Review Summary: Very cool demo, that is a really good listen for any Agalloch fan. Cool to see where they started off and came from early on. Not good for new comers to Agalloch though.
First of all I would just like to say that this might be abit of a weird review for me to write because of three things.
1. This was actually the last Agalloch album I listened to
2. This is in such an early time period for Agalloch
3. This is pretty different from the Agalloch I'm used to so I'm gonna be as objective as possible.
This album isn't actually so much of an album as a demo tape, because thats ensentially what it is. It is really the first recorded and released Agalloch that ever got to see the light of day(there may be earlier recordings but I don't know). Being that this was their first recording I have to give them alot of credit. Their musical style is a pretty hard one to perfect, and although this demo is far from perfection it definately shows how much potential Agalloch truly had. Seeing as how it is a demo tape everything from vocals to musicianship is just a tiny bit looser and sloppier that on their full lengths. This is one of the downpoints for me because the genre they are playing, unlike something like thrash, makes it pretty hard to hide flaws. However with that being said I think it would be fairer to say that Agalloch tried to make their flwas fit in rather than trying to hard to hide. This ends up with something that is abit less polised, but it gives that "demo" feeling that demos always have.
On my first listen to this demo I found it strangely hard to listen to. It was clearly the Agalloch that I have come to love over the past couple of months but it seemed so early in their evolution that it wasn't as mature as their later releases. I think this is probably more due to me being accustomed to studio album Agalloch than garage band Agalloch.The songs all still seemed really well written and had a really nice flow from section to section and transition to transition. The on thing that really struck me as being lacking and alot less developped were John Haughm's vocals. He had a much more Black Metal influenced singing style that had alot of hints of that tortured scream type vocals that guys like Varg Vikernes are so known for. Haughm's vocals still have alot or originality to them and you still get a good mixture of harsh and clean vocals but the clean vocals don't carry as much emotion as would be expected.
The musical side of the songs was pretty similar to later Agalloch, and it kind of forshadowed what would eventually evolve into an almost signature style of guitar playing. The musicianship doesn't jump out at you for being drop dead amazing or technical but this has never been what Agalloch's music is about. I think the best way to describe the overall musicianship on this demo would be solid but lacking in some respects. The drums, like the drums on Agalloch's debut Pale Folklore, aren't as interessting or creative as those on The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain but they are on time and consistent.
The songs on the demo are certainly very good songs even though there are clearly flaws. Songs like The Wilderness really let show abit more of an aggressive side that we really have been losing in the slightly more progressive style of album's like Ashes Against the Grain. The song is dark, heavyish and has probably the closest Agalloch will ever get to black metal style tremolo picking and blast beats on the drums. The only song on the album that didn't suprise me was Foliorum Viridum, which was bascially the same as that on the Of Stone, Wind and Pillor EP.
Overall I think this album is a big piece of the puzzle that is how Agalloch have created such a creative and orginal band and series of albums. It is their first step in the direction of a big evolution into alot of mature and what some could describe as genius music and art.