Preoccupied with depressing, morbid, or painful memories or thoughts
I felt it compelling to write this review, even though there are already two other great reviews here, but none have really gone into a lot of detail for each song. Occasionaly, you run into a piece of music which feels like you wrote it yourself, its so close to what you believe and what you think and want to imagine. These pieces of music can tell your life story in the minutes or hours they go on for, putting it across with music so powerful it is not worth it to even attempt to explain.
I drove home from the CD store one day last week feeling as bleak as the woods which lined the road. It was raining slightly, with a few flakes of snow mixed in, altogether a depressing day. I unwrapped the CD i had bought and inserted it into the car stereo, expecting more of the same. The CD was Agalloch's first full length album, 1999's epic "Pale Folklore". I had bought "The Mantle" and "Ashes Against The Grain" before this, so I had a rather good idea of what Agalloch was capable of, and altogether they were a very good band. But nothing I could tell you prepared me for what was ahead of me. It was an hour into the deepest depths of my conscience, pulling at everything I had come to believe about everything and everyone. I really hadn't expected what this album was, I honestly was expecting something lighter, slower, and really a lot brighter than what I found here.
On their latest releases, Agalloch have gone more toward the singing talents of vocalist J. Haughm. Also, their instrumentals have toned down quite a bit, not being nearly as dark and quite rarley creating a melody like those found on Pale Folklore. This album gives off a sort of black/doom metal aura, with raspy vocals and depressing riffs, a very, very atmospheric album. Gracing the front and back of the case is solid wood, with the band name and track names printed over it in a manner where it looks like someone carved them into a great tree. The lyrics speak of somber, lonely tales. This is one of the few albums which can really transport your to a far off place, with dawn just breaking over the horizon, and snow falling silently among the dark pines of the forest, with you just standing in the middle of it all, breathing in a breath of cold, crisp air, all alone in this scene of loneliness and sadness. It really is a powerful expirience.
The album opens with a trio, "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline" is probably the best trio of songs this band has ever written, and some of the best songs in metal. The first song, aptly labeled "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline- Part 1" sets the tone for the rest of album, with a howling wind whipping around you before being broken by a simple chord, repeated over and over to the background of the cold, harsh wind and sounds of sticks breaking as a person, perhaps you, walks through the desolate woods. The wind fades as the drums and the rest of the instruments come in, playing the same riff, this time adding a third dimesion to it. The riff is then broken by the sound of what I think of as a war drum being pounded, and it really fits this song great. The riff changes to a fairly melodic yet somber one, which sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear it. The guitar work on this CD is amazing, loads better than their other two albums, because the electric guitar is used much more, creating a deep atmosphere to the album. A simple, slow riff then takes charge, slowing things down and returning that feeling of solitude. It is now, at 4:30 in, that the vocals come in. At first, they are whispered and very ominous, being like a whisper of the wind as you still stand there in the forest, with another simple riff looming in the background. As the verses continue, a female opera-type vocalist comes in in the background, making the sad atmosphere continue still. Things speed up after this, as Haughm switches from his whisper to a black metal screech. This is the best part of the song, as a really, really sweet riff plays in the background to the desperate cries of the vocals, this part of the song is epic and melancholic at the same time, its a feeling I've really never had before with a song. Haughm's vocals break away to the female singing her sad tale, even thought she isn't saying any real words. A drum beat closes it out as the wind returns, waking you up from the dream you just had, returning you to cold, harsh woods.
Acoustic guitar opens up the second part of this tale, and at 3:08 this is the only non-instrumental track under 7:00. It also happens to be the fastest on the CD, with faster vocals and a story of sadness and despair. In the lyric book, all 3 of these tracks share the same lyrics. Electric guitar picks away a sort of solo-type thing, which may not be an actual solo but its the closest you get on this album. After this, the same riff repeats itself until the end of part two.
The third part comes in, this time with a different riff. The third part is really an accumulation of the best parts of the previous two songs, with some new riffs and tempo changes thrown in to vary it up, but it works out extremely well, seeing as how this track is the best part of the trio, and one of the best on the CD. Some spoken vocals come in after the first riff, which feel a bit out of place but I actually like them, as the talking erupts into a scream backed by Haughm's singing, then into another sweet, somber riff which I love to listen to. The riffing is amazing still, filling you with a deep depressing feeling and a remarkable sense of aloneness. Also in this song, a series of bells are incorporated, which simply add to the effect of this song on the listener and fit right in with the guitars and drums. A small line of bass comes next, one of the few really audible bass lines on the album, before breaking into that amazing section I pointed out in the first part of the trio, the same riff but with different lyrics, which sounds amazing. The lines "To bathe in the blood of man" are repeated a few times before erupting into, surprise, another amazing riff (this song is LOADED with them). Then, the spine tingling riff from the beginning of the first part is back to close it out, an epic ending to probably the best song on the CD. Piano closes it out, making way for the next track.
"The Misshapen Steed" is the only instrumental on the CD, which I enjoy better than "The Mantle"'s many instrumentals, and this one is very well executed, with great piano and an epic atmosphere, it really is a very enjoyable listen. "Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony" is another fast song, this one longer though than "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline, Part 2". It also incorporates acoustic guitar a lot, with some catchy, well flowing riffs around the all screamed vocals. There is also a great guitar part in the middle, and this is a highlight for Haughm's vocal performance. It ends sort of weird though, but fitting for the nature oriented feel of this album. It ends with wind whipping and wolves barking and yelping in the helpless, lonely night.
"Dead Winter Days" is a well known song from this CD, one that many have heard before. While it isn't the best, most original song on the CD it is really good. Starting with a simple riff, the vocals come in at a fairly rapid rate, screaming about death of a loved one, and the sadness that ensues. Its actually a catchy song, almost even a bit upbeat for the very gloomy lyrics. There is some great acoustic picking here too, showing off how Agalloch is great at incorporating them. After the acoustic work is a sweet riff which im sure everyone will have in their head, humming it under their breath, and with lyrics like "I oppose the light, I gather the storms, with a sword I weild with hate..." whats not to love? Great song, and a well placed one at that.
"As Embers Dress The Sky" reminds me a lot of "Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony" except this song uses clean vocals more. There is a cool riff during the first screamed vocals which I like, making almost seem like melodic black metal, along with the many other genres this band could be classified as. In the middle of this song, there is an acoustic session which tones it down, slowing you down, making you actually feel a bit happy and relaxed for the first time in the entire album, but this is short lived as the vocals and electric guitars come back in, fast and melodic. This is probably the most melodic of the tracks on this CD, showing the ever changing emotion which is displayed here. The closing track is next, called "The Melancholy Spirit". The title says it all about this song, being as sad and lonely as ever. This song is the longest, at 12:27, its mostly instrumental, but there are vocals. The spacing of the passages makes it feel more melancholic and sad. Classic Agalloch here, a great closer, extremely fitting for an album like this.
So, as the last track fades away I approach the doorstep of my house, snapping back to reality as the CD spins back to the beginning. This is one of the few albums which really takes you somewhere, and makes you actually feel
the music. This is the best Agalloch CD to date, hands down. It's an absolute classic and is not to be missed by any fan of metal. The album fades, ending its tale of Pale Folklore, leaving a trail of brooding songs behind it.
This is how to write an album, one where you simply can't get the full magnitude of the story by simply listening to one track. This CD is made to have its full effect when listened from beginning to end, and doing so will create an expirience unlike any other. If you haven't heard this yet, do it.