Marrow Of The Spirit
Profound Lore Records
23 November 2010
by Tom Dare
Agalloch like to keep us waiting. Marrow Of The Spirit is their first album in four years, and only their fourth in eleven years of releasing. The pay-off is that when they do release an album, it seeps straight into your chest and caresses your heartstrings like Adrian Smith playing ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’. Agalloch return with a towering monolith of brilliance.
Perpetually a band to send the subgenre perverts into frothing-at-the-mouth apoplexy, Agalloch once more draw on a confusing mix of influences, defying any attempt at neat pigeonholing. While this might initially seem a touch inaccessible, the result is rather the opposite – a steady flow of moods and styles from beginning to end, providing clear and distinct passages that allow the mind to absorb the long compositions that make up Marrow Of The Spirit with surprising ease. Nothing sounds quite like what came before it, instantly separating each section in the mind and making boredom or repetition impossible, even if the song is 17 minutes long.
Opening with birdsong and the gentle sound of a babbling stream, the lush, mournful cello of ‘They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness’ leads in gently in a manner that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in one of Beethoven’s late string quartets. There is nothing remotely gentle about ‘Into The Painted Grey’ however, cold black metal riffage and blast beats ripping away the tranquillity instantly. Melody rapidly returns in the shape of some of the most haunting lead guitar lines you’ve heard in fucking years, and the interplay between filthy brutality and soul-destroying melody plays itself out over the course of twelve ecstatic minutes.
The acoustic guitar takes over for the start of ‘The Watchers Monolith’, which dances between the relative comfort of almost folk-like passages with clean vocals and the bleak warmth of post-metal guitar harmonies as the slower tempos hint at a more doomy feel. The chirps of crickets take us into ‘Black Lake Nidstång’, and that doomy feel comes out fully, the strings so slack and downtuned you can hear them clack against the frets. The bleak misery is interposed with almost ambient noise, slightly reminiscent of what Altar Of Plagues are developing a name for themselves around. The overwhelming weight lightens somewhat for more melody before returning, only to disappear into meandering lead guitars which give way to more of the black metal fury.
The wandering post-metal of ‘Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires’ brings a touch of levity to proceedings, before the final hopelessness of ‘To Drown’ closes things out, the cello being joined by a violin in harmony while different guitar tones flit around them, fading away to almost nothing in time for oppressive noise to smother proceedings before everything pulls back, leaving the sound of waves gently lapping the shore to close things out.
In case you haven’t guessed, Marrow Of The Spirit is a fucking gobsmacking record, an emotionally raw journey of beauty amid horror, and of misery tinged with optimism. It’s an experience that should make no bloody sense at all, yet manages to engage and attract with alacrity. Agalloch can take as long as they like making records if they’re as stunning as this when they arrive.
Sounds like: Ludicra, Cobalt, The Abominable Iron Sloth, Swans. Sort of.
Top tracks: listen to the whole thing or don’t bother- this is a proper album, not a collection of songs
Agalloch – Marrow Of The Spirit tracklisting:
They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness
Into The Painted Grey
The Watcher’s Monolith
Black Lake Nidstång
Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires