Review Summary: "then what of longing or affection, pain and grief?"
From an arguably divided fanbase, it's not hard to see why some people meet Faustian Echoes
with equal measures of anticipation and apprehension. Their last album released a year and a half ago, Marrow of the Spirit
, had many fans completely polarized. Some adored it to the point where it totally overshadowed the rest of their discography, others claimed it to be a total abomination in comparison to the albums we've grown so accustom to. Some were just bored by it, completely underwhelmed. From my point of view, the quality of Agalloch's music has never wavered. Stylistically they offer something very different every time, and this is a very good thing. For a band with such a mutual creative talent, it's a lot better for them to just continue forging their own path and not pay attention to what people want or expect. Faustian Echoes
proves they do just that, by offering what could be seen as their most surprising work yet. Many thought that the next offering from them would be a re-creation of what was on Marrow of the Spirit
, or a continuation of that particular direction. Some thought they'd go back to their classic style (not that they ever deviated too far from that) on the highly-revered albums from their past. Marrow of the Spirit
, for many, stylistically went against all expectations. Faustian Echoes
continues that trend.
So what is Faustian Echoes
, exactly? It's worth starting off with the fact that it is very distinct that this is an Agalloch track, that fact is doubtless - but it's a far cry from their last album or any album before it. The misty, cold atmospherics of their past albums are all but gone from this EP. It's worth noting that I 100% doubt that is a permanent direction, the band have stated many times before that their EP's are their "experiments" and every past EP they've put out has barely been an indication to the style of their later work. The acoustics are pushed even further back, which is an even bigger surprise due to the acoustics being subdued on the last album being a surprise to many. The instrumentation remaining, for the most part, is mostly comprised of everything that you would expect in black metal. This is undoubtedly the closest that Agalloch have ever got to being a black metal band, a good portion of this album being blastbeat-oriented. This might concern you if tracks like "Into the Painted Grey" on the last album didn't rub you in the right way, but it's definitely worth mentioning that it's a lot tighter here. Faustian Echoes
was recorded live in one take, and with how this has been pulled off there's no doubting that Agalloch are more dynamic than ever. Coupled with the production being a lot tighter (apart from the odd audio cutouts here and there, but they're not too distracting), Agalloch sounds much more like a dynamic and fluid band than what their last album displayed.
is heavily inspired by a play based on folklore, and is the soul of this piece of music. Instead of being based on it, it has completely inhabited the composition and style of the album - dark, tragic and artistic. Though many of the Agalloch staples aren't anywhere near as pronounced as their main works, to incorporate them into the piece would distract and bog down the heart of it. Faustian Echoes
is by far their darkest piece of work, and arguably their most intense. It flows between two parts but works as a cohesive whole much better, two pummeling black metal pieces separated by ominous drones and somber yet uneasing acoustics. What's most impressive is the amount of influences they weave into one cohesive whole, many of the building sections being highly reminiscent of post-rock but so far apart from it at the same time. This track flows masterfully through movement after movement, many of them containing some of the most unorthodox riffs they've put out, unsurprisingly reminiscent of Sculptured's guitar work. The first movement sets the stage perfectly, opening with a sample from the 1994 edition of Faust (supposedly), not taking very long to throw you into a black metal frenzy of frantic drums, fast riffs and dark and subtle atmospherics. More samples are weaved tastefully into the instrumentation, never losing focus on their atmospherics or the theme. The second half demolishes the first however, inhabiting some of the most climactic, artistic and impressive movements of their career.
It's difficult to conclude a record that deviates so far from expectations and yet so close. This is undoubtedly Agalloch at their darkest and most unorthodox (with the exclusion of perhaps the second half of The Grey), but nothing of what made Agalloch as impressive before is missing. It has perhaps been changed, but it's undoubtedly there and in full swing. Faustian Echoes
is excellent, it shows all of the right signs of Agalloch becoming a tighter and more focused band whilst showing nothing of what they might do next - which is a good thing because Agalloch have never lived up to artificial expectations, just their own. Stylistically, Faustian Echoes
may disagree with you, but it is more than enough to prove that Agalloch still have it within them to create another masterpiece in terms of quality, and that's all that anyone needs to know to celebrate the existence of this excellent EP, apprehension be damned.
Needs more ominous forest field recordings though. :]