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Agalloch - Marrow Of The Spirit CD (album) cover

MARROW OF THE SPIRIT

Agalloch

Experimental/Post Metal


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Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars 'Marrow Of The Spirit' - Agalloch (9/10)

Four years after their last release 'Ashes Against The Grain,' Portland, Oregon based dark metal act Agalloch has finally crafted their long awaited follow-up. Admittedly being an existing, dedicated fan to the band's work, I have found myself consistently impressed by the act's mastery of aesthetic, and sincere ability to make profound, deeply moving and melancholic music. Having delved deep into Agalloch's latest opus, entitled 'Marrow Of The Spirit,' I can safely say that the band hasn't just created an album that will satisfy their salivating fanbase, but a challenging work of art that will certainly stand to be considered one of the band's highest achievements when all is said and done. While their established magnum opus 'The Mantle' may have a greater personal impact on me, never before has Agalloch sounded so dark, heavy, and ambitious as they do on 'Marrow.'

On their fourth full-length bout, Agalloch retains their trademark style of dark, atmospheric and nature-inspired metal, but as always, manages to tweak their sound to set the album apart from the others in their growing discography. While 'Pale Folklore' may be associated with black metal, 'The Mantle' with folk, and 'Ashes Against The Grain' with post-rock, 'Marrow Of The Spirit' is a bit harder to pin down. Perhaps this is because 'Marrow' incorporates equal aspects of each of these three genres in equal portions; in comparison to the other albums, there are segments here that sound like they could easily be on any previous Agalloch recording. What makes the album special is that these styles have been perfectly counter-balanced, so that while the record shares a common mood throughout, no convention of the act's sound is overused.

New to Agalloch's ensemble is the San Francisco based percussionist Aesop Dekker, who's introduction makes an audible difference in the band's sound. A drummer who evidently emphasizes power and aggression over subtlety, Dekker's heavy and no-frills approach to the rhythm gives the band a much heavier and looming sound, whereas the band generally lacked the heaviness typically associated with extreme metal, in albums before.

The album begins with 'They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness;' a calming yet haunting cello piece from guest musician Jackie Perez Gratz, a name that may be familiar through her membership in the avant-garde metal group Grayceon. Over the faint babbling of water and ambient birdsong, Gratz immediately lulls the listener into the vibe of the album; that of darkness, melancholy and haunting beauty. While not remarkable so much as a composition, Jackie's performance is heartfelt, and provides a perfect contrast to the second track on the album, which immediately follows.

'Into The Painted Grey' is without a doubt, the heaviest and most aggressive performance Agalloch has ever churned out. Straight from the mellow cello passages of the album's intro, the music erupts into a fury of fastpicked guitarwork and a wallop of blastbeats. As the unrelenting energy just starts to get overwhelming, everything abates to make way for an atmospheric mellower section of constantly morphing pitch harmonies that slowly builds towards the main section of the track. This track really reminds the listener that at their heart, Agalloch are a black metal band, and this track rings closer to the core elements of the genre than anything they've released in the past. For all of its heaviness though, there is still a great deal of melodic presence here, although it might sound hidden beneath the layers of distortion at first. The force here is undeniable, and while things for from here on will be more mellow, 'Into The Painted Grey' sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the album.

Next up is 'The Watcher's Monolith,' which was leaked before the general release of the album, possibly under the guise of a 'single.' If 'Into The Painted Grey' reflected the black metal sound of 'Pale Folklore,' then 'Watcher's Monolith' does the same for the folk leanings of 'The Mantle.' Featuring acoustic guitars strumming behind soaring post-rock derived lead melodies and John Haughm's existential growls, this dark foray is the most akin to their historical material as anything you'll find on 'Marrow.' As my introduction to the new set of Agalloch material, I found myself greatly satisfied first hearing this track, but it pales in comparison to the behemoth that follows.

Having arguably become the most anticipated aspect of the album, the seventeen minute long 'Black Lake Nidstång' has been made out to be 'the definition of epic' by others who have already heard it. While popular opinion isn't always the most justified, this track certainly lives up to the hype it's been getting, and more. An epic, lumbering hymn of doom metal, 'Black Lake Nidstång' is the greatest , most ambitious project the band has ever set to do, possibly only coming in second behind the perfect 'In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion,' from the sophomore. With a band like Agalloch, one obviously cannot expect a multi-part, dynamic suite in the conventional sense, but a carefully drawn out composition that takes ample time to get going. The track as a whole is immense; each note is given ample time to give the most profound emotional impact, and devastates the listener with the impending feeling of doom the track so effectively conveys. After following a doom metal formula for much of the track's length, 'Black Lake Nidstång' then takes a much unexpected turn into the realm of electronics, creating a beautifully crafted soundscape, before the final crushing finale. Suffice to say, 'Black Lake Nidstång' is hyped for a very good reason; it fits perfectly into the whole of 'Marrow' as it's proud centerpiece, and blows away even a listener like myself, who was already expecting great things from Agalloch's latest release.

While following an epic of such proportion is never an easy task, 'Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires' succeeds in providing a great experience all its own. As the last of three 'conventional' Agalloch tracks (the first two being 'Into The Painted Grey' and 'Watcher's Monolith,') this is without a doubt, the least challenging part of the album and easiest to enjoy. Beginning with the surreal strumming of a rhythm guitar, the track progresses in much the same way as a work from contemporary dark metal act Alcest would; dreamy, heavily doused in post-rock atmosphere, with a hint of black metal heaviness here and there. Although the darker pieces have since outweighed this one in terms of my personal enjoyment, this was easily my favourite track upon my first few listens to the record. 'Ghost Of The Midwinter Fires' would be a perfect track for an as-yet uninitiated listener to get into the band with.

