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"Pale Folklore". This was the first album from Agalloch to be released back in 1999, but was also the first to grace my ears completely. I remember like it was yesterday. About 6 years ago, I was browsing the internet for "good black metal albums". This record happened to come up on one of those "top 25" lists which I can't seem to find anymore, but it was probably in the top 10. My curiosity had thus been aroused. So I went onto iTunes, as I had not really gotten into collecting CDs or vinyls at this point in time, and used the last money on an old gift card to buy this album without hearing any songs. Looking back, this was one of the greatest decisions I had ever made in my life. Due to Agalloch's untimely breakup last month, I've decided to review their discography when the time permits, starting with their first full-length, although I may review their "From Which of this Oak" demo eventually as well. Let's get started!
This album opens up with a three-part song, "She Painted Fire Across the Skyline". The first part is around 8 and a half minutes long, the second clocks in at slightly over 3 minutes, and the final at slightly over 7 minutes. This brings the total runtime of this song to just under 19 minutes in length. They may be separate tracks but the three of these really do make one long song with different parts and musical ideas. Each of these tracks is important to the overall song. There is a simple guitar section that opens up the first track that, while extremely simple, is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard. This shows up once again in the third track, maintaining all of its original beauty. There are operatic female vocals that meld in ever so well with the metallic guitars, and the second part features more acoustic guitar work and a softer sound, while still containing the raspy, more black metal-tinged vocals. These tracks are definitely my favorite as they paint a picture of something far greater and much more epic than they do individually.
"Hallways of Enchanted Ebony" begins with an undistorted clean riff that eventually transforms into an electric part. The guitar tone on this album is unmistakable to my ears and I will always recognize any song from this album right away. One of my absolute favorite riffs on this entire affair lies within "As Embers Dress the Sky". This has always been one of my favorite Agalloch songs and I cannot foresee that changing. There is a female vocal segment in this song that, like the vocals within "She Painted Fire Across the Skyline", are quite operatic and beautiful. The acoustic segment to this track has a very melancholic atmosphere and there is what can best be described as a blues feeling during this part. This may be one of the folkier aspects to be found here. The production value makes the music feel quite mellow but at the same time, this is definitely a metal album. One thing I've always admired about Agalloch would certainly be this. They can evoke a feeling of sadness while still being a solid metal band.
John Haughm is a breathtaking vocalist. He can alternate between harsh screams and rasps to beautifully sung, melodic clean vocals. I often hear this band compared to earlier black/folk metal works from the Norwegian band Ulver and the vocals can actually attest to this. He doesn't do anything too crazy and doesn't sound like he's trying too hard, so everything sounds far more natural and welcomed. One minute he is screaming and the next, he is singing beautifully. His singing seems to improve with the next album "The Mantle" where it also seems he used it in greater volume.
This album is an hour-long affair that definitely started Agalloch off in the right direction. With their sophomore album "The Mantle", they would already reach perfection. I'm extremely disgruntled that these guys decided to split up this year as I feel they could have done so much more together than they already have. It is what it is though. Their music will always stand the test of time and the legacy of Agalloch will never die. Next up, we will cover "The Mantle", which is easily in my top 5 of greatest albums ever recorded.
Almost since the very beginning Agalloch has been considered a groundbreaking act with the higest quality and originality. It's a strange thing to me, since this album reminds of too many other bands and specific albums, ever since the first moment I heard it (which was the same year of its release).
First of all, Agalloch's sound in this album is HEAVILY based on Ulver's debut, Bergtatt, the first album which incorporated folklore into a black metal frame in a greater and leading presence. That album had some traits that were unique at the time, which were basically: folky riffs with melancholic slow leads; greater presence of clean vocals (sometimes intertwined with the harsh ones), female vocals for folk/acoustic passages, instrumental/ambient-like interludes with sounds of nature, extended passages of acoustic guitars, among others. If you listen to Pale Folklore you will find the very same elements.
