Review Summary: Marrow Of The Spirit seems like a failed retreat for Agalloch; an introverted back-tracking to an older sound that they have long since transcended
For many, Agalloch's discography has been steadily shifting, progressing toward a culmination that many had hoped would be contained within Marrow Of The Spirit
. The problem is, though, that Agalloch have overstepped their bounds, allowing in incredible amounts of new inspiration while leaving behind the basics they’ve shown to master in their back catalogue. The blast beats and tremolo picked notes rule with an iron fist in songs like “Into The Painted Grey”, while the post-rock build-ups lie unchained in “To Drown”. These are only two contrasting examples in an entire album that lacks discernible direction, definition, and execution. The atmosphere churns about in a mixture diluted with far-reaching ambitions that never really get the job done, instead distracting the entire songwriting process with unnecessary and unwelcome aspirations that grossly overshadow the basics.
The grand scheme of things appears largely unchanged, aside from the further development of the black metal and post-rock elements of Agalloch’s sound. However, the little things that made albums like The Mantle
so profound are eerily absent. The simple, repeating melodies of songs like “…And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth” are replaced with bland progressions of similar-sounding notes that barely stand out, and when melody does work its way in it remains painfully shallow, rehashing old ground that Agalloch have covered long ago, and not bringing any new hooks or harmonies to the table. The surging electronics of “Black Lake Nidstang” detract from a song that had the clear potential to be one of Agalloch’s best, despite its unwillingness to decide upon a course of action. In short, the album lacks its own voice, and resorts to stealing from previous releases shamelessly, with the delayed guitar intro to “Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires” uncannily echoing the influence of “The Melancholy Spirit” from Pale Folklore
. The guitars, a forefront instrument in Agalloch’s seemingly unceasing atmospheric engine, simply ran out of fuel.
There are certainly pleasant moments to be had with the album, however, with the inclusion of a classical guitar piece in “Black Lake Nidstang” breathing incredible amounts of fresh air into the steel-string onslaught Agalloch have used for their entire career, bringing a warm subtlety that steel strings simply cannot provide. The verses of “Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires” is the closest the album comes to embracing the graces that Agalloch had going for them, their fervent intensity prevalent without being in-your-face like “Into The Painted Grey”, all the while retaining incredible emotion; a talent that may very well be Agalloch’s best weapon. Sadly, though, these short-lived moments don’t add up to much amidst an album that wallows in sheer mediocrity, with Haughm’s vocal performance irregular and sporadic. His cleans that were such a staple in The Mantle
show up only once during a poorly performed verse in “The Watcher’s Monolith”, a track that has almost nothing going for it in the first place. The sharp bite in his rasp is scarce in a field of emotionless verses that mirror equally emotionless riffs, and despite the unexpected nods at depressive black metal shrieks, remain at a level that rarely rises above decent.
Marrow Of The Spirit
seems like a failed retreat for Agalloch; an introverted back-tracking to an older sound that they have long since transcended, proving to be a distraction from the things Agalloch usually place the most time and effort into- a carefully constructed atmosphere that is simply real. Instead, the shallowness of the tracks builds an atmosphere that is vast in scale- but is fragile and paper-thin. The shameful embodiment of Godspeed You! Black Emperor isn’t covered up well in “To Drown”, and the sliding tremolo picked riffs that litter the album are neither interesting nor original. The incredible emphasis in the past placed on acoustic guitars is lifted, and instead they find themselves as a backdrop to the electric guitars that don’t seem to know what to do or where to go. All of this comes wrapped up in an odd production that mixes the drums fairly high while sliding everything back, and nearly fading the bass into oblivion.
The near disappearance of wistful clean guitars, the demotion of the acoustic guitar, the shallow vocals, the bass guitar that does nothing, the cluttered and ever-changing songs that can’t decide on a single, over-arching premise, all things that make Marrow Of The Spirit
far and away the weakest Agalloch album yet. The album is missing cohesion- an absolutely critical element of any album such as this, fracturing itself into six distinct and separate entities that seem to hold no bearing to their counterparts. The way The Mantle
completely immersed the listener, the logical progression of tracks in Ashes Against The Grain
, the constant and unwavering atmosphere of Pale Folklore
all contribute to why those albums were as lasting as they ended up. All of that is gone now, and one can’t help but wonder whether Agalloch have thrown away the mountain of potential they held within themselves, wasted on over-developed concepts that lack central focus. Marrow Of The Spirit
is an album that doesn’t do a whole lot wrong, but also fails to do a whole lot right, leaving the album in a deep pit of mediocrity.