Closing off the album is the sombre 'To Drown.' Compared to the rest of the album, this is a very subtle piece; being driven again by Jackie's dark cello flourishes. Going in a direction that sounds like a darker version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the song is patched with the unsettling whisper vocals of John Haughm, and some lead work that feels a bit too engaged for the terms of such a mellow track. Sharing a very similar sound palette to the introduction of the album, this track is inherently less interesting than those that preceeded it due to its very mellow, almost ambient nature. In any case, the climax of the song sees the cello work of Gratz finally taking a more structured form, leading the listener out of the album's experience and back into silence.

There's no denial that 'Marrow Of The Spirit' is a monster of a work; a thick and towering beast that takes quite a few listens to really sink in. Like all of Agalloch's music, there is a great deal of atmosphere here, as well as a forlorn and existential worldview that certainly won't be brightening one's spirits anytime soon. While being so excited and eager to listen to an album can very abundantly lead to disappointment, 'Marrow Of The Spirit' comes only a shard away from reaching the perfection that 'The Mantle' achieved, and for once, despite my anticipation, my expectations have all been exceeded.

Report this review (#308090)
Posted Wednesday, November 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A good returning!I was waiting for a new album from Agalloch because it's my 2nd favorite band.When I learned that they will release new album I was very happy.Of course,I had the belief that it will be very good.Well,finally I am satisfied with the album but not so much.The production is good but low.But I appreciate that they wanted to have a real and physical sound in their production and not the "perfect"modern metal production with the triggers as they say.For sure this album is more different than the previous.It's more varied(there are elements of doom metal,black metal,post rock,krautrock and folk).It has a strange aura and atmosphere.It's more haunting.The melancholic introduction of the album with the composition of Jackie Perez Gratz of Grayceon is splendid.Fantastic cello playing!

This cover is one of the bleakest covers that I have ever seen.Fantastic winter landscape!

The key songs of the album are The watcher's monolith(pessimism and nostalgia),Black lake Nidstang(7:22-8:42 superb dirge) and Ghosts of the midwinter fires(00:01-02:51 a more positive introduction but the end of the song is desperate).

An album that a music appreciator will listen to it.

My grade:7,8/10

Report this review (#311802)
Posted Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's good to see that emphasizing their more extreme metal characteristics makes them "amateurish." I never would have figured it out after my own 8 or so play-throughs of this album. What I heard here was the same old Agalloch maturing even further, taking the more extreme metal-oriented elements from their first full release and mixing them artfully with the neofolk vibe of their critically acclaimed masterpiece, The Mantle. A large part of the appeal on this new release is their new drummer who has brought with him a much rawer and frantic approach to the percussion, a style that very strongly suites the heavy atmospheric black metal style shown on songs like Into the Painted Grey, which starts with an incredibly frantic, tremolo picked riff that evolves gracefully into classic Agalloch acoustics. It's is interesting to note that the clean vocals are entirely absent on this album (aside from some background accompaniments), but as Haughm's clean vocals have always been one of the weaker parts of their overall ensemble (even if the vocal arrangements were excellent) it doesn't bother me in the slightest and, if anything, only further contributes to the raw atmosphere of the album. Agalloch also went with a rougher production style on this release, as opposed to the squeaky clean painfully crisp production of most modern music, the sound is a bit muddier than their earlier works and the bass isn't ass pronounced, but as with all of the changes they've made on this album, it's just one of many things that contributes to the album's unique presence.

I cannot, for the life of me, comprehend how one could be e a fan of Agalloch without having an appreciation for their roots. In all honestly, implying that blast beats are easy to play is about as ignorant a statement as implying that extreme vocals are easy to employ (though both are relatively common statements). It's just inherently untrue.

Report this review (#327690)
Posted Saturday, November 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
1 stars For me this was easily the most anticipated album of the decade. Both The Mantle and Ashes are two of the most original superb albums ever released. I struggle to think of anything else that I have listened to as much as these 2 albums.

I almost wet myself upon seeing that finally a new release was out and then within 5 minutes of listening I could have cried.

This album is tragic. I don't mean as in subject matter, I mean in terms of everything. The musicianship is terrible, vocals amateurish, other than the very rare great riff here and there I have absolutely nothing positive to say about this album which is why I rate it as for completionists only. And given I would put myself in this category, perhaps a zero would have been more appropriate.

I cannot understand what the other reviewers see here and can only assume they are voting blindly on past successes. So lets talk about the album.

First, the clean vocals are gone. Why? Given Agalloch has always been about the melody I am gobsmacked they have decided to do this instead sticking with their death/doom vocal style exclusively which at times even rises to a high pitched ridiculous doom style moan. The clean vocals was their hook and defined their style.

Second, it is evident from the second song (the first is series of pleasant nature sounds) that the band have opted for more of a non-melodic break neck speed uninteresting guitar sound more along the lines of extreme metal. The sound is a little more reminiscent of the Pale Folklore album but no where near as tight. Perhaps this is due to the third point.

Third, the new drummer's drumming is dreadful. Cliche driven aimless pounding. I can't even put into words how amateurish an effort it is. My 6 year old son learning the drums could have put in a finer effort.

I could ramble on for hours but at the end of the day I've given this album multiple spins trying to work out what I'm missing and just can't. It is frankly dreadful from beginning to end. This is such a radical departure from the maturity shown with the last albums you'd think it was another band inspired by Agalloch and recording having spent a whole of 4 days practicing and recording since inception. Given the number of years it took to assemble god knows what went wrong!

