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Anticipated right?? And rightfully so. I will not lie, I awaited the release of Agalloch's new release with eager restlessness (for two months mind you ) and when I finally got ready to listen to it, I felt like Charlie when he had found Wonka's golden ticket. The hour passed and silence fell again as the last song on the album slowly died away. I tried to think; what was it?? I had been stirred, certainly, but that was not going to be enough. I remembered how Ashes had mesmerised me, how Mantle had evoked so much aural hypnosis, how Folklore had dazed me in its atmospheric glaze. After repeated listens to this piece of art, I think I can certainly give a good analysis on this.
Like all of Agalloch's works, this record has something incredibly unqiue about it as well, which makes it stand in a league of its own, just like the other records of this band do. So for those who were expecting "mantle-like" or "Ashes- like" approach are of course looking at the wrong artist. This has been Agalloch's way of writing music, they dont pidgeon hole themselves and they certainly will not play the same thing on two albums. Having said that Marrow stands apart from the rest of the albums, in the sense that it really is the record that evokes a unique reaction from each individual listening to it. Looking at it thus, it perhaps becomes far less subjective as to how monumental this release actually is, because honestly whether you like this record or dont, no one can deny the mastery with which Agalloch have expressed themselves here. The lyrics on the album just further prove that.
Let us get to the music here now and we'll begin with one of the most pointed at things first, yes that's right; the production. I will not address everyone else's issues with the production (noteably the complaints come mostly from the Mantle and Ashes fanboys who got too used to that style I guess), because frankly looking at the theme of the composition of the album and the atmosphere being aimed at, the production delivers it with flourish. For those still wondering, yes Agalloch go for the bleak concept on this one, the very suffocating and crushing experience known as death. The murky nature and the cascading texture of the sound here just captures that emotion perfectly. Like digging your own grave and then slowly burying yourself in it. Certainly the sound presented by the instruments aided with a rather new vocal style of Haughm fascinatingly portrays it.
The instrumental performance itself is again a masterstroke, a bit of a fusion between the works of their last three albums certainly by the way the instruments go about. The noticeable subtle change here is that Agalloch have gone a lot deeper into their black metal roots and have certainly sped up the tempo in some parts of the album, Into the Painted Gray an obvious example. Another thing that I felt more pronounced on this release was their tribute to Sunn O))) if you will, perhaps other may disagree with me on this but I felt Black Lake Nidstang certainly had a lot of its compositions drawn from drone. That being said Agalloch just displayed their unquestionable mastery of melding their influences and different sounds and making them sound incredibly unqiue.
And after all is said and done Agalloch still retain that smooth streaming approach to songwriting even here in such a dark themed release. I will not get into the aesthetics of the more upbeat tracks like Ghost of Midwinter Fires (for those who have not heard the album and are reading the review beforehand, I would hate to spoil the surprise for you all) however needless to say it fits in the concept and indeed the composition of the music played on this album perfectly.
The one thing however that remains unchanging in each of Agalloch's albums is the harmony between the instruments. This trait is perhaps the most striking thing about Agalloch, certainly it would account for how the band is seamless and consistent despite experimenting so much in their sound. Here the chemistry between the guitar is nothing short of superb, the roaring riffs being complemented by the fuzzy tone, the clean notes being combined with smooth use of the acoustic guitar. Perhaps that sort of unitary playing was even harder to pull off on this release due to the bombastic drumming being presented by the newer member. This is in no way criticism to Dekker though, he proves to be truly adept at his assigned role in the album. Picking up the pace where the song is needed to be passed and being cleverly slow when the track goes to the dazed mood.
The perfect icing on the cake with such flowing yet rugged instrumentalism comes Haughm's vocals, and let's be honest this guy is amazingly good at it. There is not much conventional or orthodox about his method of singing but he never fails to keep us in awe with his versatile delivery of them. Whether they be the hollow screams that he utters alongside the riffs or the choir like disonant tones that he delivers in the climax of a song. Particular note to Black Lake must be given of course, for this is where John displays a truly different side of his harsh vocals, the screams feel as hollow as ever but they are also a lot less scractchy and increasingly echoing here. The power they evoke on that song combining with the instruments truly is quite a spectacle to behold. In fact it captures the philosophy and the theme of the album perfectly.
So with all said and done this is another Agalloch release, yes and that means its a masterpiece whether you enjoy it or not. I will not be so bold as to call this album their magnum opus however, even though in ways it is their most creative release but I thought those to be Mantle and Ashes too when I heard them. If anything this album just shows how much mileage this band still has left which honestly feels like a wonderful bit of news. Even if you are not a fan of metal or extreme music in general, I highly recommend trying this release out. Give it time and it truly will capture the very marrow of your spirit!