaged (except for one sublime moment in the middle of "Black Lake Niðstång"). Coupled with the album's uninspired production, that actually makes the ambient passages sound a lot better than the rest of the album, which isn't generally what I'd prefer to think of an Agalloch album.
2012 - Faustian Echoes
Agalloch tried to delve into a rawer, harsher, darker sound on Marrow Of The Spirit, to varying degrees of success, but I feel like they actually did manage to perfect that formula on Faustian Echoes. This is an EP comprising a single song over 20 minutes in length, the longest that Agalloch ever wrote, but also one for which the run time is completely justified. Akin to The White EP, Faustian Echoes is also based on another work of art, this time, as the title implies, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, complete with samples of conversations between Faust and Mephistopholes from the film adaptation of the work. Faustian Echoes is actually rawer, harsher, and darker than anything on Marrow Of The Spirit, and it also has a production (courtesy of Billy Anderson) that, while still raw and unpolished, also works to the benefit of the album, as well as Haughm's best overall harsh vocal performance. It still has a lot of Agalloch's trademarks, like post-rock-inspired guitar work, some acoustics, some ambiance, but relatively much less than on other records. It also only has the four main members with no guests performing, with the only somewhat "unusual" instrument being the Mellotron, played by Don Anderson. Overall the song is very tight and dynamic, most of it being recorded live, and it also shows just how effectively Agalloch could dive into black metal, provided with the proper production.
2014 - The Serpent & The Sphere
This is an album that seems to be one of Agalloch's most controversial. Not entirely like The Grey EP, which most people agree was awful and only a handful of contrarians enjoy, but in the sense that it's the one Agalloch album most likely to be either someone's favorite or least favorite. After some soul-searching and whatnot, I found out that I'm definitely in the former category. Part of it might be because it is the album that they were touring to promote when I saw them live, so with a lot of songs from this one on the set list I had the opportunity to really immerse myself more into the record. But that was so many years ago, and in the meantime a lot of folks seemed to point this out as a disappointment, so maybe I'm in the wrong, but every time I listen to this to get what people do not like about it, I end up liking it even more. Pretty much everything that I've pointed out as lacking on previous records is improved upon here: no song or moment really feels unnecessary (unless you count the bonus tracks "Omega Serpentis" and "Sigma Serpentis"), the drumming is the best that Agalloch has ever had, the production is neither too raw nor too polished (courtesy of Billy Anderson, who also guests with some vocals and piano), the post-rock influence is the strongest that they've ever had, and it is performed and written to the highest degree of quality that they've ever had. All of Agalloch's albums dealt with man's relation to nature, but it's only on The Serpent & The Sphere that nature feels so immense and cosmic. Agalloch always felt epic in a way, but no other album really felt this colossal, so much so that there's always the risk of it breaking down from its own weight, though it never does. Pretty much all of the songs, like "Birth And Death Of The Pillars Of Creation" or "Dark Matter Gods" or "Plateau Of The Ages", feel larger than life, often surprisingly upbeat and triumphant, keeping just enough of the black metal influence, especially in Haughm's rasps. When "The Astral Dialogue'' transitions from "(Serpens Caput)" it feels like the largest riff Agalloch has made since "Not Unlike The Waves". And that's really not the only transition that works so well, as this is also an album that rewards the full listen, which can sometimes work to its disadvantage - I remember wanting to listen to "Plateau Of The Ages", but you would still hear echoes of "Vales Beyond Dimension" lingering in the beginning, so it would feel weird dropping by just then. Thankfully, the album has such a great flow and such great songwriting that it never feels boring or jagged in any way. With the post-rock sounds dominating most of the record, a lot of the folkier influences have been kept in the acoustic interludes, performed by Nathanaël Larochette of Musk Ox (with some contributions by Rohan Sforcina and Veleda Thorsson, Haughm's partner), as well as in the aforementioned two bonus tracks and an extra limited vinyl single called "Alpha Serpentis (Unukalhai)", which are fine and all, but they work better as bonus tracks for collections rather than in the flow of the record. Overall, some criticism that one could raise at the record is that in context it feels like a safer record compared to Marrow Of The Spirit, so one could doubt the intention behind returning to a cleaner sound; and also that maybe they should've worked to integrate the darker and rawer sound of Marrow Of The Spirit more, but I'm not sure how well that would've fit since this is pretty much Agalloch's least dark record. And I love it for it. It feels like a final album, albeit more or less unintentionally, but one of celebration more than anything.