I would strongly recommend even the most die-hard fan of Agalloch's past material, such as myself, seriously listen to samples before you buy. I do not say this lightly, but there is absolutely nothing positive to say about this album at all. Agalloch has fallen back into the ranks of amateur nobodies and this is truly tragic.

Report this review (#334094)
Posted Thursday, November 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
3 stars The four year wait since the superb Ashes Against the Grain is over. Such long waits tend to inflate expectations and that's probably why my disappointment with this album is so huge. But frankly, there are so many reasons to be disappointed, and by the look of it I'm not the first.

In a recent PA interview Agalloch expressed their disappointment with the 'polished' sound of Ashes Against the Grain. They promised a return to edgier and rougher material. Well, this confirms again that artist shouldn't always be trusted with their judgments of their own work. Marrow The Spirit can hardly be called rough or raw. It's badly recorded yes, but more importantly, it's a monotonous and dull album that lacks energy and bite. The songwriting is cliché, the riffs are tedious, the melodies entirely predictable. I'm afraid this album misses everything that made The Mantle and Ashes Against the Grain into such marvelous works. Worst of all, it doesn't offer anything in return for everything it sacrifices. Really, if you want raw black metal there's plenty of better options.

From that same interview we could learn that the guitar player has been listening to a lot of RPI and Swedish 90s prog lately. Great, so have I, but just don't expect any trace or influence from that music here. Agalloch emphasizes their black metal roots here next to the know gothic influences from Anathema, Sisters of Mercy, Cure and Fields of The Nephelim. But if you would be looking for progressive influences you won't find many. This is a return to roots album abandoning everything that was progressive about their sound. But again, if you want raw black metal there's plenty of better options.

Even the addition of an extra band-member on the drums didn't add anything new or fresh. Quite the contrary, I much preferred Haughm's relaxed and spacious drumming. I can really do without the tedious and formulaic drumming on this album. And his drum sound is possible worse then the playing. Another change is that the clean vocals have almost been abandoned entirely. Why? It was one of their strongest points and Haughm's rasp can hardly be called the band's main asset. It sounds feeble and underdeveloped.

The songwriting is possible the biggest disappointment, with the sameness in the phrasing, riffs and scales, the songs sound like demo-copies of previous work, but clearly without the melodious embellishments and flashes of genius. The long Black Lake Nidstang dares to leave the trodden paths, only to resort to a shameless cloning of Tiamat's doom wails between minute 7 and 10. The ambient droning section and the echo-y guitar bit that follows between minutes 10 and 14 are the best minutes of the album but they aren't very original neither. I'd suggest Ash Ra Tempel if you want a real satisfactory trip in this style.

Agalloch is only a fraction of what they used to be. Gone are the majesty, the chilling beauty, the inspiration, the magic. Marrow The Spirit is an album that goes through the motions, without so much as touching the intensity of The Mantle or Ashes Against The Grain. Strange, for a record that was meant to be so tough.

Report this review (#335453)
Posted Friday, November 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit. For me this was one to look forward to. I've been a fan of Agalloch since the Mantle and have thoroughly enjoyed Ashes Against the Grain as well. It took me quite some effort to eventualy gain a copy of marrow of the spirit, because i live in europe and we are at the mercy of viva hate records (why...tell me why?). A few days ago it had finally arrived and I was as happy as a kid at christmas. I have played the record for about 8 times in it's entirety now, which is about the amount I need to completely digest an Agalloch record, so I feel confident that I can now write a review.

The album opens with "they escaped the weight of darkness" . This is a really slow, mood-setting opener and it does just that. The mood is bleak and dark, but that really is nothing new to Agalloch. Nice cello-driven intro, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Next comes "into the painted grey" . The intro to this song is very loud and chaotic, mostly due to the blastbeats. To my knowledge this is the first time that blastbeats are used on an Agalloch record, and it is a significant change to the vibe the band usually has. Too be quite honest, I do not think that blastbeats and Agalloch are a great mix, but more about the drumming later. After about a minute it breaks into a very recognizable Agalloch-riff. The song ventures on until at about 4:30 there's blastbeats again. Again, this does not really add anything to the sound, it makes it sound chaotic and out of place. Then again when at 5:30 the blastbeats stop and make room for the guitar riff, the contrast displayed is very nice. This pattern is (unfortunately) repeated troughout the whole song. Apparently Agalloch has decided to create a bigger contrast in their songs, much as Opeth did on Watershed (there, blastbeats were introduced aswell). Basically this an Agalloch song as we've come to like and expect, with the addition of far more aggressive drums. (6/10)

Track #3 "the Watcher's Monolith" . This song starts in a "mantle"-like fashion with accousitc guitars. the riff at 2:00 is not really Agalloch-like and it is quite obvious that these guys are trying to evolve, again similar to what Opeth was doing to Watershed. I keep bringing this up because after reading alot of both expert- and fan reviews it would seem that this album is producing the same feelings of controversy as did Watershed. A part of the dedicated fans seems to be turning away from this album, while another part embraces the bands craving for exploration. Anyways, back to the song. At about 3:20 the first and sadly only clean vocals of the album appear, very nice. The same musical pattern keeps repeating until 5:00, where the song takes another direction. This song reminds me mostly of the mantle, but with more agressiveness, which i think is a good thing. It goes from seriously loud to calm, it just seems like the differences between loud and calm are bigger. The song ends with nighttime environmental sounds and a very nice atmospheric piano outtro. (9/10)

