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Agalloch - Pale Folklore CD (album) cover

PALE FOLKLORE

Agalloch

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.75 | 162 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars American rock history has rarely been in the forefront of the European scenes as it seems the US has always been playing catch up rather than being innovators but every once in a while, a band or two happens to catch the rest of the world off guard with something completely bold, daring and original. This applies to the heavy metal universe as well. One example is when the Texas based Watchtower exemplified the bombast and fury of 80s metal and applied it to an adventurous progressive rock paradigm. The world would never be the same. One could also argue that the Portland, Oregon based AGALLOCH has had much of the same effect on the post-second wave black metal that has become a staple of the 21st century extreme metal world and has allowed a relentless explorative pursuit within the black metal world ever since.

This band dates back to 1995 when guitarist / vocalist John Haughm (formerly of Sculptured) and keyboardist Shane Breyer (formerly of Susurrus Inanis) began to take early explorative measures in the black metal universe that would amalgamate the disparate worlds of black metal, post-rock and progressive rock with the neofolk of bands like Death In June. As soon as guitarist Don Anderson (also formerly of Sculptured) joined, the band set out to record their first demo tape 'From Which Of This Oak' which was released in 1997. While still deeply rooted in black metal, the band had hit upon their own style and with the addition of Jason Walton on drums, the band would forge their unique style that would be unleashed onto an unsuspecting world with their full- length debut PALE FOLKLORE in 1999 just in time for a new millennium.

AGALLOCH immediately scored a unique eclectic mix of musical elements that hitherto had only been attempted by Scandinavian bands such as Ulver, Opeth and Amorphis. PALE FOLKLORE features a mature homegrown integration of doom and black metal along with acoustic folk arpeggios and post-rock compositional structures that sprawled into lengthy melancholic tracks that exhibited a wide range of growled, clean, whispered and shrieked vocals. The pagan based themes in the lyrics focused on depression, nature, folklore and the supernatural all splayed in a post-rock nonchalance that set up mood altering passages that found closure with heavy black metal crescendocore. Unique to this debut was also the female operatic vocals that occasional pop in performed by Anderson's girlfriend of the time. While the album took three years to write and record, only one track from the demo, 'As Embers Dress The Sky' make it on PALE FOLKLORE.

The album begins with an epic grace of the 'She Painted Fire Across The Skyline' suite which in three movements perfectly prognosticated the evolution of black metal into the new millennium. The juxtaposition of the disparate metal, folk, post-rock and doom elements took the compositional flow of post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the neofolk of Death In June and layered in doom metal marches, black metal tremolo picking and distortion with the occasional flare of neoclassical elements bleeding through. Likewise the atmospheric properties of the keyboards added a frosty veneer over the aggressive metal passages assuaged by acoustic folk melodies. Add the disparate vocal styles and the extraordinarily diverse drumming patterns and the result was one of the most unique metal albums of 1999. The band has cited that in addition to Ulver and Godspeed You!, influences include Katatonia, The 3rd And The Mortal, Swans as well as music from movie soundtracks.

All in all PALE FOLKLORE may not be as focused as 'The Mantle' or other subsequent albums but in effect lays the groundwork for all that would come and proved to be an influential release in its own right. Entrenched with soaring atmospheric orchestrations, keyboard tinklings, metal bombast in contrast to acoustic folk melodies, PALE FOLKLORE found a unique niche in between the orthodoxy of 90s black metal and even the Neurosis styled post-metal of the same era. AGALLOCH simply took the cross-pollinating effects of all these elements to a new level and managed to put the US on the map within the black metal world. If you ask me, AGALLOCH probably has the most in common with Sweden's Opeth. They both exhibited a unique trading off between sensual acoustic guitar passages and bombastic metal explosiveness that were cleverly woven together. Out of all the AGALLOCH albums, PALE FOLKLORE is the most diverse in tempos, timbres, time signatures, vocal styles etc. A more than competent debut.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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