Home > Music > Agalloch – Pale Folklore (1999)

Agalloch – Pale Folklore (1999)

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Agalloch stands for “atmosphere above all else” if you can’t spell. While inspired by the classic black metal of the 1990s (which, of course, is rather different from being inspired by the classic black metal of the 1980s), the end product on display here bears less resemblance to its origins than an educated guess might lead you to believe. A lot of the writing about Agalloch mentions progressive/folk rock acts, but those also inspired the blackened ones. Perhaps they were looking a bit further back when they wrote and composed these songs?

The emphasis here is, to put it bluntly, on atmosphere and repetition, in a manner superficially similar to bands like Enslaved and Blut Aus Nord, but frequently with rather less distortion and speed than such vaunted names. Vocals here remain harsh and throat-grating for whatever reason – on many occasions I have wondered what would lead a band to retain such vestiges of what was almost certainly a more bestial past when they don’t really fit the rest of the songwriting. Maybe it’s easier for them, but (keeping in mind that Agalloch would go on to a long and presumably successful career on this formula) on those rare occasions where different vocals come in, they really do succeed in complementing the guitar drones. My “extra layers and sonic density is good” sense chimes in with its typical sentiment.

Regardless, while Agalloch repeats themselves about as much as their minimalist brethren, they manage to have more complicated songs, at least from a structural stance. This is usually achieved through a great deal of leads. As previously stated, some of these take the form of sung vocals, but there’s plenty of acoustic and electric guitar as well. These are sonically different enough from the rhythm riffs that it wouldn’t require much audio mixing ability to reconcile them. While their approach allows them to express quite a few musical ideas per second, the band relies on basic, consonant progressions to actually write these riffs. A few extended chords serve as counterpoint (Remember that when you first listen to “Dead Winter Days”), but the band’s ability to be melodic is not matched by their ability to be melodically and harmonically varied, or at least dissonant. Most people wouldn’t find this to be a problem, and it probably isn’t one, but it further distinguishes Agalloch from my choice of comparison.

From what I’ve read, Agalloch may more generally belong to the schools of metal popularized by bands like Opeth, which has been described by many to varying ends and in various tones. One problem arises – I haven’t actually listened to Opeth, except for that one cover they did of “Remember Tomorrow” by Iron Maiden, and that’s hardly representative of their entire discography. Probably. I digress. The lesson here is that I find it easier to compare things I have experienced. That Agalloch is a lighter and softer take on some of the ideas in extreme metal seems reasonable enough to me. Sometimes the atmosphere grabs me, other times it functions as little more than an exercise in dispassion.

Highlights: “She Painted Fire Across The Skyline”, “Dead Winter Days”, “As Embers Dress The Sky”

 

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  1. 2014/11/18 at 23:28

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