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FAUSTIAN ECHOES

Agalloch

Experimental/Post Metal


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5 stars Agalloch are back with a new EP and the longest single song they have written to date that turns around the brilliant epic masterpiece "Faust" by the famous German writer, artist and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Anybody who cares a tiny little bit for classic litterature should check this author out and especially the tragic play in two parts that inspired Agalloch to create their new masterpiece. To give you an idea of the lyrical content of this release, let me briefly resume the two parts of Goethe's famous play. In the first part, the old scientist, teacher and researcher Heinrich Faust realizes that he had no success in his closed minded career and especially in his private life. He decides to make a pact with Mephisto who transforms him into a young man again. Faust is able to develop a relationship to the young Margarete that soon gets pregnant. But the married woman kills her child as soon as it's born and is driven insane by the drama she is going through. She is condamned to get executed and even Faust can't save her from the final judgement. The second part rather touches cultural topics. Faust tries to satisfy the ideals of the classic era by searching perfection in all kind of abilities but ultimately fails over and over again. He realizes that he can't control the devil he has made the deal with who makes a powerful but egoistic human being out of him and finishes by claiming his soul. I won't tell you how the stories of both parts end and recommand you to read both plays if my description intrigued you a little bit.

Now, let's talk about the music. I was a little bit disappointed by the band's last full length release "Marrow Of The Spirit" that was too cerebral in my opinion and had many unnecessary lengths and lacked of a coherent flow. It surely had its moments but it was rather hard to digest and not easy to get an access to it. "Faustian Echoes" simply resumes everything Agalloch stands for in one single song that may seem complex at first try but that gets better each time you try it out again. This song is a true grower and has a much easier access as the last full length release. Its smooth but not too slow and finds just the right balance.

The song features dark narrative passages that give the track its structure that is divided into several parts just like a theatre play. The overall flow of the track is calm and melancholic. The electric guitar chords as well as the acoustic guitar passages are truly beautiful. They have a dark and depressive touch but are still filled with hope and passion. With the help of decent and not artificially sounding or too dominant keyboard samples, they build up a cinematic and epic atmosphere throughout the entire track. This is cinema for your ears and entirely without symphonic approaches.

The melodic doom parts are sometimes interrupted by some blackened parts with harsh vocals that come as a welcome change of style without taking too much space. The drums get fast and chaotic at those points and fit to the doom tragedy of the lyrical topic. The vocals are atmospheric, grim and intense and are well employed. I would like to hear more vocal efforts of this quality in the extreme metal scene. They sound emotional but professional and don't take too much space.

The instruments play the biggest role in here. Between the calm parts when the instruments are dying away to the short thunderlike epic black metal parts, the song constantly evolves and smoothly changes every few minutes. The different passages are well elaborated through interludes and never seem out of space. The changes are often only small but always follow a clear guiding line and contain enough variation to remain entertaining. The twenty minutes pass very quickly and don't seem too long. It was also a good idea to stop at this point as I feel that everything has been said at the end of the track.

Above all musical innovation is the magic atmosphere of the track that drowns you into a dark fantastic world of shattered dreams and illusions without losing a little glimpse of hope. Agalloch keep the whole thing simple without adding anything too progressive or any avant-garde stuff. This helps a lot to create the atmosphere that is worthy of the great theatre play they were inspired by. The final result finds just the right balance between calm and fast parts, between raw sounds and crystal clear passages, between vocal or narrative and long instrumental parts.

This track is definitely one of the strongest ones this creative American band has ever written. It's truly close to perfection and the track easily pulls you into its spell from the atmospheric introduction on up to the narratiev closure. It's a track to plunge into and it doesn't take much time to get addicted to this musical drug. Just sit down with your earphones in a shady room, give yourself a break and close your eyes and you will easily be aware of the profound greatness of this song. Agalloch don't need an entire album or several tracks to bring their message as this song easily represents everything they need to tell. It will be tough to top this stuff. Any fan should praise this new release and it's also an ideal introduction to anyone that has yet to discover the band.

Originally published on www.metal-archives.com on July 18th of the year 2012.

Report this review (#808962)
Posted Thursday, August 23, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Sure its just an EP, but how can I resist reviewing this and making sure other people hear it. In my opinion, this does not sound anything like Marrow of the Spirit, like some may be expecting. Then again, Agalloch seem to refine and re-imagine their sound from album to album. With this EP I have finally grown accustom to Aesop Dekker's drumming and really come to enjoy his style, whereas before with Marrow of the Spirit I didn't really care for the drum style at first and preferred the drumming on Ashes Against the Grain and The Mantle much more. Now, being only 1 song and only about 21 minutes long, Agalloch still manages to cover a lot of ground here. I especially like the funeral doomish part in the middle and the spoken word parts fit really well. Agalloch is always treading new ground and I cant wait to see what they come up with next.
Report this review (#840960)
Posted Saturday, October 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
3 stars AGALLOCH hit the metal scene in 1999 just in time for the turn of the millennium and soon became one of the 21st century's most revered bands as they found the perfect formula to meld their black metal sensibilities with dark neofolk a la Death In June with a post-rock compositional prowess in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The band bedazzled the world with masterpieces such as 'The Mantle' and 'Ashes Against The Grain' and even managed to keep their musical mojo flowing when they decided to up their metal creds on 2010's 'Marrow Of The Spirit' which deemphasized but didn't destroy the dark neofolk properties that made this Portland, Oregon band stand out amongst the contemporary crowded metal universe.