Where To Now
Great, so you finished Agalloch's main albums and you're thinking to yourself, "Where to now?" Here are some places where you can get some more of Agalloch, in the sense that there is at least some of Agalloch involved in it. In case you're looking for more bands that sound like Agalloch, depending on how closely you want them to sound like Agalloch, there's either none or a big shortage of them. I have to recommend some of Agalloch's clear influences, like early Ulver, early Katatonia, and Sol Invictus among others, as well as other bands that blended black, folk, doom and post-rock into a worthwhile sound that may or may not sound like Agalloch: Fen, Gallowbraid, Empyrium, Winterfylleth, Wolves In The Throne Room, Sólstafir, Falls Of Rauros, Kauan, and many more. But let's see what else Agalloch were involved in.
Agalloch have obviously released some more stuff that you won't find on the aforementioned main releases; some of them do come as bonus tracks or were released as limited vinyl singles alongside them, but most of what's not on those you'll find in The Compendium Archive. The first half of it is basically The Demonstration Archive 1996 - 1998, which contains the From Which Of This Oak demo, the Promo 1998, and the first three tracks of Of Stone, Wind & Pillor, most of which we've already talked about. The second half contains rarities and unreleased stuff. Starting with the last two tracks of Of Stone, Wind & Pillor, it continues with some of the unreleased stuff, most of which are remixes of already released stuff, remixes that are somewhat unnecessary and in the vein of The Grey EP. It also includes the Tomorrow Will Never Come EP, itself being half a remix, with the title track being a pretty interesting acoustic song with a sample of an interview with a mental health patient. "The Wolves Of Timberline" is from the split with Nest and is pretty certainly among Agalloch's best purely acoustic tracks. "Scars Of The Shattered Sky" and "Fragment 4" are some of the longest pieces here, at 18 and 13 minutes in run time, respectively, and are sprawling ambient soundscapes of synths and acoustic guitars that do suffer from a bit of lack of direction and flow and mostly feel like a stream of consciousness. One ambient track that is leagues ahead of anything here and is surprisingly missing is the collaboration with Mathias Grassow on the "Nebelmeer" track from the Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer VA compilation, a song that strives to capture and does a pretty good job of capturing the vibe of the Caspar David Friedrich painting of the same name. But overall you can tell why most of these didn't end up on the main records.
Agalloch's breakup was indeed a bit messy, and it did result in three-quarters of the band going away to form Khôrada while John Haughm formed Pillorian, recruiting guitarist/bassist Stephen Parker of Maestus and drummer Trevor Matthews of Uada. With John at the helm, it was quite clear that it would be his influence that was most strongly felt in Pillorian, and that is indeed the case. For better or worse, this sounds like pretty much what Agalloch would've sounded like without the other members' input, generally being more in the folk black direction with some ambient rather than any post-rock. Even with Haughm being the main creative force behind it, Obsidian Arc makes one appreciate the other members' contributions more in retrospect. Through no fault of its own, Obsidian Arc feels somewhat incomplete, mostly because of how close it sounds to Agalloch - voice, style, guitars, and all - but not really hitting as hard, thus landing in that uncanny valley. It really came with a disadvantage in a way, because it was really unlikely that Haughm or just about anybody would've been able to create something so magnificent that it defied all comparisons with Agalloch. On its own, it is a really great black metal album, the songwriting is pretty good, Haughm's vocals sound fantastic, and the sound overall is amazing. On the other hand, the drumming isn't as inventive, the buildups don't feel as awe-inspiring, and there just isn't much that gets hooked in my mind after listening to it, but while I am listening to it it's really damn great. It's an album that is very easy to love on first listen. You can clearly tell how great and actually focused some of Haughm's guitar sections are, even if they don't stick as much. A lot of it might be that it feels somewhat rushed, as if he were aching to get it out into the world, and I can't blame him. It must've been really frustrating for him not to be able to pour as much creatively into Agalloch as he would've wanted, so he felt somewhat rejuvenated by finally making music on his own terms. That is, obviously until he posted some misguided things on Facebook and got promptly cancelled, the other two left the band, and Haughm was forced to put another band to rest. As much as it didn't completely live up to it, Pillorian was still something to have kept an eye on.
