Saturday, May 18, 2013

Artist of the Day: Agalloch

Key Release: The Mantle (2002)
Crossover metal is all the rage these days: progressive jazz-fusion, melodic post-hardcore, symphonic tech-death – just throw a bunch of genres in a blender and see what you get. But before all the stylistic absurdity, Agalloch made a name for themselves by putting some beauty in the most extreme of genres – black metal. Founded in Portland, Oregon in 1995 by multi-instrumentalist John Haughm, the band has become one of the most popular “extreme” acts in the United States thanks to its gripping storytelling and widely appreciable sound. In its four full-length albums, Agalloch has explored a wide spectrum with Scandanavian-style black metal at one end and lush acoustic folk arrangements at the other. 2002’s The Mantle proved a breakthrough effort, tipping the scales in favor of clean vocals and dreamy guitar interludes and saving the caustic peaks for the most emotionally gripping moments.

Agalloch belongs to a loose collective of bands from the West Coast known as “atmospheric” or “Cascadian” black metal, led by acts such as Wolves in the Throne Room, Ash Borer, Fell Voices, Xasthur, and Leviathan. Never content to write the same album twice, Agalloch has given each of their works a distinct sound. Its debut Pale Folklore was highly acclaimed for bringing sensitivity to a harsh genre, while third effort Ashes Against the Grain introduced synthesizers and long, flowing song structures that, paired with The Mantle, led many critics to place the foursome at the top of the burgeoning experimental metal scene.

The band’s most recent effort, Marrow of the Spirit, drew some criticism for reverting to the band’s early sound, but contained a number of haunting and inspired moments – for example the album’s opener, a gorgeous cello piece titled “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness,” performed by Jackie Perez-Gratz of Giant Squid and Grayceon fame. Backed by the sound of flowing water, it moves through both uplifting and desolate moods before giving way to the thunderous opening of “Into the Painted Grey.” Few bands seem to be held to such a high creative standard as Agalloch, but such expectations are easily merited by the band’s consistently excellent work and inspired musical vision. For those with any interest in experimental and dynamic music – metal or not – Agalloch is a band to devote some time to (finding a hard copy of the band’s music is highly encouraged, as Agalloch’s packaging and artwork adds significantly to the overall experience).

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