The environmental sounds continue into the album's epic "Black Lake Nidstång" . It starts with an eerie bass sound, followed by drums signaling something big coming our way. Slowly the guitars build up the mood. This is an amazing intro. At 2:30 the slow electric-guitar driven riff gets support from an accoustic mini-solo. The songs main part begins at about 4:10. 2 guitar driven riff accompanied by Haughm's whispers. This continues until 7:20 where all of a sudden "pale folklore"-like singing is displayed. This was something I did not really like on Pale Folklore, but here it really fits. The emotion displayed in singing is fantastic, showing a mix of despair, fear, and pain. At 10:00 the song is starting to steer in a completely different direction. It starts with electronic spacelike bass (almost Pink Floydlike), added with triangle sounds, which again set a great mood. Slowly the bass line opens up for a rather unusual (for Agalloch atleast) guitar riff, with an equally unusual bassline. This part of the song is really incredible. The song ends in heavy fashion, which suits it well. Imo this is the best song Agalloch has ever made, and I doubt they will ever be able to top this. This song alone is worth buying this album (10/10)

Surely the rest of the album will be a disappointment after Black Lake Nidstång? No it really isnt. "Ghost of midwinter fires" . Again the guitar riffing here seems remarkably different from both the Mantle and Ashes against the Grain, but I definately like it. The calming intro is nevertheless very much Agalloch. At 3:00 the song gets heavier, supported by heavy grunts. The chorus is yet again backed up by blastbeats, but this time it seems to fit the music alot better. Right before 6:00 the music jumps back to a variation of the intro-riff, which is very nicely done. All in all this is an excellent song (9/10).

The last song on the album "to Drown" is a very slow, dark one. This starts with the sound of wind and floating water, accompanied by an eerie sounding cello. An equally eerie low riff is played on the accoustic guitar, shortly followed by the electric guitar. Whispers of Haughm have never been more at place. The eeriness is actually getting heavier the further we are in the song. At about 5:10 the electronics join forces with the cello and the song goes from providing an eerie mood to providing a dreaded mood, truly haunting. Very good last song (9/10)

In total I would rate this album 88/100. This is by far the most progressive record Agalloch has made. The only disappointment is with the drums. The blastbeats are out of place, and add nothing but chaos imo. It might have to do something with the way the drumming is recorded aswell, because throughout the album they seem to be more of a presence then they were on previous Agalloch records, but this will not in the least keep me from enjoying this record for what it is, a masterpiece.

Report this review (#336802)
Posted Sunday, November 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Marrow Of The Spirit takes some listening to understand it's full beauty, just as many masterpieces before it. The album opens with some wonderful cello and nature samples before kicking full blast into, "Into The Painted Grey", hearkening black metal in an Agalloch way. "The Watcher's Monolith" is a wonderful piece that grabs back to the glory of their best album The Mantle, and twists it, making it new and refreshing. "Black Lake Nidstang" occupies the middle of the record and marks a grand opus of crushing doom. This song feature John shrieking in an almost punk/hardcore way, or like his contemorary John Gossard of Weakling fame. Indeed strange, but fitting right where it needs to along with excellent kraut- rock inspired Moog drones and delayed guitar. "Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires" is another excellent song, done in the Agalloch way. The closer "To Drown" closes the album in a serene fashion. In all, Marrow Of The Spirit is the next logical stage for Agalloch. They have grown to hold such a cult following, but now may have stepped out of the underground in a weird space between being no one and famous.
Report this review (#340789)
Posted Thursday, December 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
EatThatPhonebook
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars After four years, I have to say that it was well worth the wait. "Marrow Of The Spirit" is one of the band's best albums, along with the supreme masterpiece "The Mantle" and the superb "Ashes Against The Grain".

In this album, we find a whole lot of new elements, that weren't present in previous Agalloch releases: for starters, the album has only six songs, (almost) all of them around ten minutes, if not much more. Stylistically, the album has more Black Metal tastes than the previous albums, with faster, pounding rhythms, played by Aesop Dekker, less clean vocals, sung by band leader John Haugm, one of my favorite Black Metal vocalists, thanks to his intense and high picked voice when singing in growl, and to his emotional, haunting vocals when he sings clean. Furthermore, we have atmospheric electric guitars, and acoustic guitars that sound for the first time like a simple enrichment, without playing a distinctive role. Indeed, "Marrow Of the Spirit" is an Atmospheric Black Metal album, which touches of Folk Metal, Avant Garde, Doom, and even Post-Rock. A very rich album, musically speaking, there's no doubt in that.

"Marrow Of The Spirit" is a distorted, rough, but at times beautiful portrait of bleak nature, particularly concerning whitened forests and mountains. These amazing images the band creates can penetrate you strongly, and you can really feel like you're standing there , alone, in the middle of the woods, with your feet touching soft snow, gazing a frozen stream in front of you, with naked trees surrounding it, in a dark afternoon.

These six songs here are all unique, all in their one way; the intro "They Escaped the Weight Of Darkness", a very long and melancholic one, the haunting and memorable "Into The Painted Grey", possibly my favorite song of this album, "The Watcher's Monolith", a sad sounding Folkish Metal piece, with very beautiful moments, the long "Black Lake Nidstang" one of the most complete and epic Agalloch songs, my least favorite "Ghost Of the Midwinter Fires", even though it has some very impressive moments, and strange, Post Rockish "To Drown". These songs create a very complete and eclectic album, which is so far my favorite album of 2010, along with Kayo Dot's "Coyote".

As a conclusion, I have to admit that it was hard to get into, since it's very long and not very melodic, thus not easy to remember, but when the taste is acquired, you'll see how good this album is. 4.5 stars.

Report this review (#351542)
Posted Monday, December 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars This new Agalloch album sounds along the same lines as the previous one, "Ashes Against the Grain": a dark, wintery post-metal sound with folk accents. More vocals, perhaps a more chaotic sound and definitely much longer pieces: besides the short intro "They Escaped the Weight of Darkness" (hint: they didn't), the five other songs range from nine to seventeen minutes.