Of course that's not the only element at play here; the other noticeable one is the doom/Gothic element thrown into the mix as well, which can be easily related to early Katatonia, Moonspell or even Rotting Christ's 'A Dead Poem' era. A smaller yet evident presence is found in some cues taken from bands like 3rd and the Mortal or Paradise Lost, which go very well with the Katatonia feeling once you think about it. There's another band I'm sure the Agalloch guys knew very well and used as template in a higher measure later in their career but it makes some apprearances here, which is Empyrium (See The Mantle for greater similarities among them).
As an overwiew, The album doesn't feel much heavy. The production is soft and so is the whole performance. The overall work feels really disjointed though. heavy sections end abruptly only to listen totally unrelated acoustic moments. The transitions are very random and lack flow/consistency to effectively change the mood without irking a bit.
It's not my intention to make a song by song review, but only to describe the general sound of the album, I'll go in detail with the first 3 songs, which resume very well the overall sound and style.
The very first song of Pale Folklore is the first part of a 3 track composition called 'She Painted Fire Across the Skyline'. Once the really unnecesary and disconnected intro ends I face the first taste of metal, which is obviously inspired by the first track of Bergtatt, 'I Troldskog Faren Vild'; not only the riffing, but the midpaced nature of the song and the guitar leads are very reminiscent of that track. Once the song slows down we get the other immediate reference to early Katatonia, where the acoustic guitars are strumming some chords. The song moves into those 2 modes until it ends for more minutes than it should.
The second part of the song shows a greater gothic doom feeling on the pacing and riffs. It could pass as a Moonspell or even a lost RC - Dead Poem track at the first minutes. Now, the harsh vocals are kinda weak and they are heavily loaded with reverb to make them sound better or less weak. After 2 minutes, a familiar acoustic arpeggio starts - I say familiar cause both Ulver and Empyrium used those kind of chord progressions way before and extensively.
Then, the 3rd part of the composition starts in a similar way the 2nd one did, just to follow with another midpaced Ulver inspired section. As the song progresses, you can hear some Katatonic (or even Opeth - Morningrise/MAYH) styled fill leads which make the song more consistent in terms of mood, yet a bit boring given the length.
The album moves into known territory for the rest of the tracks as well. Songs like 'Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony' have very familiar sections, like the verse which sounds like a cross of 2 Rotting Christ songs: 'Sorrowful Farewell' and 'Among Two Storms'. 'As Embers Dress The Sky' starts again very Ulver inspired in an even more direct way with clean vocals alas 'I Troldskog Faren Vild'.
The most 'original' track at hand is probably the last one, 'The Melancholy Spirit'. It stills draw a lot of early Katatonia and even some Paradise Lost elements but it sounds more focused, less forced. Also the acoustic guitars sound better, especially compared to the first tracks that feature an awful chorus effect similar to 80's ballads.
At the end, I would say Pale Folklore it's still enjoyable in small doses and certain songs are still worthy, albeit it feels deritative and the music presented feels very anticlimatic since it's apparent that the songwriting didn't care much of how each section is encomparsed with the next. With better production, vocals and more focused songwriting this album could have been really good, but the guys weren't really sure what they tried to achieve here. I think they tried to mix black, folk, doom and a bit of ambient in a coherent way but the results were not the most satisfactory ones. For such a mix, you can always listen Empyrium's 'Songs of Moors and Misty Fields' or their debut 'A Wintersunset'.
Pale Folklore, being the first full length endeavour of the band's lengthy and fruitful career, establishes them as a unique entity within the metal scene. While not particularly heavy or aggressive, this album etches out a distinct smoky autumn feeling with its salient atmosphere and potent melodies. While the band does use vocals sparingly, the songwriting is strong and the extended instrumental section allows the album plenty of room to breathe. Although all of Agalloch's subsequent albums to date have outdone this, this is a unique and highly worthwhile recording and and serves much more than merely a stepping stone to loftier achievements.
