Pale Folklore

Agalloch - Pale Folklore ©1999 The End
1. The Painted Fire Across The Skyline
2. The Misshapen Steed
3. Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony
4. Dead Winter Days
5. As Embers Dress The Sky
6. The Melancholy Spirit

I'm not inclined to say this often, but Agalloch is simply brilliant. I've had this disc for slightly less than a week and it has been in my CD player nearly nonstop. Agalloch is what I would describe as Gray Metal (this is a new genre term coined as of this very second). Their music has elements of black metal - fortunately shedding much of the cartoonish parody that seeps through the genre - as well as doom and progressive elements. In a convenient Record Reviewer Nutshell, Agalloch sounds like a logical cross between Opeth and Ulver, with an occasional dash of Fates Warning thrown in. Though I understand Agalloch's Haughm is not an Opeth fan, there is a definite vibe of lengthy, moody composition that does remind me of that Swedish act. Add the harsh vocals that aren't far off from older Katatonia or, well, Opeth, and you get Agalloch. The band also incorporates quieter, moody acoustic guitar passages that aren't too dissimilar to Ulver's first album. Finally, certain tracks have the backing cleanly picked guitar lines that always remind me of Fates Warning from the beginning of the 90s.

Now that I'm done name-checking bands, I have to report that the overall atmosphere of this album is wonderfully pensive and brooding. Sweeping through many moods and approaches, Agalloch never once lets the listener down with moments that do not belong or flow with the album on a whole. Lyrically, Agalloch seems just a bit bummed out. The first line that I saw when opening the lyric book was "From which of this oak shall I hang myself". Needless to say, we're not talking Positive Mental Attitude here. At this point, I can only say that The End Records, with their very impressive roster, has just given us possibly their best release yet. If any of the bands I've name-checked above are already in your collection, Agalloch should be your next pursuit in life. Pale Folklore is quite easily the best album I have heard this year.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/1999

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Of Stone, Wind And Pillor

Agalloch - Of Stone, Wind And Pillor ©2001 The End
1. Of Stone, Wind And Pillor
2. Foliorum Viridium
3. Haunting Birds
4. Kneel To The Cross
5. A Poem By Yeats

Agalloch apparently isn't in a hurry to prove themselves to be the most prolific band in the world. It's been over two years since their debut, Pale Folklore, was unleashed to a legion of fans quite eager to fall all over themselves in admittedly very deserved praise. Now, two years later, John Haughm and his not-so-merry band have finally issued a follow-up. Sort of.

Of Stone, Wind and Pillor is nothing more than the three songs from an early, unreleased seven inch record, a cover of Sol Invictus' "Kneel to the Cross" recorded in 2001 and "A Poem By Yeats", recorded last year. Obviously the band is in no hurry to put out a full length of new material, which could suggest either writer's block or they take their time crafting their songs. We'll just opt for the latter theory since I'm rather fond of this band.

The first three songs are a bit more akin to what we heard on Pale Folklore, particularly the title track to this EP. "Haunting Birds" is a lovely acoustic guitar piece. The cover of Sol Invictus starts out with a chant that reminds me a lot of the childhood song, "The Ants Come Marching In". The clean vocals on this song also suggest a slight bit of discomfort or unease in this approach, but nothing so uncomfortable that the listener cringes on the singer's behalf. The final track is considerably more ambient and airy than the rest of their material, which is saying quite something. The EP on the whole is definitely an unsatisfying experience, not because the music is lacking - in fact, it's quite the opposite case - but because this only creates a greater need to hear an Agalloch full length. Hopefully Haughm and his cohorts will have something juicier for us to chew on in the near future.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2001

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The Mantle

Agalloch - The Mantle ©2002 The End
1. A Celebration For The Death Of Man
2. In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion
3. Odal
4. I Am The Wooden Doors
5. The Lodge
6. You Were But A Ghost In My Arms
7. The Hawthorne Passage
8. ...And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth
9. A Desolation Song

Somewhere in the midwest, located in the midst of cornfields and endless miles of rural emptiness is a town called Dullsville. Nothing ever really happens there in Dullsville, although certain residents claim it can be a fun place. But those people are not seeing the cornfield for the stalks and are unaware that their domicile is entirely without excitement. Agalloch's second release, The Mantle, is the musical equivalent of Dullsville. Having had the album for quite some time and giving it multiple chances under a variety of moods, it has yet to engage any sort of response within me except the urge to play something else.

Still residing within a similar musical vibe as their 1999 debut, Pale Folklore, Agalloch has taken a few strides since then in their approach. Whether these strides were actually taken in a forward direction remains to be seen. The Mantle is roughly based more acoustical guitars, more clean vocals, long winded arrangements and an attempt to create a morose, despondent vibe without resorting to, say, My Dying Bride's moaning. Unfortunately, these lengthy creations drag on longer than the acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards. It's certainly self-indulgent, precisely how the musicians of Agalloch wish it to be, and theoretically requires a great length of time to assimilate and get one's head around. What seems to be missing is the tranquil, transcendent atmosphere that made Pale Folklore an album one couldn't get enough of. There's little on The Mantle that shakes a listener by the shoulders and says, "Play me again, I implore you!" The Mantle tugs a bit on your shirt sleeve but skulks away dejectedly if you scowl. The album is meek and timid.

Occasionally I sense that two years from now I might play this CD and be astounded but there is an equally likely chance that The Mantle will remain the featured album at the Dullsville CD Shoppe.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2002

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Review #2

…And here it is, the new Agalloch opus. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, they have arisen with another album, the follow-up to 1999’s masterpiece Pale Folklore. This is an album that is largely considered as being one of the most magnificent metal albums to be released in the latter half of the nineties, and one of my most precious albums ever as it would spend its time in my CD player as being the soundtrack to a large part of my high school life.

