(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Pale Folklore (1999), 6.5/10
The Mantle (2002), 7.5/10
Ashes Against the Grain (2006), 7/10
Marrow of the Spirit (2010), 6/10
The Serpent & the Sphere (2014), 5/10

Agalloch, formed in Oregon by vocalist and guitarist John Haughm and guitarist Don Anderson, put even less metal in their dark metal than Ulver or Opeth.

Pale Folklore (End, 1999) contains at least two gems but it is penalized by songs that are either too simple or too fragmented. The three-song suite The Painted Fire Across the Skyline opens with the whirling Irish-tinged leitmotif, that will recur throughout the piece, but then takes a detour into magniloquent Pink Floyd-ian guitar licks and Haughm's whispered growl, occasionally interrupted by an operatic soprano, before the piece returns to base and the guitar keeps repeating the catchy folk-rock refrain. Towards the end, chimes bestow gothic overtones on the song. The instrumental The Misshapen Steed is the lyrical peak of the album, at first symphonic and then bucolic. The ten-minute Hallways of Enchanted Ebony boasts an evocative and catchy guitar riff (worthy of a western-movie soundtrack) but soon drowned in massive distortion and implacable drumming. The hoarse singing is unusually flat and little melodic, close to colloquial, while the guitar's leitmotiv gallops away. A shoegazing wall of noise sets the tone of Dead Winter Days, a rather monotonous piece except for the militaresque chorus and a few seconds of acoustic guitar. As Embers Dress the Sky sounds merely like a shorter version of The Painted Fire Across the Skyline, except for the instrumental locomotive-style coda. The twelve-minute The Melancholy Spirit takes forever to intone its theme and, when it does, it is soon interrupted by a neoclassical solo of acoustic guitar. Haughm's monologue resumes and one gets the feeling that the band doesn't quite know how to end. The Painted Fire Across the Skyline and especially Hallways of Enchanted Ebony announced a fresh new voice in folk-metal but not yet a mature one.

The Mantle (End, 2002), produced by Ronn Chick (also on synth), largely abandoned the metal postures to conjure a more mysterious atmosphere, and alternating songs and instrumentals. A martial and ominous instrumental overture (A Celebration for the Death of Man), that blends rumbling guitar fuzz, tom-toms and synth, introduces the Celtic-inspired mandolin-tinged shoegazing leitmotiv of the lengthy In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion. The clean vocals alternate with and battle the whispered growl; the guitars duet around the theme; the loud ticking of a clock breaks the song in two sections; the song restarts with a treble effect and a lament that sounds like Leonard Cohen; an instrumental section evokes Morricone's western soundtracks; the two voices return and the guitar plays the theme solo one more time. The poppiest refrain surfaces at the beginning and at the end of the nine-minute You Were But a Ghost in My Arms. In between the rhythm picks up a waltzing tempo and the guitars weave melodic tones around each other's singalong. But the lyrical peaks are two instrumentals, first the solemn Odal and then the eleven-minute The Hawthorne Passage, and the latter is also one of the standouts. The melody is always the same, repeated hypnotically by the guitars, but the shifts in delivery sometimes evoke fragility and sometimes power. The piece is washed away by an ocean tide and some synths (although it restarts briefly for a heavier coda). Finally, the clean vocals intone the ghostly elegy of And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth, the album's melodic peak whose instrumental section (with mandolin and a dysphonic trombone) also counts as their best arrangement. The album closes with another echo of Leonard Cohen, the doleful A Desolation Song, whispered over mandolin and accordion. The truly heavy I Am The Wooden Doors, instead, sounds out of context. If this is metal, metal has rarely sounded so profoundly romantic.

Having mastered the art of mixing folkish melodies in heavy sounds, they further simplified their songs on Ashes Against the Grain (End, 2006). If the martial Limbs (9:50) sounds unfinished or tentative, the virulent Falling Snow (9:38) achieves the goal with minimum effort. The duet between quasi spoken-word and ecstatic chant is resolved in a dual-vocal chorus before the final crunchy instrumental gallop. The calmer Fire Above Ice Below (10:28), the melodic standout of the album, is a gentle waltz washed in warm guitar tones and hissing vocals that a petulant guitar turns into a campfire singalong. The metal element prevails in Not Unlike the Waves (9:15), shaken by a dancing thundering riff. The clean voice intones a soft church-like hymn, reprised by the noisy guitar solos. The wedding of hard sound and soft vocals is disturbed only for a few seconds, but ominously, when the voice morphs into a werewolf's shriek. The three-part suite Our Fortress Is Burning is a bit confused, but it bridges the simplest melody (endlessly repeated by the guitars until it sounds like Pink Floyd or Zen hypnosis) and a lengthy electronic experiment. The central songs, Fire Above Ice Below and Not Unlike the Waves, tower over the rest. The vynil editions include the 19-minute instrumental Scars of the Shattered Sky.

The EP A Grey Exploration (2004) contains remixed versions of some of their songs. E.g., The Lodge becomes a 13-minute song and Odal becomes an electronic piece.

Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore, 2010), produced by Steven Lobdell, marked a return to black metal with a set of far less melodic songs.
Into the Painted Grey (12:25)
The Watcher's Monolith (11:46)
Black Lake Niostang (17:34)
Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires (9:40)
To Drown (10:27)

The 22-minute song of the EP Faustian Echoes (2012) was disappointing.

The Serpent & The Sphere (Profound Lore, 2014) is a pretentious album whose songs contain too much empty bombast Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation and Dark Matter Gods are the longest, but the shorter Astral Dialogue might be better. The twelve-minute instrumental Plateau of the Ages certainly displays skills, but that's not always enough to justify music. An uninspired mess.

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