Review Summary: A different kind of beast for Agalloch, yet far from being the misstep many perceive it to be.
Although Ashes Against the Grain
saw the American four-piece “dark metal” band Agalloch further cement their position as one of the most critically acclaimed metal bands in the world, it cannot be ignored what the band’s frontman John Haughm himself thought about the album. Considering the fact that Ashes
was such a massive success, it is rather odd to hear Haughm publicly panning the album, mostly for its polished sound and melody-centered approach. Even though it would be silly to call it poppy, it is pretty safe to say that Ashes
was and still is the most accessible album Agalloch has released and that doesn’t appeal to Haughm in the slightest. This is what brings us to its follow-up, Marrow of the Spirit
: a clear step towards what Haughm wants Agalloch to do.
As it turns out in the pretreatment, Marrow
is a completely different beast than Ashes
. The band’s fourth full-length sees Agalloch returning to their black metal roots, amping up the atmosphere to the detriment of the melodies and darkening the overall tone. The second track of the album (and the first actual song), “Into the Painted Grey” already shows that Marrow
isn’t going to be even nearly as accessible as their previous efforts. The song is constantly shifting pace, providing an intriguing mix of the band’s sound at its most evil and their sense of beautiful atmospheres.
Even though “Into the Painted Grey” might be the song that best represents what Marrow
is all about, the album’s undeniable centerpiece is the 17-minute mammoth called “Black Lake Niðstång.” It is probably the most experimental song Agalloch have ever written, as well as one of their most ingenious compositions ever. The long and droning intro is followed by Haughm’s whispered vocals over a repetitive yet beautiful melody until he bursts out crying the lyrics in a way he has never done before. It is not the only thing that makes “Black Lake Niðstång” such an amazing track. After returning to the droning soundscapes the softly layered guitars bring a build-up leading to the climax of the song and the whole album. “Black Lake Niðstång” is epic, bombastic, glorious and terrifyingly dark; simply a masterpiece.
that different from Ashes
. Both “The Watcher’s Monolith” and “Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires” are fueled with driving riffs and catchiness, the latter even recalling the 1999’s Pale Folklore
. Although obviously neither of them is as remarkable or successful as “Into the Painted Grey” and “Black Lake Niðstång,” they both earn their place on the album. Especially “The Watcher’s Monolith” provides numerous slower, more atmospheric sections that well succeed in keeping the song focused, balanced and eerily beautiful. Simply put, everything on the album makes total sense. The four aforementioned tracks are wrapped between the intro and outro track. “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness” sets the album’s bleak overall tone and “To Drown” ends it up in the same way, although the latter far overstays its welcome. Repetition isn’t always a bad thing but “To Drown” quickly becomes a tedious listen and thus gives Marrow
its only real con.
Marrow of the Spirit
is gloomier and more black metal influenced than anything the band had done in over a decade but outside of “Black Lake Niðstång” it would be far-fetched to call the album challenging. Agalloch’s trademark acoustic melodies, hard-hitting riffs and nature-worshipping atmosphere are still there but this time around Haughm & Co. aren’t as joyful. Although the album has faced criticism for being disjointed and full of bland melodies, it truly sounds the opposite of that to me. Marrow
has a more raw sound yet it is highly enjoyable and sensible in every way, exactly as Haughm planned it to be.