With such bases, don't expect a conventional metal album: whoever placed Agalloch in the "experimental/post metal" category was not kidding. "Marrow of the Spirit" is a somber trip through winter landscapes and frozen wastes, scarcely illuminated by brief moments of pure, violent energy. To wit, "Black Lake Nidtsang" finale.

For those who like dark, atmospheric metal, "Marrow of the Spirit" is definitely a great album. Others should be careful not to wander there alone; who know what is hiding in these wild, northern landscapes?

Report this review (#378081)
Posted Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
JJLehto
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I got into Agalloch early summer 2010, and quickly fell in love with what is now one of my favorite bands. So you can understand my excitement when it was announced they were releasing their next album later that year!

When I first listened to this album I was taken by surprise, as many others were. Marrow of the Spirit is much more black metal than anything they have done in a very long time. Maybe not a surprise, after progressively drifting farther from black metal and into atmospheric territory the band makes a return to roots. Still, a bit of a disappointment. At first this sounded like a black metal album, with melodic breaks. However, after listening to album more and more times it really grew on me.

More raw than previous albums, a lot more blast beats and thrashiness than we've seen before. Haughm's haunting clean vocals are largely absent, replaced with his classic rasp. Much of the beloved folk guitar is gone, hidden and just audible under the distortion. While still atmospheric the album has an overall more assaulting feel. This may deter many fans, but please give this album time to sink in.

The album opens with the sounds of a river and birds, while a cello plays over it. The next song starts abruptly, shattering the serene beauty. "Into the Painted Grey" is Agalloch's most intense song. However, while it sounds like a black metal battery, there is still melodicism in the brutality. It takes some listens to really get. Between the bouts of madness is some really nice, melodic playing.

The Watchers Monolith is a post metal song, Agalloch style. Builds and descents, light and dark, always atmospheric (whether beautiful or brutal) and some of the few clean vocals and acoustic guitar you'll hear on the album. A really good song that takes some time to appreciate. It flows right into the next song, Black Lake Nidstang.

This song is worthy of The Mantle, it is one of Agalloch's finest pieces. A 17 and half minute journey that slowly builds and builds, lets you down a bit, then comes back to one of the most powerful moments you will hear. The middle section is beyond words, and when the vocals kick in I almost fell out of my chair the first time. The song gently drifts for a while before going out running. Absolutely mind blowing song. Epic in every sense of the word.

Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires begins with one of the best riffs in Agalloch's discog. Hearing the intro live send shivers down the back of every person at the concert, awe inspiring... but I digress. A song that has it all, really great. My second favorite on the album without doubt. The album ends with "To Drown" which at first I didn't like but also grew on me. Very sparse and subtle, this is pretty much a straight up post rock song! At first sounds like emptiness and noise, but with time you'll see it is really a grand soundscape and powerful song.

Would like to quickly note, Aesop Dekker has taken some flak for his drumming on the record. If you prefer the older style that is fine, but Aesop's drumming is fitting of this album's style, while older drumming was fitting of those albums. While Dekker's drumming is adequate but unspectacular, the same can be said for the drumming in past albums. Virtuosic and show off drumming is not Agalloch's M.O.

A great album, it requires time and listening to fully realize its greatness. Because on the surface it may sound like Agalloch lite and stripped of the essentials, but really it's all still there. The band's maturation continues with Marrow of the Spirit. Dedicated to extreme metal it is tempered with melodicism and patient songwriting.

Four Stars

Report this review (#422877)
Posted Saturday, March 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Marrow of the Spirit" is the 4th full-length studio album by US post black/doom metal act Agalloch. The album was released through Profound Lore Records in November 2010.

on "Marrow of the Spirit", Agalloch play a melodic doom metal/atmospheric black metal hybrid with progressive song structures. A combination that proves quite intriguing. There are 6 tracks on the 65:13 minutes long album. Besides the intro track "They Escaped the Weight of Darkness", which is 3:41 minutes long, The rest of the tracks are each about 10 minutes long. "Black Lake Nidstång" even features a playing time of 17:34 minutes. The latter is to my ears one of the most interesting tracks on the album and a real highlight. It´s a very atmospheric and ambient track that builds towards climaxes. At times I´m reminded of an act like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and even Sigur Ròs.

The vocals on the album are mostly raspy black metal styled vocals, but there are clean sung vocals on the album too. In addition to being very atmospheric the music is generally also very melodic. Lots of lead guitar melodies, acoustic guitar sections and layers upon layers of ambient sounds. There are a few blasting sections on the album but the pace is generally mid- to slow and actually the black metal tag is mostly due to the raspy vocals. The band are able to create beautiful melancholic melodies. Take a listen to the reoccuring lead guitar melody in "The Watcher's Monolith" as an example of that.

While the tracks are adventurously structured, and it´s obvious that the band have tons of intriguing ideas, it´s not always my patience allow me to enjoy some of the more repetitive building part of the album. For example I find the intro track, which basically features a single cello playing a melody over nature sounds, to be unnecessarily longdrawn. The closing track "To Drown" is to my ears also too longdrawn and repetitive, but that´s of course an aquired taste, and it´s hard not to give Agalloch credit for being able to create an authentic dark atmosphere (and even the two mentioned songs grow after repeated listens). It is however the four tracks in the middle of the album that I`m mostly impressed by. Probably because the action level on those tracks are generally higher than on the two tracks that bookend the album.