Agalloch draws from a plethora of influences to arrive at their own distinct sound. Perhaps the most obvious would be the expansive oaky black metal of Ulver's Bergtatt. Early Katatonia is a close second, and a hint of 3rd and the Mortal is not undetectable. Despite what some people may claim, it should be noted that Opeth has never been an influence for the band. While it would be absurd to label this as a black metal recording, it would be equally as preposterous to deny the influence of the genre on the album's sound. One aspect that firmly sets this apart from other recordings in the band's repertoire is the noticeable gothic influence. Fields of Nephilim is probably the most apt reference here. The culmination of these influences into the band's unique vision ends up in a melancholic, dreary beast, ripe with soaring melodies and lingering autumnal soundscapes. The music holds a very cinematic quality, and the group (especially band leader John Haughm) have stated time and again that cinema has a very prominent influence on the music they make.
The strong feeling of fall is best drawn from the many echo-laden, reverb-drenched clean arpeggios. The aural portrayal of the season is so strong that with the exception of Drudkh's Autumn Aurora, I would say this is the best album to put on while trekking through the autumn forest. The Scandinavian-flavoured melodies are absolutely intrinsic to the success of this album - one must only listen to the solos in "Dead Winter Days" to affirm this. The leads that weave themselves throughout this offering are all intricately constructed, and if this recording was stripped of them its lifesblood would be drained and it just wouldn't work as an engaging piece of art.
Although having drawn criticism from some, I feel that the operatic female vocals (performed by an opera singer that Don was dating at the time) in the first chapter of the grandiose "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline" trilogy and "As Embers Dress the Sky" go over quite well. One of the most unique and memorable passages of the album comes in the final part of the aforementioned trilogy when a strong riff is played and the second time around it is finished with clanging church bells.
As much as I love this album (the first three by this band served as my gateway into black metal), it would be disingenuous of me to gloss over the album's small but noticeable flaws. First off, the production could be a bit better. It's by no means bad, but it could use improvement, especially during the metal parts. The drumming is handled by John and while adequate it is no where near as good as the organic minimalism of The Mantle. The tone is definitely a bit lacking on this front. The clean vocals also aren't as dynamic as they would later grow to be. The gothic influence also creeps into the lyrics, which certainly are nowhere near the caliber of later releases. Anyone who knows the band knows that nature will be a prominent theme, but here the death of a lover also seems to be a reoccurring theme. The morose romanticism found in these lyrics aren't a horrible start, but what is found here is hugely overshadowed by what the man would go on to write.
Despite some minor flaws on this debut album, Agaloch firmly entrench themselves as an act capable of delivering something unique, powerful and moving. From the epic grandeur of the 12 minute "The Melancholy Spirit" to the subtle neoclassical beauty of the piano and synth piece "The Misshapen Steed", there really is no useless fluff obscuring the meat of this recording. While this does feature many passages that tread on the lighter side, everything they do has a purpose and contributes to that smouldering autumn sound. While not their strongest, this holds a special place in the group's discography and has no trouble bringing the fall forest to life. I generally feel that an album shouldn't be over 40 minutes unless it has a damn good reason to, and clocking in at just over an hour, there is no point where I wish it would get to the end quicker.
This is an original and very interesting album. If I had only one word to describe Agalloch it would be: class. The first song on this album, 'She Painted Fire Across the Skyline', their introduction to the world and a great opener, is a model of restraint, power, dignity, and thematic skill. Agalloch are masters at blending together different subgenres of metal into a cohesive vision. At first listen I sensed a lot of influences coming through the music, and I might as well get the references out of the way at the beginning: Katatonia, Iron Maiden, The Cure, Fields of the Nephilim, and above all Sisters of Mercy (the guitar music in the third song ' Hallways of Enchanted Ebony' could have been taken from a 'Vision Thing'-era B-side). The lead/clean guitar work throughout this third song (and indeed on the whole album) is never less than excellent, and there is a lead break at exactly 3:06 that starts out as pure Katatonia but soon slides into a little melody that is so beautiful in its simple evocativeness that it brings tears to my eyes. 'Ah,' you say, 'gothic metal'. Agalloch are that, but they are also so much more. I could only wish that gothic metal bands would receive inspiration from this and follow where they are leading, especially since Paradise Lost, the former originators and giants of the field, have seemingly lost their way (sorry, I couldn't resist that).
