Saturday, January 17, 2015

Black metal ecology - Agalloch's Marrow Of The Spirit

Agalloch have been weaving back and forth across the line between metal and neofolk ever since their beginnings in the mid 90's. Marrow Of The Spirit - the album before the last one - veers towards the metal end of their personal spectrum.

They are less abrasive than most, using whispers and chants as well as the traditional rasping of their fellows,plus gorgeous acoustic and electronic interludes. And often the songs on Marrow - take Into The Painted Grey as an example - sound like black metal superstructure on an electric folk base.

This makes the read across from the Velvet Underground/Sonic Youth tradition of amped-up urban folk noise all the easier for the indie kid taking the road more metalled. And perhaps explained why I've gotten into this album and struggled with the others in Agalloch's discography.

Marrow is beautifully sequenced and mixed, from the opening duet for cello and mountain stream to the apocalyptic jig which concludes the album. Although each song is at least 10 minutes long with at least two or three distinct phases therein, for me it works best as a single continuous listen, albeit a marathon one.

Unlike Wolves In The Throne Room, there's no link to eco-anarchism here. Indeed, Agalloch are at pains to be resolutely apolitical in their lyrics and public statements, espousing cosmic paganism and a spiritual connection with nature

This art-for-art's-sake stance taken to the ne plus ultra makes the band a decidedly more conservative proposition than WITTR or some of the other acts I've come across in my eco-metal explorations.

It's also sometimes hard to locate the human element in Agalloch's work, or to escape the feeling that they have nothing to say about the present other than the need to transcend or transform it. Listening to them is occasionally a visceral joy, but more often an austere, intellectual pleasure, especially given the length of the songs.

Sometimes, I wish they'd lighten up.

But, accepting that Agalloch's Non-Stop Party Hits with 'Happy' John Haughm is unlikely to be a thing, let's appreciate what we've actually got: an epic musical drama of great scope and breadth.

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