Arriving slightly later than Pillorian was the other post-Agalloch band, Khôrada, formed by Don Anderson, Jason William Walton, and Aesop Dekker along with Aaron Gregory of Giant Squid (I told you we'd meet them again later), plus a bunch of guests from Giant Squid, too. And if you thought that more members of Agalloch would mean more Agalloch sound, well, you're in for some disappointment. What Khôrada did right was go in the complete opposite direction and have as little of Agalloch's sound inherited as possible. What Khôrada probably didn't do so right was having their music be so hard to love on first listen. I already talked about this in my review, but my reactions to Obsidian Arc and Salt were pretty polar opposites. I instantly loved Obsidian Arc. I instantly hated Salt. Some of that had to do with how close or far they sounded to Agalloch. When after a while I returned to Salt, I was disappointed to find that I liked and appreciated it, maybe even more than Obsidian Arc. Salt is a really weird record - not that it's much too avant-garde, but that it's very difficult to be appreciated without patience. For one, the production is pretty horrendously bad, even worse than Marrow Of The Spirit's, even though it's apparently the same guy who produced The Serpent & The Sphere and Faustian Echoes, which makes it even more frustrating. As a consequence, a lot of sections that could've been really hard-hitting lose a lot of their impact in translation. And there's plenty to appreciate music-wise, as it was already quite obvious that every member involved in this is quite fantastic. The post-metal guitar riffs and atmospheres combined with the dark and epic vocals that always sound quite off-kilter, the ferocious drumming, the pounding bass. It's all there. You can even kinda tell how a lot of the same approaches were part of Agalloch and were missing in Pillorian. Yet not only the production but the songwriting itself feels somewhat cryptic and mangled and bloated. I tried to think that maybe this would be sort of a gate-keeping thing, that perhaps art that isn't immediately accessible would be more worthwhile when eventually deciphered. But music isn't film. I appreciate it more with each listen, but it still doesn't stop being a bloated album with bad production no matter how much I try to pretend that it isn't - which is also a shame because the music on it is really great, too, with a lot of potential for more follow-ups. But apparently they broke up as well, because we cannot ever have nice things.
Auræ seems to have flown under everybody's radar. It is not entirely unknown that John Haughm has an ambient solo project, since there even is a review on our website of one of his releases, or that he collaborated with Mathias Grassow (even Agalloch did on "Nebelmeer"), as their previous collaboration, Mosaic, seems to have gotten at least a bit of attention. Auræ, though? Almost untouched. Perhaps to exhibit Haughm's qualities as an ambient artist I should pick one of his releases that isn't a collaboration, but Auræ is just fantastic. It has little to nothing in common with the music of Agalloch structurally, but a lot of the awe-inspiring natural feeling remains. The length of the songs here does not mean that there would be any epics, but that the feelings and layers would be stretched and explored. Almost more so than anything that Agalloch released, Auræ invokes nature, even if in a different way from the snowy forests usually evoked by Agalloch. This feels more universal.
Originally guitarist Don Anderson's band, it is on Sculptured's second album, Apollo Ends, that we actually find three Agalloch members: the aforementioned Don Anderson on guitars, Jason William Walton on bass, and John Haughm on drums. And with such a sizeable concentration of Agalloch members, all of them in the rhythm section, there would of course be some recognizable Agalloch tones, riffs, or idiosyncrasies, but Sculptured leans more towards progressive metal. Thus a lot of Agalloch's progressive tendencies may be found here in a more emphasized form. Joining them is vocalist Brian Yager, who has guested on the Sol Invictus cover on Of Stone, Wind & Pillor, and also a horn section made up by trumpeter Burke Harris and trombonist Clint Idsinga. That horn section isn't consistently used, making their appearance only at certain times, but their addition actually adds a lot to the music, almost making me wish Don Anderson had thrown a lot more unexpected stuff into this, though there are some obvious ambient/industrial moments. The sometimes-harsh-sometimes-clean vocal approach isn't anything new by now, but Yager's voice is really different from Haughm's, so it does enough to give a different experience. And just like Agalloch's early days, it suffers from the same "great ideas, somewhat sloppy execution" issues, which do get diminished on Sculptured's following release, Embodiment, but that one only keeps Don Anderson and Jason W. Walton, so no Haughm, no Yager, and no horn section.