The theme of this album seems to be emotions and/or memories from an imagined winter landscape (the CD booklet is filled with monochrome images of winter in the black metal style), but to be honest this music never makes me think of the winter - perhaps because as a Texan I don't really understand what winter is. Fine. Instead of that, the melodies riding through this work take me back to hot and humid summer nights in the '80s when the world was full of possibilities and every song on the radio was my favorite. Sound like a tired cliche? It's that evocative, trust me.
The vocals are equally original, or atypical for this type of music. They are of the harsh and cold Norwegian variety, but at times slip into soft chants or whispers or even shouted ranting. There are operatic female vocals as well. 'Of course,' you say, but they are done excellently and are never overstated. To use another one-word definition of Agalloch: balanced. Balance of musical prowess and balance in the production values of an album are two qualities that are very rare. To all the bands that are looking for a guide: buy Opeth's 'Morningrise' and listen to it 100 times. Then go back to writing your music. Too often bands concentrate on one style or the music of one instrument to the detriment of the rest of their band or their own flexibility. I can't imagine Agalloch doing that. This album shows the kind of maturity and thoughtful writing that most bands don't reach until their third or fourth album, if ever. I will take the space here to say that I would love to be in this band, as I can imagine few bands at the start of their careers that had this much potential and writing ability. This is another great release from The End records and I wish Agalloch luck in their future endeavors and hope that this album will bring them the kind of success that they no doubt deserve. Superb in all respects.
Agalloch’s sound is a combination of atmospheric doom metal, black metal, neo-folk, post-rock, and gothic rock. The style is respectably influenced by mid-1990s Scandinavian metal, particularly the epic, dynamic compositional style of early In The Woods..., Ulver's Bergtatt-era fusion of acoustic folk music and black metal and the melodic elegance of Brave Murder Day-era Katatonia. Most of the songs feature an acoustic folk passage, or metal riffs backed by acoustic strumming, striking a contrast between the two styles to demonstrate a conceptual unity between seemingly differing expressions, best demonstrated on "As Embers Dress The Sky", which surpasses anything from Bergtatt. Riffs and the whispery rasping vocals are mostly in the black metal style, though certain sections include chant-like clean singing and operatic female vocals. The tempo never reaches black metal's blasting frenzy, as they prefer to move at a slower, doom metal pace, though occasionally they launch into a driving, rock-oriented tempo supported by distinctly melodic basslines, which, combined with the dark and solemn tone of the music, brings to mind 1980s gothic-rock bands such as Sisters Of Mercy or Fields Of The Nephilim, best exemplified by "She Painted Fire Across The Skyline Pt. I & II", "Dead Winter Days", and especially "Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony". Some songs feature Katatonia-style melancholic lead guitar melodies lacing repetitive riffs played over a straightforward beat, quite reminiscent of Brave Murder Day. The neo-folk passages suggest inspirations from Death in June and Current 93, often featuring keyboards, piano, acoustic guitars, and various percussive instruments. Through a harmonious union of these stylistic influences the music achieves a singular presence and highly distinct sound.
The songwriting is expansive, portraying the fluctuation of life through a dynamic journey. Each song, and the album as an entirety, flows in a sequence that seems to de-emphasize logically sweeping motions, but does so out of a more spontaneous energy, similar to how emotions flow in the vibrancy of life. It’s not designed to satisfy logical demands, but because the music’s resemblance to emotional dynamics appeals to the understanding and experience of life as a journey, where events and feelings seem invalid at their moment of occurrence yet upon reflection are reconciled, it resolves itself in the end. This provides the music a very natural, seamless flow, never once coming across as calculated or inappropriate for its expression. The songs usually feature lengthy introductions, which introduce a foundational riff or melody which expands through a series of thematic elaborations, sometimes in lengthy instrumental passages, which often build towards a climactic moment as if the main theme exhausts itself through its own overflowing energy. The musical dynamics always reflect the lyrical events. Every section transitions from preceding passages in a development towards the desired destination; from the brooding somberness towards a final reflecting harmony. The yearning lead melodies and guitar solos reflect the intense longing for this inner harmony, wherein a long sought-after truth has been discovered. This contrasts with the dark energy and sorrowfill riffs and vocals, representing the unity of light and dark, chaos and serenity, beauty and tragedy.
