Review Summary: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
Agalloch is one of those bands that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Their fans seem to make real and lasting connections with their music, even if they can’t see eye-to-eye on which style is most engrossing. This really is the mark of an exceptional band, the fact that something astounding can be found in each of their unique albums depending on who’s hearing it. In 2010, they give us a record that, hopefully, everyone can find something in which to enjoy.
Marrow of the Spirit
will certainly make it easy for fans to make comparisons to their past body of work. Which previous release, however, this album can most be likened to is most likely going to depend on the listener. Pale Folklore
’s folk infused black metal riffing and solos make a return to comprise a lofty portion of the album. These components maintain what is almost a refinement from their debut in that they’re layered with both restraint and intent. Melancholic atmospheric tendencies and some more subdued moments of the album are reminiscent of The Mantle
. The post-rock sensibilities of Ashes Against the Grain
remain quite in tact as the group show that they still have a profound sense of flow and dynamics when crafting a cohesive body of music. The ebb and flow of aggressive and mellow passages work to create inner climaxes within the songs themselves while not overlooking the bigger picture.
reaches extensively into the group’s past, to say that Agalloch fail to tread any new ground with this release is a great oversight. The song structures are some of their most ambitious and progressive to date, and the notion of a “chorus” has been done away with altogether. The seventeen-minute “Black Lake Nidstang” manages to be epic in both scope and execution, winding through stark stylistic changes with relative ease. Guitar riffs, in a sense, evolve in lieu of repeating, transitioning with suitable chord and melody progressions. Another unfamiliar (and in certain instances detracting) aspect here is the somewhat unorthodox production style, leaving certain parts with the percussion too much in the forefront and the bass bordering on obscurity. However, the artistic audacity of the album more often than not reaps rewards, even if they require due time to notice or comprehend.
It seems noteworthy that Marrow of the Spirit
features the most guest work of any of Agalloch’s previous releases. Cellist Jackie Perez Gratz lends her skills on intro “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness” and the closing “To Drown.” The moog work that comprises the electronic section of “Black Lake Nidstang” is courtesy of Witch Mountain’s drummer, Nathan Carson. This welcomed and even fitting addition to the song seems to be a nod to the later work of one of the band’s more obvious influences: Ulver. “The Watcher’s Monolith” contains a piano outro from multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Neblock, most known for his project Vindensang. This borrowed talent mostly plays out like an extension of Agalloch itself, seemingly executing elements and influences the core members could not do in past albums.
The atmosphere and emotion conveyed on Marrow
is wholly bleak and sorrowful, though, in a darker way than The Mantle
and free of the contempt of Ashes
. Vocally, John traverses more ground than he has before, utilizing a more vast array of clean and harsh vocal styles to achieve these things. There is a gripping conviction in his voice in powerful moments on the album like “Into the Painted Grey” and early on in “Black Lake Nidstang.” Musically as well, Marrow of the Spirit
manages to be an embodiment of despondency with songs like “To Drown,” which drones hauntingly like an amalgam of The Mantle
and Sunn O))). The sadness that the group brings with its music has always been one of self-realization and introspection, and that’s really no different here.
Agalloch’s fourth full-length may not be what some expected, or perhaps wanted, but this direction, aside from the need to polish a few odds and ends, boasts solid footing in its ideas, both old and new. Marrow of the Spirit
is a complex and ambitious adventure that takes its fair share of time and careful dissection to properly appreciate. More, likely, than some are willing to spend, but many will be rewarded by coming back to the record, discovering the subtleties littered throughout. A full fifteen years after its conception, the Pacific Northwest metal outfit remains steadfast in its commitment to deliver a unique brand of music. Hopefully, they will continue to do so for another fifteen years. Only time will tell.