"Marrow of the Spirit" features an earthy and organic sound production which suits the music perfectly. The album was recorded on analog equipment and it´s audible and another feature that greatly enhances the atmosphere of the album and the overall listening experience. "Marrow of the Spirit" took me a while and several spins to really get into, but sometimes patience pays off, and for me "Marrow of the Spirit" is one such case. Agalloch are an act with a sound of their own and I greatly respect that. Combine that with an adventurous approach to writing music, a great atmospheric and organic sound production, and strong musicianship and "Marrow of the Spirit" ultimately comes off as a high quality release. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

Report this review (#426972)
Posted Sunday, April 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars Agalloch gets just about as heavy as I care to go. I like the music, and find much of it very interesting. That aspect of I enjoy. But not the vocals. No, sorry. The sound of the vocals is not so much singing or even screaming (with an occasional whisper), as it is retching. By this I do not mean the guttural retch where it swells up from deep inside your system, but rather the ending part where the sputum vomits coarsely out of your mouth (or the vomit spews coarsely, take your pick). Now, I myself do not care to do this, nor do I really want to hear anyone else do it. If it wasn't for that, I would really like this band. Cello provides an interesting dimension, and the band can get into some pretty good grooves. The more thrash elements I can do without. The band is tight as a unit, yet there is little that stands out in terms of virtuosity. The album opens with They Escaped the Weight of Darkness, a short, slow instrumental which prominently features the cello and woodland sound effects. It is beautifully melancholy. So far, so good. Then follows Into the Painted Grey. This thrashes, and I'd rather they do something else. Then the vocals start. Oh my. I find them painful, but when the vocalist shuts up, it is pretty good. The rest of the album is more interesting, and I am pleased that they do something else besides thrash, except of course, the vocals. Most of the songs are long, between nine and seventeen minutes, and pound along in brain-hammering fury, with some interesting structural development. Much of it is very powerful and surprisingly emotional. The last track is slow again, offering a closing bookend to match the introduction. Once again, the cello is prominent. Whereas the first was lovely, this one is dark, evoking a bleak mood which fortunately does not take me down into abject depression. Instead, it provides a thought provoking ending. Change the vocals, eliminate the thrash elements, and I would like this band a lot better. As it is, one album by Agalloch is enough for me.
Report this review (#579572)
Posted Thursday, December 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars An excellent work.

Actually it was first Agalloch album I've listened to, and it took some time to get into its atmosphere. The music here is pretty bleak and cold, a bit of monotonous, but excellently done with some good melodies and sheer winterish atmosphere (which is maintained by slow guitar parts, whicpered/screeched vocals and nature soundscapes).

It opens with a short folk rock instrumental called 'They Escaped the Weight of Darkness'. It's not really sets any moods here and excellentely different from all the rest on this record, but it's still a very nice and interesting thing.

The real Agalloch comes with the second track 'Into the Painted Grey', which is in that gloomy doom/black metal vein which fills the whole LP with its bleakness. This mood continues on the next tracks, 'The Watcher's Monolith', 'Black Lake Niðstång' (which is a perfect 17 minutes long prog metal epic, the highlight here) and 'Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires' (some excellent bass parts here).

The record closes with more mellow track, 'To Drown', which is pretty far from metallic taste of previous songs. Very dark, and so very beautiful track, it ends with lovely, almost symphonic melodies on kinda marchy attitude.

The atmosphere here has really got that kind of beauty and immersion, so you shall be at least intrigued with this work even if you dislike this kind of music. In general, it's a solid album highly recommended for those who are into the experimental side of progressive metal.

9/10

Report this review (#857651)
Posted Monday, November 12, 2012 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars On Marrow of the Spirit, Agalloch dial back the folk a little bit compared to Ashes Against the Grain - it's not that they turn their back on folk metal, there's still aspects of it here, but equally they set themselves a sonic agenda so rich here that folk needs to step over to make room for everything else. With post-rock in the style of Godspeed You Black Emperor blending into Alcest-style "blackgaze" blending into more pure black metal bellows and doom metal dirges, it's a rich feast of sounds, but what's most impressive about it is the way Agalloch are able to assemble it into a coherent whole such that all of these distinct flavours blend into each other and seem to fit together.
Report this review (#1073955)
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars What happened? In my reviews of Agalloch's preceeding efforts, I wrote, essentially (spoiler alert!) that they were adequate but unexceptional. Then along comes this, a much darker and heavier release ' much closer to their Black Metal origins ' and it's a formula that really works. The musicality is still there, which is made apparent right from the outset with a tastefully classical-sounding introduction track, which is then mirrored in the final track. But it's enough that this feels more like a beautifully melodic black metal album, in parts oddly reminiscent of French band Peste Noire (albeit without the horrendous politics). A lineup change is, perhaps, partly to be credited for the shift in style: a new drummer, whose work sits comparatively prominently in the recording, driving the music elegantly and unstoppably forward. The guitar work is different too, feeling more centred around genuine riffs, as opposed to being used purely as a 'mood-generator'.

An extremely good album, of interest to anyone seeking the heavier end of post-metal or the more melodic end of black metal. Particularly of note is the album opener proper, Into The Painted Grey.

