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Agalloch - From Which of this Oak  CD (album) cover

FROM WHICH OF THIS OAK

Agalloch

 

Experimental/Post Metal

2.82 | 21 ratings

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Trickster F.
Prog Reviewer
3 stars The best demo I've had the pleasure to listen to.

This is a very cliché way of beginning a review, but according to the saying, everyone has to start somewhere and Agalloch were not an exception to this rule. From Which of this Oak is the group's demo, recorded two years before their first full-length album, the brilliant debut Pale Folklore saw the light. It is usually a rare case that a demo recording can contain something more than just historical importance, a taste of better things to come from a music collective. Upon first hearing about Agalloch's demo I expected just that, an obscure offering from a great group that would let me dig deeper and find about the group's roots. Needless to say, it was quite surprising to realize that there is more value hidden in this demo than just embryonic shapes of future greatness(something usual for progressively thinking musicians of various 90's Metal scenes).

From Which of this Oak demo consists of four tracks, that don't reach even 35 minutes in length when summed up, not surprisingly for a demo recording. The sound quality here is also average and raw, once again, not surprisingly. Fortunately, every instrument can be heard and, on a brighter side, the recording quality even helps to fulfill the group's compositional and aesthetical aims at the time, at least, according to my ears. I have tried listening to this demo in different ways, and I have concluded that the best and only appropriate way of doing it is experiencing the group's grim landscapes in headphones, lying somewhere without interruption and preferably with the lights turned off. Compared to group's full-length releases, which do not require, to my experience, any special approach and seem suitable in any conditions, including weather, time, mood and the way of listening, From Which of this Oak is quite unique, knowing the above mentioned characteristics I have pointed out.

The album is opened by the epic 11-minute long The Wilderness, which sounds very remote to the group's later output. The sound of it can be compared to certain songs from Pale Folklore, as it is extremely atmospheric, is composed of exceptional guitar melodies and riffs that are blent together perfectly. In addition, the 'feel' Agalloch are known for is already present here. The approach to songwriting seems a bit more straightforward, with certain parts resembling NWOBHM legends, such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The composition is greatly influenced by the pioneers of Norwegian Black Metal/Folk Ulver and the influence seems more obvious here than on later releases, as the drumming is close to Black Metal standards here, blast beats being used on this particular track. Vocals are also different from the style John Haughm would later use. Instead of the raspy, laid-back way, there are many harsh, "crying" screams, awakening subconscious associations with Burzum, HEart of the Ages-era In The Woods... and Ulver's Bergtatt within the listener. Moreover, I have observed a similarity of guitar twin riffs in this song and the Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal scene; on top of it all, there is something that can be considered a chorus here(!). There are a few melodic acoustic interludes here, an idea the musicians will develop and even perfect later in their career as a group.

The next track is titled As Embers Dress The Sky, and it will be familiar to everyone who has heard Pale Folklore beforehand. No significant changes have been made from this early version of the track, and the only one you notice is the quality of the recording, Haughm's rawer approach to singing and also different sounding of the instruments. Most Agalloch fans will be very pleased hearing what it sounded like two years before Pale Folklore, and will surely recognise the majestic twin guitar duels between John Haughm and Don Anderson, female vocals and the acoustics. One thing that is prominent is the heavy part after the acoustic interlude. On the later version it seems celestial and majestic, whereas this early recording sounds like an ugly, raging Black Metal assault more than anything.

Foliorum Viridum is next, beginning with melancholic piano and choir played on keyboards. The musicians create a remarkable atmosphere here, implementing many keyboards layers at once, which proves that they were never afraid to express themselves without being heavily dependant on borders set by a specific genre. A new version of this creation would be presented on the EP Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor. Although the track is almost six minutes in length, do not let the number fool you. The composition ends at approximately 2:40 and after that This Old Cabin begins. For those who are familiar with what I am saying, this can be compared to the mistake that was done during the recording process of Opeth's Orchid between Requiem and The Apostle In Triumph, just in the reverse, if that makes any sense at all. This Old Cabin starts with a bass line playing, that is then followed by a similar guitar lead, which manages to create a sorrowful mood. Accompanied by whispered vocals this part sounds very dramatic, which makes it even more obvious that this can't be a continuation of the first part of the track. The feel suddenly changes and the song becomes more uplifting, with sung, almost chanted vocals. This is where the composition gets a lot more fun for the ears. The track is well structured and shows constant progression, with some of the parts repeated for our pleasure. The guitar riffs written here are most inspiring - this is the type of riffing, upon encountering which you have a strange feeling, as if they were written concretely for you and this is the riff you've always wanted to hear. The glorious song comes to its end with the first bass line being played again, followed by female vocals for a brief time and a relaxed, melodic ending. It is a pity Agalloch have not put this song on any of their EPs, as I believe that the songwriting here is exceptional. The same can be said about the marvelous The Wilderness, which unfortunately never saw the light either.

The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that in spite of being a demo with average recording quality, From Which of this Oak is an adventurous creation that shows the musicians of Agalloch exposed with their desire to further innovate the genres they are rooted in and act without any genre limitations. The songwriting here is first-rate, making the album a highly recommend piece of music to those who already consider themselves Agalloch fans and are willing to find out where it all began, as well as those who find atmospheric Black Metal-influenced folk to be the most romantic thing ever. Over a half of material here is exclusive, meaning that you will not be able to witness it anywhere else, however, the other side of the coin is that this demo is nearly impossible to find!

As for those who have yet introduced themselves to the majestic music of Agalloch, I suggest checking out any of their full-length albums, each of them being amazing in its own special way before even thinking about obtaining this offering.

Trickster F. | 3/5 |

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