"A grim bough had hung me high
I sank the fires of the Sol
Here, nightfall reigns"
The band uses simple and melodic riff-phrases in order to allow specific theme-related tones to emerge fluidly and directly, and a wealth of clean tones and acoustic guitars fleshing out the atmospheric sound in a presentation of raging passion and contemplative ambience, with brilliant guitar solos that embellish melodies like a setting sun announcing the final reflection of a day's experience. Rhythmically the music flows like a river and sways like the wind, paced by dynamic, intuitive drumming and melodic, pulsing bass guitar, adding subtle atmospheric touches corresponding to the major melodic premise of a song. Vocals switch from whispery rasps to detached chant-singing, joined by operatic female vocals in a few spots, declaring thematic sentiments and reflections in narrative fashion. Ambient keyboards provide neoclassicism to the vibrantly diverse yet aesthetically cohesive musical activity.
Through a metaphorical story, the album explores the urge to withdraw from mechanized society into forest solitude, a desire often felt by the alienated and perceptively aware who see through the illusion of social constructs and functionality, and long for a return to a more genuine existence which corresponds to natural reality. In the forest, one can identify a proper surrounding environment for personal reflection and contemplation of the beauty, power, and reality of nature, which is the closest relationship one can establish with the true essence of things, beyond the subjective standpoint. The hatred and bitterness felt by the alienated towards society arrives from recognizing that the structure and function of society is entirely opposed to that of nature, and these disdainful feelings are not so much directed towards the particular members who are seemingly oblivious and apathetic to this truth, but to the artificial operation itself, which poses an obstacle for anyone who longs for a life that is in harmony with nature. This withdrawal from society into nature is not a fatalistic retreat or surrender, but rather a way of establishing a harmonious environment for the passionate and contemplative individual, who must reject all that is antithetical to its interests. It is the natural tendency to hate that which opposes one’s desires, and the hate increases in proportion to the degree of obstacle and intensity of the desire. Winter is the preferred season portrayed in the imagery and atmosphere of this music, because it is winter that most opposes the functions of society and often reveals the helplessness of man-made machines and designs in the face of harsh natural conditions. Winter slows everything down, which is why, along with its effect on the appearance of things, it is the most contemplative of all seasons. This is explored from a pagan spirituality and a pantheistic worldview, evidenced in the lyrical themes which often express deep appreciation of nature and universal unity, which is simply a recognition of the connection between all things, expressed in a belief that comes from awareness and experience in a natural world in which all pure things strive towards essentially the same end. The music is dark, cold, earthy and somber, sometimes bitter and misanthropic, at other times contemplative and reflective. The music, with assistance from a suitably unrefined yet clarifying production, sounds and feels like it was created in a log-cabin situated deep in the midwinter forest, true to the band's intentions.
Ultimately, it is the high degree of creative inspiration, combined with an abundance of powerful ideas and the artistic intelligence (in this case the keen perception of conceptually reflective composition) with which to bring those ideas to actuality, that accounts for the engaging quality of Agalloch’s music. Where many bands who, technically skilled though they may be, employ similar methods fall short is simply in their lack of this, which partly comes from an enhanced awareness of the nature of existence in a world such as this, and partly from a natural ability for portraying that nature through artistic creation, which requires a vision and passion that inspires creative energy and expressive motivation. Because its creators possess this, Pale Folkore results in a highly engaging and exciting experience for the listener that is sensitive to emotional fluctuations and the grandeur of the natural world; one who not only lives life, but deeply feels it.
