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Agalloch - Pale Folklore CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

3.75 | 162 ratings

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4 stars The secret relation between music and the mind that perceives it

The thing with this album is there is no way I can get anyone to understand what it means to me. Unless you like it yourselves, you will never understand it. You have to be in my head while I am listening to it to sense, feel, sympathize and realize just how much the music here moves me, makes me shiver; how much I connect to it and how much it describes some of my most depressive feelings and emotions.

Sure I can describe the music, and analyze it somewhat, but that would be only scratching the surface, a superficial representation of what this album is to me. For you see, it is not only what is in the music. It is also what is in your mind when you listen to the music. And if you don't know that mind, don't understand it, its background and motives, then how would you understand how this mind relates to the music? This makes sound the art of reviewing futile, but after writing several reviews and reading a lot of them, I'd say that it is not futile. But in some cases, it is damn near impossible to do so. This one album (and their next one, The Mantle, as well) are for me two such cases.

There is this "click" in my mind when listening to this album (and others as well, of course but those are irrelevant for this review). It is as if the music is a key and my neurons in my music listening part of the brain are some sort of lock that are only unlocked by certain tunes, a certain music, a certain song, composition or melody.

When the key fits the lock, my mind is ignited and the pleasure of music is unleashed. Now that is not to say that only certain music is the key; each type of music or individual album is another type of key, each one opening a different "mind-door" to another room of musical pleasure. If I had to use one word to describe this process, it would be "Magic".

The "room" of Pale Folklore is one room I love a lot to "visit". It is a semi-dark room; dim candle lights, augmented by the fire in the fire place and a faint early sunrise from outside the wooden window is visible as the morning has yet to unfold. As the album progresses, the day beings, but it is not a sunny day; rather it is a winter day, a bit grim, grey and somewhat foreboding but there is also a calm side to it, and aspiring for inner peace. I'd attribute winter as the season to fit this particular release.

The opening riff of the album, which starts the trilogy of "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline", followed by a switch to acoustic and the harsh and raw vocals set the mood for the album. This opening is in contrast with the more relaxed and repetitive opening for their next album, The Mantle. This opening song is the key that opens my mind and begins the journey. This first song is quite dynamic, alternating between the dynamic fast riffs and the laid back slower parts (where there are the occasional female voice chanting). This opening, made of three parts, has a musical thread connecting them all into one coherent piece.

The fourth track, "The Misshapen Steed", is a quiet piano piece that is a sort of break from the storm outside. The "bad weather" resumes on the next track "Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony" which follows the "ground rules" set up by "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline" though more aggressive than it. I won't bother as much with the rest of the tracks as I can't describe in words the melody but the concept guiding their music should be clear by now (for better or worse). Whether you think you like it or dislike it, there's not much more to reveal about it (except of course to actually listen to it and I mean actively listen). I will say that track 7, "As Embers Dress The Day", has a most haunting and captivating melody, great riff and great quiet acoustic middle section. Track 8, "The Melancholy Spirit" too follows in the path of the previous track, though different in structure, yet the Agalloch characteristics that are the rough and the mellow and the changes in musical motifs, are prevalent throughout this track.

It is not so much an album of complexity, though this is not some simply composed piece of music; there are of course intricacies and changes along the songs that keep the interest and that make it even more enjoyable (the first three songs are a good example). Rather, it is more a piece that describes a set of mind, an ambience delicate (melody, clean vocals) but also roughly edged at the same time (guitar riffs, harsh vocals). It is an album to lay back, close your eyes and drift away with, along with the leaves from the trees outside the window of the "room". The light cold current of air, represented by the acoustic guitar, is replaced by a stronger torrent of the electrical riff of the guitar soaring the skies, while the vocals echo in the front, both of them working to encapsulate the listener in their midst.

While the sensations are of music suitable of adjectives such as: cold, winter like etc. it is actually the opposite effect that goes on in my stomach and heart/mind when I listen to the music; that is to say, I am filled with warmth listening to the guitars and vocals together charting a sorrowful texture of sound. This defies the laws of physics I guess; and there's the magic of music: being able to create warmth in the listener's heart/mind.

The album goes on in its "slow and ponderous changing to dynamic faster parts and back again" pattern and so there is the risk of falling to trap of "this is the same all the time; boring and never developing". Two possibilities. The first is that this is not your type of music; this music does not hold the key to the lock in your mind. The other possibility is that you are not paying enough attention; not in the right set of mind; not receptive to this at that moment and not enough concentrated and this is leading to the album not being well-registered by your mind and musical sense.

So for me this album, in light of my personal mind experience with the album, is a great, very enjoyable and rewarding and naturally flowing album but in the sense that my enjoyment is not as much based on quality, or other less subjective parameters as it is on my particular musical leanings (but I don't mean this album is without any qualities; though I think I made it clear with my above text). However, I realize that for most people this album constitutes simply a relaxed and even boring, somewhat ambient, atmospheric and metallic piece of music that is not too impressive. Therefore, I can't recommend it to anyone since I don't know the potential reader's mind (I know of only two other people here in PA that love this album to similar extents: Ansen and Ivan). If you don't like music that's repetitive, gloomy and without much "meat", then avoid Agalloch entirely. But if you're willing to open your mind and sit down calmly, without any distractions and listen to this repeatedly for several times (at least 5 times), then there is a good chance you'll be able to perceive what beauty lies in those melodic tracks. Note: If you like this album, The Mantle is highly recommended as well (in fact it's a must).

Let the guitars lead the way.

avestin | 4/5 |


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