Sticking to their guns and releasing an EP (or two) between their full-length studio albums, AGALLOCH followed up their fourth album 'Marrow Of The Spirit' with yet another EP, this time taking inspiration form Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's play 'Faust.' While this is a mere EP with a running time of only 21 and a half minutes, it is actually a single track titled FAUSTIAN ECHOES that borrows the lyrics directly from the English translation of the original German text. Lyrics exist in the form of the familiar emphatically shrieked black metal style to actual film samples from Jan Svankmajer's 1994 film adaptation. Originally only available as digital downloads, the vinyl and CDs were sold at live shows. The cover art displays the Salvador Dal' etching of 'Faust Lisant (Faust Reading).'

AGALLOCH have always had crossover appeal by implanting roughly equal doses of dark neofolk, post-rock and atmospheric black / doom metal but beginning with 2010's 'Marrow Of The Spirit,' the band got the itch to create a more ramped up version of their visionary style which adrenalized the tempos, distorted the guitar riffage and vocally shrieked like there was no tomorrow. The metal bug had hit the band big time no doubt due to the addition of ex-Ludicra Aesop Dekker joining the cast to bring some black metal life to the scene with extreme guitar riffing aplenty and more drum abuse graced by lengthy ever-changing workouts.

FAUSTIAN ECHOES is their 5th EP and continues the love affair with the heavier side of their music but much like the album that it follows keeps the folk and post-rock vibes bubbling beneath the surface. In fact, 'Marrow Of The Spirit,' despite ramping up the extreme metal effects still eschewed it for much of the album. FAUSTIAN ECHOES sounds like AGALLOCH were trying to correct that and in the process created the most extremely metal release of their career.

While dark neofolk hasn't been booted out of the overall compositional scene, it sure has been forced to take a backseat and merely supply brief intermissions and a backdrop for moments of spoken poetic prose that provide brief interludes of spoken word storytelling between the moments of extreme metal bombast.

Lyrically, a tribute to one of Germany's most celebrated and well-known writers whose 'Faust' play is perhaps one of the nation's most revered contributions to the literary world, musically FAUSTIAN ECHOES shows a band losing their grip on the grandeur of its tight and diverse four album run that launched AGALLOCH into the top dog realms of the folk metal universe. For the first time, this band of seemingly endless ambition sounds a bit stagnate. At least for this band.

True that a 21 minute track dedicated to one of the non-English world's closest competitor to Shakespeare is a bona fide tour de force to tackle, however the problem is that the music doesn't quite measure up to the expectations laid forth. While the EP isn't bad per se, it does echo a bit of been there done that and has a hard time delivering the expected (by now) multitude of diversity that AGALLOCH had mustered up quite successfully in its noughty heyday.

AGALLOCH's selling shtick has always been a carefully crafted and calculated mixing it up between their folk and metal elements that were all laid out in post-rock fashion, however on FAUSTIAN ECHOES, it seems they try to hard to stick to the metal aspects of their sound and practically suffocate the dark ambient neofolk that has always been a key element to their overall vibe. Vocal tradeoffs of clean and shrieked are shattered in favor of the latter and while black metal remains a favorite pastime of mine, AGALLOCH don't have the black metal chops to pull off a kvlter-than-thou purity party that they are attempting to achieve.

While FAUSTIAN ECHOES is by no means a throwaway release, it does seem to demonstrate that the band hat peaked and can no longer sustain its essence which seems to be rooted in the dark neofolk as evidenced on the brilliant 'The White EP.' Sorry guys, try as you may, you are a folk band which dons a metal cape but a bona fide metal band you are not. I've given this EP more than enough spins to let it grow on me and it always comes out the same. OK but not outstanding. The reign of AGALLOCH ended with 'Marrow Of The Spirit' and on FAUSTIAN ECHOES, the band seems to have found itself on a downward spiral that it would never recover from.

3.5 rounded down

Report this review (#2045531)
Posted Thursday, October 18, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars The best EP by Agalloch by far. It is actually one long song filled with drama, epic proportions and deep darkness. Narration is used sparsely and does not distract from the music. Furious tempo starts right after the first narration and then the main chords are played repetitively, also the black metal growls step in. Time for post rock to step in at around 3:50, at first having heavy riffs replaced later by clean guitar. Approximately in the half of the song, a kind of outro is played to relax. However, soon the second main motive that is distinctively a raw black metal passage that is still played with different accompanying varation. Nice progressive drum patterns appear at around 13:00. The rest of the long track is still full of changes but not as remarkable as the first half of this epic track. The outro belongs to the narrative, not a surprise at all.

Kudos to Agalloch for taking on a challenging job and conjuring a dark medieval image of Faust. A highly recommended EP!

Report this review (#2056073)
Posted Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Review Permalink

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