Saturday, 14 August 2010

Agalloch - Pale Folklore (1999) 92/100.

I figured it was probably about time that I tried to review something that Agalloch have written. I've been a fan of the band ever since I discovered the extremities of the metal genre, many years ago. The first time I came across Portland, Oregon based band wasn’t through this album. In fact, it was through their sophomore full-length, ‘The Mantle’, an album which seemingly deals with the concept of life and death. I was blown away by songs like ‘I Am The Wooden Doors’ but, over the years, the album has steadily declined as far as my opinion of it goes. My love for the album was revealed only to be a temporary lusting over pastures new. It wasn’t until ‘Pale Folklore’ came along that I discovered how genuinely good Agalloch could be and it wasn’t until I heard Agalloch live, in the flesh, that I realised that ‘The Mantle’ absolutely pales in comparison to the first and third albums, in particular, the achingly beautiful ‘Pale Folklore’. This album isn’t ridden with lacklustre instrumentals, or too indulgent in painting a picture of life and death. Instead, it deals immediately with music making, as opposed to abstract concept building within the mind of the listener.

`Pale Folklore' was a very inspiring record when I first heard it. Music is a saviour to many and has personally gotten me through many tough periods of my life. Agalloch’s ‘Pale Folklore’ exhibits the potential beauty through heartache, as well as documenting new beginnings, as shown delightfully in the music itself. Take the epic ‘She Painted Fire Across The Skyline’ trilogy of songs. Each contains its own individualistic beauty and painful expressions. Electric acoustics, excellent song structures and memorable riffs were the make-up of not only this trilogy, but the entire album. I don’t consider this trilogy of songs to be the highlight of the album, but it does successfully showcase what makes Agalloch as huge a global brand as they are. The terrific bass work wasn’t initially a factor in my love for this album but, especially in a live setting, you come to realise how well the bass is worked into the songs and, although it does occasionally follow strictly the regimented patterns of the guitars, it can exhibit forms of creativity which add to the overall dynamism of the album, as showcased on songs like ‘Hallways of Enchanted Ebony’.

Songs like this also highlight the brilliant use of layers of guitars, which each song featuring some use of said layers. Agalloch like to implement clean, electric acoustic riffs alongside their more hardened sounding guitar work, though this is also usually very sweet sounding and never too distorted. Agalloch re often associated with black metal, perhaps due to the vocal approach, which I find to be very distinguishable from the usual rasped format. John has a very unusual voice, even in harsh form. I can always tell it’s him singing because he sounds quite unique, despite often opting for a formulaic approach to singing. Later albums go on to express more using cleaner vocals, but this album sticks mostly with the harsher expression, which definitely suit’s the darker sounding material. As Agalloch grew, the sound became lighter and lighter, despite their associations with “dark metal” (which is essentially a mish-mash of loads of major genres of metal) and black metal.

The beauty of the album is something that shines through more now than ever and is more pained than it is on other albums, including the conceptual based ‘The Mantle’, an album which seemingly prides itself on showcasing melancholy. Songs like the instrumental ‘The Misshapen Steed’ go a long way, despite being short filler songs, in highlighting the bands potential as an extremely emotive force. This is one of those cases whereby you can find something new each time you listen and it's amazing. It's very rare to find that in music, but when you do, it's something to hold on to. For example, the inner workings of the layers, as with the intricate bass work which doesn’t first appear to be all that central to the band. Agalloch manage to successfully fuse genres together so perfectly, that no one can really tell where one genre ends and another begins, hence the confusion with their supposed black metal ties - even John claims there to be some form of black metal influence, though it never appears to dominate the variety of influences on show. Apart from in the vocals, perhaps. Though his whispered brand of vocals don’t convey the same type of nihilistic visions as many black metal vocalists do. His clean vocals, though sparse, offer a timely departure from rough rasps and add a sense of variety.

The harmony behind the music is perfection and this is highlighted when Agalloch are able to take their foot of the accelerator and claim things down with a long and winding down process featured on songs like ‘Hallways of Enchanted Ebony’ when the rest of the instrumentation subsides and the acoustics filter through alongside some samples of savage animals and howling winds, a sample which leads well into the next song, ‘Dead Winter Days’, a track that opens with an energetic riff and bombastic bass line. Agalloch, to me, are a band that can portray images of desolation, and then take the listener beyond that into a place of beauty - much like bands such as Ulver did with their earliest blends of black and folk. The music is so diversely layered and juxtaposed with the varying tempos of each song. Slow, mid and fast paced sections feature throughout each song and offer a nice mixture. As Agalloch have evolved, clean vocals have more of a place, but this style also suit's the bands sound. In terms of highlights, Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony, As Embers Dress The Sky and The Melancholy Spirit are up there.


  1. Great review! Agalloch also has gotten me through some tough and awkward times. I hope you lend your opinions to their other releases. :)

  2. Cheers. Ever seen them live? I recommend it. Great experience, very atmospheric. I have actually written reviews for the other two, I just haven't posted them yet. I might do so now, actually.