Review Summary: Aided by a poetic vision of fall and winter, Pale Folklore successfully laid down the groundwork for what is surely to come with its engaging vocals and surprising variety of guitar tones.
Right from the start, Agalloch successfully managed to avoid being pegged under just one genre. Over the course of their career, they've displayed the essences of progressive metal, doom metal, post rock, folk and black metal. Surprisingly, not even one of these genres could be considered their main style. The way to describe them to anyone new to the band would be a very heavy form of folk music which singles out Agalloch as one of the most unique bands of our generation. With their debut album, their style proves to be no exception because it draws from numerous influences and the most prominent one would be the extremely raw sound of black metal. While it may not be true black metal, the production and John’s vocals are undeniably reminiscent of the genre. Ranging from John’s eerie whispers and shrieks as well as the emotional guitar tones, Pale Folklore
serves as a beast of its own and it represents the peak of fall season and the beginning of winter truly well with its overall depressing mood.
“She Painted Fire Across the Skyline” happens to be the album’s lengthy epic and what an unbelievable impression this track leaves. It assures the listener that most of the experience is going to be filled with the melancholy and despair of the dying leaves at the height of fall season as the mesmerizing, punchy guitar work immediately sucks anyone into its vortex. Once the track takes off, it never lets up in terms of the enjoyment department. Despite the unnecessarily cheesy opera style vocals in part one, it thoroughly delivers with charismatic guitar riffs and John’s trademark sinister whispers. Ripe with fantastic musicianship and exceptional drumming, these positives carry over into part two and three as many different types of guitar tones come in. The band really knew how to give this instrument a meaningful sense of character throughout this epic and once the callback to the opening guitar riffs closes out the song, the listener simply won't want to turn the album off.
Even as this behemoth of a track comes to its inevitable end, the album still never manages to lose its luster. Companion epic and album closer “The Melancholy Spirit” brings the album to a close quite nicely with some more of the staggeringly talented musicianship displayed in “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline.” The wavy tempo changes prove to be impressive and the band’s folky leanings shine through here nicely with the beautiful acoustic work being balanced perfectly with the listener being bombarded with emotion. “Dead Winter Days” also features compelling guitar riffs while at the same time being quite catchy and memorable. As evidenced here, the album transitions from fall to winter here with all of the leaves from the trees truly dead.
To further enhance the gloomy vibe the band tried to convey, they injected plentiful slower moments to emotionally take things down a few notches. Thanks to the many somber guitar tones and literally all of “The Misshapen Steed,” they accomplish this with grace and finesse. Whereas this slower guitar parts are strategically placed in moments like part two of “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline” and the wistful end of “Hallways of Enchanted Ebony,” the entirety of “The Misshapen Steed” is devoted to making the album everything but happy. This track happens to be more ambient than anything else with a wonderful xylophone melody laying down the thick terrain. Coupled with emotional strings and subtle keyboards, this profound song truly could have been something straight out of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess due to its massive scope and vibe of lonesome despair.
All in all, Pale Forklore
exists as a debut that truly soars. The album really captures the mood of sorrow and melancholy quite well due to the sheer thoughts of fall and the beginning of winter in mind. Sure, it can be a bit cheesy at times due to occasional opera like vocals and the drums or bass not being loud enough in the mix. However, the band’s poetic vision, guitar work, and chilling vocals is where the enjoyment of Pale Folklore
truly lays. This record marks the band’s first notable release and a brilliant one at that, but it’s safe to say any significant fan of Agalloch knows how much they improve with the next chapter on their discography. This successfully laid down the blueprints for the masterpiece that will surely come and leave its mark.