Drawing upon the style and aesthetic ideal of their demo and maturing them into something deserving of a full length effort, Pacific Northwestern dark metal group Agalloch's debut album 'Pale Folklore' shows the band's trademark folk-tinged style of metal while still in the major stages of developing it's sound. Although the band would hit it's greatest stride with their second studio release 'The Mantle,' this debut seems far too overlooked, considering it's quality. While there is certainly not the defining sound and power that the sophomore would supply, Agalloch seems to know exactly what they want to do with their music, even this early on. Despite lesser production value and execution than would be heard later on, 'Pale Folklore' shows Agalloch at some of their heaviest and darkest, and is a classic in it's own right, albeit a flawed one.
Much of the strength of 'Pale Folklore' depends on the strength of the opening epic. Put simply, the three part suite 'She Painted Fire Across The Skyline' is to Agalloch, as 'Black Rose Immortal' is to Opeth. In other words, it is their early crowning achievement, and showcases all of the best things about Agalloch in the course of it's nineteen minute duration. While the quiet, atmospheric introduction seems to overstay it's welcome a bit too long, the song erupts into a tour-de-force once things really get started. From the first part of the song onwards, Agalloch's trademark style can be heard; a melodic and atmospheric breed of black metal, topped off with strong post-rock and folk presence.
While the epic is very enjoyable to listen to and a very powerful piece, it sometimes feels like there are pieces of the composition that are unfitting. While it is typical of Agalloch to switch between heavy and mellow sections, some of the transitions seem a bit off. However, the music gives off a stunning feeling of melancholy, which is impossible to ward off should the listener pay enough attention.
A medieval-sounding symphonic piece ('The Misshapen Steed') seperates the two halves of the album, sparing the listener a few moments respite. From here on, the songs seem to take a rather formulaic approach. Each track (with the possible exception of the final track, which takes a couple of minutes to get going) open with riffs that emphasize atmosphere and pitch resolutions over traditional catchiness. The songs then each break into their verse formats; showcasing John Haughm's passionate black metal vocals and naturalistic lyrics. While each song is beautiful and strong, it's impossible not to notice that each of the songs sound very similar; a fault made worse by the fact that each of the tracks averages to being ten minutes long (more than enough time to develop a personal identity).
While the production is certainly above average for black metal standards, many listeners who do not engage the genre often may find that the lower fidelity sound impedes their enjoyment of the listen. Alas, the instrumentation can be heard relatively clearly, and it is a clear improvement from their demo. On possible issue however, is the noticably low mixing of the album. While it may make sense for a polished production to have a lower mixing (in order to preserve range), 'Pale Folklore' seems to be needlessly quiet throughout in comparison to other albums. This of course, can be remedied by the use of a volume knob however, but it's interesting to note.
Agalloch have become one of my preferred acts in the theatre of 'black metal,' and 'Pale Folklore' certainly does not dissapoint me. While it may not share the same level of grandeur that it's successors rest on, the album succeeds on a whole, despite it's apparent flaws. A very commendable full length debut.
I figured it was probably about time that I tried to review something that Agalloch have written. I've been a fan of the band ever since I discovered the extremities of the metal genre, many years ago. The first time I came across Portland, Oregon based band wasn’t through this album. In fact, it was through their sophomore full-length, ‘The Mantle’, an album which seemingly deals with the concept of life and death. I was blown away by songs like ‘I Am The Wooden Doors’ but, over the years, the album has steadily declined as far as my opinion of it goes. My love for the album was revealed only to be a temporary lusting over pastures new. It wasn’t until ‘Pale Folklore’ came along that I discovered how genuinely good Agalloch could be and it wasn’t until I heard Agalloch live, in the flesh, that I realised that ‘The Mantle’ absolutely pales in comparison to the first and third albums, in particular, the achingly beautiful ‘Pale Folklore’. This album isn’t ridden with lacklustre instrumentals, or too indulgent in painting a picture of life and death. Instead, it deals immediately with music making, as opposed to abstract concept building within the mind of the listener.