With that said, I have listened to The Mantle time and time again and never does it falter. It simply grows and grows until a humongous expanse of doom and gloom overcomes your ears. It has all the elements that made Pale Folklore such a masterwork and then some.

…..the hard part is trying to decide as to whether or not it is better than its insurmountable predecessor.

Three years is indeed a long time, and it took three years to shape The Mantle into a beast that is altogether different than Pale Folklore. The songs themselves are almost entirely based on acoustic guitars and warm arpeggios and are, stylistically speaking, pretty straightforward in execution, but as it is with every good piece of expressive art, it is the atmosphere of the songs that makes everything entirely worthwhile. The slow, Godspeed You Black Emperor!-influenced build to powerful crescendo in “The Shadow of our Pale Companion,” replete with subtle changes in structure and mood, manages to keep the attention of the listener throughout its fifteen minute duration. The same songwriting style is exhibited on its equally powerful successor, the instrumental “Odal”. Starting out with a simple, tasteful arpeggio, it then is layered with the mournful sound of an ebow, acoustic guitars, and haunting, psychedelic guitar leads before ebbing into a powerful, monolithic wave of distortion. In short, the song ebbs and flows as if it were the musical equivalent to the tides themselves. Flourishes of early Ulver are still present on the masterful “I am the Wooden Doors” and “You Were But a Ghost in My Arms,” as high-end tremolo riffing gives way to beautiful classical guitar segments. The subtle usage of the trombone and contrabass appear on occasion, giving the songs a far more organic feel. Many kudos for the use of the mandolin on the final track on “A Desolation Song.” I’d venture to say that if more bands used the mandolin, then the world would be a better place.

As a vocalist, John Haughm sings cleanly far more often than on Pale Folklore, and while many may deplore his sullen, unfeeling croon, I find that he is in possession of a haunting, if limited singing voice that fits the atmosphere of the songs extremely well. Don Anderson proves yet again that he is able to come up with some of the most tasteful, resplendent leads around as well as being able to play a mean classical guitar. JWW’s bass playing is understated throughout, but like most of the music, is tasteful and is yet another part in the grand scheme of Agalloch’s unique vision.

Now, all of my hyperbole brings me to an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, The Mantle is nearly unsurpassed in terms of metal releases this year. On the other hand, it is far too different from Pale Folklore to even compare, really. Perhaps in due time I will finally come to a decision; however, I can safely say that The Mantle will be spending a considerable amount of time in my stereo in the coming months.

Review by Alec Head

Review date: 09/2002

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Ashes Against The Grain

Agalloch - Ashes Against The Grain ©2006 The End
1. Limbs
2. Falling Snow
3. This Mountain On Which You Will Die
4. Fire Above, Ice Below
5. Not Unlike The Waves
6. Our Fortress Is Burning…I
7. Our Fortress Is Burning…II - Bloodbirds
8. Our Fortress Is Burning…III – The Grain

As Woody Allen might say if he were a fan of Euro-bred American dark metal, Agalloch have achieved total heaviosity (paraphrased from Annie Hall, you n00bs).

I am not going to waste words on the fact that it has been four years since the release of The Mantle and bla bla bladibity bla bla. I am going to go right out there and say it; Agalloch have brought the fucking fury. Now, while Pale Folklore and The Mantle were both undeniably metal albums, “bringing the fucking fury” was not something Agalloch did on a regular basis. Rather, both albums were aggressive on a more passive level. Pale Folklore was obviously the more black metal-influenced of the two, but its atmosphere was of a more romantic and cathartic variety. The Mantle took their sound into the direction of neo-folk and post-rock, resulting in more meandering and acoustic passages. Ashes Against the Grain is heavy. Really heavy. The guitars have been largely detuned, and the tone has taken on the size and girth of near-Devin Townsend proportions. Its atmosphere is that of apocalypse and a barren wasteland, but not without a few warm bonfires to get you through the day. Even John Haughm’s vocals, largely the same in tone, have taken on a harsher and dare I say more spiteful delivery. The overall sound lies comfortably within the realm of post-rock (specifically Explosions in the Sky at their most intense), black metal, a slight Neurosis influence, and even a little Ennio Morricone if he were to compose a score for Tarkovsky’s My Name is Ivan. The question is, does this heavier direction work?

Naturally, I can tell you that the answer to the above question is a resounding “yes” and that most of the people who love this band and have followed them since Pale Folklore came out needn’t read any further, as they will probably already own this album and love it like I love it. Pale Folklore ranks as one of the more precious albums in my collection as I discovered it right as I was getting into underground music. The Mantle was one of my favorite albums of 2002, although I discovered through subsequent listens that it did not have quite the staying power of its predecessor. If the countless times I have listened to Ashes Against the Grain since receiving it are any indication, then it may very well render both previous full-lengths obsolete. “Falling Snow” might bloody well be the best song they have ever penned. The whole album seems more robust and compact in spite of the epic length that most of the songs reach. The arrangements are not meandering as on The Mantle, but tasteful and to the point. Every song sounds as if it has a destination. Even the noise/ambient passages are well placed and do not come off as mere album-filler. Ronn Chick’s production has given Agalloch an absolutely HUGE sound that is not without warmth or clarity. It is neither alienating nor cold, but warm and inviting.

I can probably waste more words on a track-by-track breakdown as I am often wont to do in the case of a band I have always been very fond of, but it simply is not necessary in this case. All I can say is that it is highly unlikely that I will be listening to Pale Folklore or The Mantle anytime soon. Add this to what has already been a sterling year for music.

Review by Alec Head

Review date: 10/2006

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