4/5

Report this review (#1154379)
Posted Thursday, March 27, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Another modern masterpiece put out by the now defunct (and much mourned) Agalloch. If you would have told me 10 years ago (when I was spinning anything sporting Neal Morse or otherwise donning the label of symphonic progressive rock) that my favorite band in 10 years would be a growling, foreboding death metal band, I would have had serious questions about what in the world must have happened to my life in between. But Agalloch quickly became one of my overall favorite modern bands in light of their raw but keenly sophisticated blend of metal, harmony, and space, and Marrow of the Spirit is an excellent example of Agalloch at its finest. Here, you have crushing guitars, thundering double bass, but also an almost shoegazer quality of atmosphere and space. The buildups are intense, emotional, and cathartic, and the extended instrumental passages are refreshing, spacey, and lend greater weight and significance to the thrashing guitars and raspy growls that are to come. If The Mantle is a contemplative walk through a wooded deathland, Marrow of the Spirit is a tormented trek through a haunted forest. At once frenzied and tortured, at other times beautiful and awe-inspiring, Marrow of the Spirit exemplifies the brutality and beauty of man's relationship with nature and of the band that captured that essence better than any I've known.
Report this review (#1532248)
Posted Wednesday, February 24, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars Agalloch combined their earlier ideas and crafted a timeless masterpiece.

This is generally a misunderstood album by Agalloch fans. It doesn't feature the purity and inescapable solitude of 'Ashes', neither it features the examination of natural beauty like in 'The Mantle'. What it does however, is finally achieving Agalloch's vision of translating vision into sound. When the album starts with the cello piece, you are instantly dragged into a path you do not know leads. I don't think I've ever seen the cover art resembling the album athmosphere so well. When this grandeur path ends, a valley of horror, fear and death opens up with 'Into The Painted Grey' - one of my favourite Agalloch pieces. The first blastbeats and amazing tremolo picking melody transfers your mind to another plane. It's good that Agalloch decided to ditch the overproduced digital style and try something raw and violent. It certainly works here. 'Into The Painted Grey' dismantle into very athmospheric guitar work and toms start to come in and at last the vocals along with some standard Agalloch riffing. This song goes through many stages finally achieving a magnificent climax at the end.

'The Watcher's Monolith' starts slowly while holding the tension from the last song and it climaxes into very simple melody accompanied by heavy pounding drums and vocals. The outro serves as a path to the next song: 'Black Lake Nidstång' . This horrifying masterpiece showcases why Agalloch is so loved by many. The screaming 'Nithing Pole' vocals are absolutely terrific in every way. At first listen this song might seem rather dragging but everything here serves a purpose.

'Ghost of Midwinter Fires' is the weakest song unfortunately. I wished they had thought of something more original after the previous masterpiece. It's not bad of course, but somehow it doesn't succesfully hold the athmosphere set by previous songs.

'To Drown' is a post-rock type of song where Haughm whispers his epic lyrics. This song is so haunting and beautiful that I cannot put the emotions into words. Listen to yourself!

5/5 - a masterpiece

Report this review (#1567660)
Posted Friday, May 20, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars I absolutely love Agalloch, and this atmospheric black metal genre. I have other bands that fit this style of music, but none that are as good as Agalloch. There is a reason why Agalloch is being used as a tag for other web sites, and why groups are compared to them. They are absolutely the best at what they do. I can change my mind each week as to which album is my favorite, but I always return to Marrow of the Spirit. Into the Painted Grey is just a stunning work of art, and all the surrounding tracks are just as stellar. Marrow of the Spirit is likely their most atmospheric full album excluding singles and EPs. I find Agalloch to be one of my favorite bands to work to, and this album in particular, is just perfection. It is highly recommended as a starting point into this fantastic band.
Report this review (#1817116)
Posted Saturday, October 28, 2017 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars AGALLOCH's first three albums had a lot of crossover appeal that allowed those who usually don't dabble in extreme metal to find something to latch onto via catchy folk laden melodies, post-rock compositional constructs and healthy doses of interesting electronic segments with an overall brilliant mix of all the elements simmering into a unique product. Add to that the diverse lyrical delivery that showcases John Haughm divvying his vocal dynamics into clean, shrieked and whispered enunciations that allowed a wider spectrum of emotional connection to be conveyed. On "Ashes Against The Grain," the band ratcheted up the metal aspects a bit to add more Isis inspired post-metal riffs to ride the waves of the atmospheric tides of the Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspired post-rock sensibilities. However the band still complained that despite all efforts, the album was still over-produced and not what they had hoped for.

Add to that the fact that "The White EP" which immediately precedes their fourth full-length album MARROW OF THE SPIRIT was almost entirely acoustic folk-based and it's no wonder that the band was wanting to up their metal creds a few notches which is exactly what they achieved (for the most part) on this installment of six tracks teased out into an hour and six minutes of full AGALLOCH glory. There were also many other changes afoot. Not only did they end their contract with The End Records and sign with Profound Lore due to personality clashes but ex-Ludicra drummer Aesoop Dekker was brought into the scene to replace Chris Greene. Having his history as a black metal drummer provided the necessary percussive backbone that allowed AGALLOCH to soar above and behind their folk metal roots and implement some extra rambunctious gusto throughout MARROW OF THE SPIRIT. However, make no mistake about it. Despite the fortified black metal aspects, this is an AGALLOCH album through and though and the metal is only one ingredient in a varied recipe.

As the opening track "And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness" slowly creeps in with a sole cello (provided by Jackie Perez Gratz of Gracyeon) in the company of a babbling brook and chirping birds, it seems as if AGALLOCH had employed the talents of Yo- Yo Ma to do his best interpretation of the soundtrack to "Schindler's List," however after nearly four minutes of Pagan ritualistic remorse music, "Into The Painted Grey" blasts onto the scene with some of the most intense and bombastic black metal of AGALLOCH's entire career as it strikes with a blitzkrieg vengeance in the vain of Krallice or Weakling but soon enough reverts to the familiar past glories of melodic dual guitars painting an atmospheric folk inspired melody accompanied by tribal drumming. The track continues to parade through a variety of styles that fit the AGALLOCH brand name quite well, namely shrieked lyrics under the soaring post-rock textures which only happen to implement a higher octane of distortion and adrenalized tempo marches with the usual unexpected changes and cool production techniques.