Bassist Jason William Walton has also had his fair share of projects, some of which were more solo ambient/industrial stuff like Nothing, which also had contributions by Don Anderson, or even stuff under his own name, but also some projects in which he resumed his role as a bassist, like a grindcore band before Agalloch was a thing and a stint in Subterranean Masquerade, but the one I found most interesting was the band he had with Obsequiae's Tanner Anderson and Timothy Glenn. Finding a genre for this is very difficult, because the distorted guitars and shrieks clearly make it metal, but it's so shapeless and unusual that you'd have a hard time pigeonholing it into any sound. Most of it is taken up by just two tracks, one of them running for an imposing 30 minutes, with the rest being either sample-based or acoustic interludes. This is probably the one album I've heard that utilizes nature samples the best, with the whole album having this strong natural feeling, an awe-inspiring, almost Summoning-like epic feeling, but being so anti-riff and stretched out that it feels more like Sunn O))). With its sound and its run time, Where Life Springs Eternal is a tough album to really sit through, but it's such a unique experience that it wouldn't be as immersive if it weren't for just the right type of production, and it also shows Tanner's mastery of mythical folk black sounds that he would use in Obsequiae, so much so that my biggest topical concern with it is that Walton's bass playing doesn't get enough of a focus here.
Susurrus Inanis - The Shadowless Shining
There were a lot of projects in which Jason William Walton performed alongside Haughm, Anderson, or Dekker, but one overlooked project in which Walton plays alongside an Agalloch member is Susurrus Inanis with early Agalloch keyboard player Shane Breyer, whom you may remember from the demos and Pale Folklore. On The Shadowless Shining, both members perform just vocals and keyboards. The result is somewhat similar to Dead Can Dance, but with an obviously rawer sound. Rawer not in the "aggressive" sense, rather in the "made with a minimal budget" sense. Also, the vocals seem like they got Peter Steele of Type O Negative to sing on all tracks. After easing into the raw and somewhat corny sound, this demo is actually fairly evocative and it's clear that there was the potential to make some great darkwave/dungeon synth down the line with some more experience. Far from the best, but even farther from the worst. As far as I know, Shane Breyer never made more music after leaving Agalloch, and he became a philosophy teacher, which is the most Agalloch profession out there other than an environmental activist.
Despite being around for only the last few Agalloch releases, Aesop Dekker seems to fondly be remembered as THE Agalloch drummer, having performed on the band's only live album, The Silence Of Forgotten Landscapes, as well as on the tour on which I saw them (though the latter is just personal). Out of all the Agalloch members, he is the one who has been around for the longest, playing in punk bands like The Fuckboyz since 1988. Since then, he's been parts of bands as diverse as Ludicra, Vhöl, and Extremity, the latter a death metal act reviewed by yours truly. But I think the most interesting out of his bands is Worm Ouroboros. Definitely the slowest-burning of the bunch, Dekker's performance is more restrained here than what you would find in any of the other projects that he's been in, but it adds so much to the sophisticated, slow chamber doom, exploring his dynamic range of the slower side of percussion. This is doom, not as much doom metal; there's less in terms of aggression, most of it relying on the dark, gloomy atmosphere, the alluring bass lines, and the intertwined vocals of Lorraine Rath and Jessica Way, the former bringing some goth influence from her former cult classic band, The Gault, making it sound really similar to something like This Mortal Coil. What Graceless Dawn embodies an eerie, mysterious, fragile spirit more so than any of their other records, patient beyond belief and unleashing its true force only once the build-up has been teasing for just enough, perhaps a bit too much. But no one teases like Worm Ouroboros.
There will, of course, be different opinions from mine, as pretty much each of Agalloch's five full-length albums could be someone's favorite or someone's least favorite. And probably that has something to say about the universality of their music and how much they've reached different-minded people. Maybe you think The Serpent & The Sphere was a massive disappointment and that Marrow Of The Spirit was the most earnest thing they've done. Maybe you think Salt actually has great production and I'm too smooth-brained to get it. Maybe you're such a contrarian that you think The Grey has some worth. Maybe you think their songs are too long and boring. But nobody can deny the importance that this band has had on both the metal world and so many people's lives.
As it is right now, we do not know what to expect from the future. Agalloch will certainly not reform any time soon. Both Pillorian and Khôrada have broken up. John Haughm has been cancelled. None of the members have had any upcoming albums or projects announced as of the publishing of this article. I am certain we will get some new ambient and possibly collaborative John Haughm album or some more experimental stuff from Walton, or Dekker will join another supergroup or come out with a new record from his current bands. I simply don't know anything for certain. What I do know is that when any of those do eventually happen, I will be there to listen.
||Written on 29.03.2020 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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