Thursday, 18 November 2010

Gallowbraid - Ashen Eidolon (2010) 75/100.

I wonder how many people believe you can never have too much of a good thing when it comes to music. Metal fans, particularly black metal fans, are pretty sceptical human beings when it comes to originals and carbon copies of those originals. Personally, I have no problem with bands who mould their own sound around that of their greatest influence, or influences. It doesn’t really bother me. If I like the original, why wouldn’t I like someone else’s take of the original? As long as it is handled tastefully and with care, making sure to input some of its own fresh take on the original, then I don’t see an issue, though I fully understand why others might have a problem with it. Original genius shouldn’t be messed with in some cases. Having been a fan of Agalloch for some time, I fully expected a new craze of “copying” their style to begin at some point given how popular they appear to be amongst metal fans. Especially since their appeal seems to transcend the genre with scores of non-metal followers also flocking to their music. There’s a great demand for that type of music, it would appear. This type of nature inspired music was always bound to appeal to me, making this EP a real treat to listen to at times. I love the cleaner elements mixing in with the more primal sound, as it tends to do with bands like this.

Although Gallowbraid’s take on Agalloch’s style is much darker than what we’ve come to expect of them in recent years, the impending release of Agalloch’s fourth studio album, ‘Marrow of the Spirit’, could very well dampen the appeal of this particular EP, despite the fact that it is very well conceived. Judging by the interviews that John has personally given and going by the few samples of the new album that the band have released publicly, ‘Marrow of the Spirit’ is set to be Agalloch’s dirtiest, harshest and rawest effort to date, eclipsing their earlier works, including their debut full-length, ‘Pale Folklore’, probably their only album that has been reasonably dark although the themes on The Mantle may suggest otherwise. ‘Ashen Eidolon’ isn’t exactly original but it does do enough to warrant its own plaudits, including the addition of clean female vocals on songs like the self-title one. These small additions that have not previously been heard used frequently by Agalloch are noteworthy, despite their sparse inclusion on this rather short EP, which just about manages to surpass the thirty minute mark. I’m not overly fond of the production. It’s quite dense and gives the bass a very full sound, though the bass and double bass don’t really tend to utilise this. The production underplays the importance of the stronger elements, such as the clean vocals which, in particular, are very strong on ‘Oak And Aspen’ and the catchier nature of the riffs.

‘Ashen Eidolon’ is, remarkably, despite its very Agalloch-esque feel, still quite fresh sounding. To me, although Agalloch are far more skilled at crafting songs and building intensely beautiful atmospherics, Jake Rogers has done a very good job at making his own mark in this field of black, doom and folk metal mixed all into one seamless genre of its own. The short filler tracks, entitled ‘Autumn I’ and ‘Autumn II’, do a sound enough job at displaying the themes on offer in this EP by themselves, without the assistance of the darker side of Gallowbraid. These two tracks include stirring ambiance, acoustic guitars and beautiful wind instruments alongside clean male vocals, chanted for greater affect. These elements create a sense of autumn and oncoming winter as they do with Agalloch’s music, though some of the material on the fuller songs tends to be a bit more upbeat than these melancholy musings. The chanted vocals, alongside the clean female vocals, though they do not feature on these folksy fillers, are a good addition to the EP, reminding me somewhat of Garm’s ability to fuse cleaner elements into a harsher stylised sound, though for these filler tracks the harshness of the black and doom material subsides.

The introduction to ‘Oak And Aspen’ is much the same. It leads off well with a haunting piano influence alongside the jaunty acoustics and audible bass, an instrument which is rather downplayed. The bass is consistently audible but it doesn’t have the same appeal as it does on Agalloch’s albums. However, as a first recording and with a limited production job, the bass does what it needs to do. The EP is far more reliant of other areas to allow the inadequacies of the production down-rate it. The material can occasionally feel a bit stiff and doesn’t tend to flow as easily as it does on Agalloch’s earliest material, when they were at their rawest, but the positives still outweigh the negatives on this occasion. I feel there is more emphasis on areas like catchiness of the riffs than there is on seamless song writing. The EP doesn’t require too much craft, guile or vision to succeed because the outline of this sort of material was laid down before this band even existed but I understand that this would be very easy to get wrong, so well done to Jake Rogers for doing a good job at reproducing a sound which has been covered before and adding little elements to it, like female vocals and catchier riffs to make it still sound like it’s needed. A solid little EP but the make-or-break moment will come in the future whenever an album is released.

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