All is good as the album begins with the usual high level AGALLOCH quality shining through but the band hits their first major hiccough with "The Water's Monolith." Nothing bad about the track per se but despite a really strong launching into a more aggressive musical scene, this track seems to have gotten cold feet and sounds more like an unreleased leftover from "The Mantle" as it engages a familiar acoustic folk guitar strumming with atmospheric guitar sweeps to augment the emotional depth. Likewise it engages in the same call and response of clean and shrieked vocals with the latter finding the heavy distorted grooves and familiar melodic developments. The distorted guitars attempt to disguise this malapropos piece that evokes a statue of a stag in a city park more than a darkened bleak landscape depicted on a brilliant relief surface of the album cover. A musical faux pas? Not for mere mortals, but for AGALLOCH, a major no no in their impeccable streak of perfectly designed albums.

The album regains its character with one of my favorite tracks of the band's career. "Black Lake Nidstang' is a whopping seventeen and a half minute composition of utter brilliance. It begins with a dramatic timpani and atmospheric ratcheting up effect that evokes a true Pagan ritual is about to take place, much like "The White EP," but with more emphasis on the metal distortion. Add to that the Pink Floyd type echo guitars as heard on "The Wall" and brilliant transitions between segments and all is forgiven for the third track's seemingly out of place role. This track goes through many transitions but the most bizarre comes around the eight minute mark where the track turns into a scary and depressive black / doom metal dirge where Haughm's vocals seem on the verge of breakdown as the doom metal tempos evoke some of the most gut-wrenching performances of his career. The track cedes into a claustrophobic yet hypnotic trance inducing electronica sequence that allows a creepy Moog to allow a vibraphone and glockenspiel to ratchet up the next chapter which emerges as an echoed guitar sequence that evolves into a black metal finale, well more like a sludge metal finale with blackened overtones. Sludge riffs, sludge percussion, black metal shrieks. Outstanding track!

"Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires" continues with more of the echoey Pink Floyd inspired guitars but adds some metal guitar grunge accompaniment and the expected atmospheric mastery. As a near ten minute track, the first third is a build of to the second third where it ratchets up the black metal fury which despite a similar sound that started the album had been neglected for the most part up to this point. While employing the sickest guitar antics providing the necessary atmospheric compositional flare, the entire track retains a soaring melodic majesty that is augmented by an ambient backdrop. The closing ten and a half minute "To Drown" takes MARROW OF THE SPIRIT full circle and reverts back to the Pagan folk ritualistic aspects with a cello reprise, sound samples of nature and also includes unique tones and timbres from petrified bones and glass and metal sheet percussion that create a majestic dark ambient finale replete with whispered poetry, soaring atmospheric guitar and a bleak depressive epic and atmospheric overall feel. While the piano parts are abundant on MARROW OF THE SPIRIT, they significantly contribute to this last track that for the most part sounds like a classical piece that happens to employ some noise, metal and dark ritualistic elements.

AGALLOCH successfully added new layers of complexity to each of their albums. By the time you get to the end of MARROW OF THE SPIRIT you are wondering if you have stumbled into a Holst's "The Planets" recital that has taken on a Wagner-ian bombast as it slowly staggers out. While not as perfectly implemented as "The Mantle" or "Ashes Against The Grain," MARROW OF THE SPIRIT is an amazingly brilliant slice of genre bending fusion that keeps AGALLOCH at the top of their game. While the black metal aspects have been turned up a few notches and might scare aware the crossover crowd only swayed by the abundant folk, this album is more non-metal than metal. The atmospheric prowess is the dominant force that just happens to implement more bombastic metal to add even more dynamic forms of contrast. The album was produced by Steven Wray Lobdell who found the perfect balance between the myriad elements that could easily derail into a cacophonous mess but each strand of sound stands proud as it takes its turn in the great folk/rock symphony that constitutes MARROW OF THE SPIRIT. Did AGALLOCH gain their metal creds? Well, sort of. AGALLOCH was never a pure metal band. This Portland, Oregon bunch is much, much more and on this one they take their game to a staggering new level. Only the third track stands out as lackluster.

4.5 but rounded down

Report this review (#2045161)
Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2018 | Review Permalink
5 stars The peak of Agalloch creative force was released in 2010. This release has everything that an open-minded progressive black metal fan can ask for: Long music loundscapes, frosty atmosphere, mature songwriting make this piece one of the best progressive black metal albums ever. The albums marks departure from the more experimental Ashes to the grey and return to rawer approach. Who would have expected that it could ever come from America, if Scandinavia rules this game?

Apart form the normal soundscape, violin and sounds of nature are used to great effect, What reminds me of spring with streams of water bursting from melting snow, and using a melody motive that is reused in the last song changes with the start of the second track into a furious black metal tempo that is well characterized by the title "Painted into grey" that contains melodic post-rock riffs. "The watcher's monolith" contains a slight Opeth feeling in the slowlier parts. The second longest track ever by Agalloch bears the name of a fictive lake in Scandinavia. Black metal, doom metal and Mogwaisque keyboards are all featured here. "To drown" is one of the most darkest and emotional post-rock pieces ever, in my opinion. What starts as painting with colours and background guitar melody taken over by melancholic violin, slowly evolves into fantastic 4 chord guitar cresciendo which then turns into an evil violin/guitar melody - as if a march of omnipresent doom and bleakness was going on. This remarkable track ends the album on a very high note. The masterpiece of folk and progressive influenced black metal. Together with Enslaved and Borknagar, this is the reference music that will draw many listeners to a high quality metal music.

Report this review (#2056070)
Posted Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Review Permalink

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