`Pale Folklore' was a very inspiring record when I first heard it. Music is a saviour to many and has personally gotten me through many tough periods of my life. Agalloch’s ‘Pale Folklore’ exhibits the potential beauty through heartache, as well as documenting new beginnings, as shown delightfully in the music itself. Take the epic ‘She Painted Fire Across The Skyline’ trilogy of songs. Each contains its own individualistic beauty and painful expressions. Electric acoustics, excellent song structures and memorable riffs were the make-up of not only this trilogy, but the entire album. I don’t consider this trilogy of songs to be the highlight of the album, but it does successfully showcase what makes Agalloch as huge a global brand as they are. The terrific bass work wasn’t initially a factor in my love for this album but, especially in a live setting, you come to realise how well the bass is worked into the songs and, although it does occasionally follow strictly the regimented patterns of the guitars, it can exhibit forms of creativity which add to the overall dynamism of the album, as showcased on songs like ‘Hallways of Enchanted Ebony’.
Songs like this also highlight the brilliant use of layers of guitars, which each song featuring some use of said layers. Agalloch like to implement clean, electric acoustic riffs alongside their more hardened sounding guitar work, though this is also usually very sweet sounding and never too distorted. Agalloch re often associated with black metal, perhaps due to the vocal approach, which I find to be very distinguishable from the usual rasped format. John has a very unusual voice, even in harsh form. I can always tell it’s him singing because he sounds quite unique, despite often opting for a formulaic approach to singing. Later albums go on to express more using cleaner vocals, but this album sticks mostly with the harsher expression, which definitely suit’s the darker sounding material. As Agalloch grew, the sound became lighter and lighter, despite their associations with “dark metal” (which is essentially a mish-mash of loads of major genres of metal) and black metal.
The beauty of the album is something that shines through more now than ever and is more pained than it is on other albums, including the conceptual based ‘The Mantle’, an album which seemingly prides itself on showcasing melancholy. Songs like the instrumental ‘The Misshapen Steed’ go a long way, despite being short filler songs, in highlighting the bands potential as an extremely emotive force. This is one of those cases whereby you can find something new each time you listen and it's amazing. It's very rare to find that in music, but when you do, it's something to hold on to. For example, the inner workings of the layers, as with the intricate bass work which doesn’t first appear to be all that central to the band. Agalloch manage to successfully fuse genres together so perfectly, that no one can really tell where one genre ends and another begins, hence the confusion with their supposed black metal ties - even John claims there to be some form of black metal influence, though it never appears to dominate the variety of influences on show. Apart from in the vocals, perhaps. Though his whispered brand of vocals don’t convey the same type of nihilistic visions as many black metal vocalists do. His clean vocals, though sparse, offer a timely departure from rough rasps and add a sense of variety.
The harmony behind the music is perfection and this is highlighted when Agalloch are able to take their foot of the accelerator and claim things down with a long and winding down process featured on songs like ‘Hallways of Enchanted Ebony’ when the rest of the instrumentation subsides and the acoustics filter through alongside some samples of savage animals and howling winds, a sample which leads well into the next song, ‘Dead Winter Days’, a track that opens with an energetic riff and bombastic bass line. Agalloch, to me, are a band that can portray images of desolation, and then take the listener beyond that into a place of beauty - much like bands such as Ulver did with their earliest blends of black and folk. The music is so diversely layered and juxtaposed with the varying tempos of each song. Slow, mid and fast paced sections feature throughout each song and offer a nice mixture. As Agalloch have evolved, clean vocals have more of a place, but this style also suit's the bands sound. In terms of highlights, Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony, As Embers Dress The Sky and The Melancholy Spirit are up there.
On "Pale Folklore", Agalloch present us with a fairly interesting hybrid of mid-90s European metal styles. We get a touch of gothic doom, some black metal vocals, and some folky guitar flourishes. The style is not terribly original, representing an amalgamation of early Ulver, Katatonia, Empyrium, and In The Woods. The frequent use of accoustic guitar melodies over slower distorted riffs hearkens back to "viking"-era Bathory, as well. The post-rock influence of bands like Godspeed you Black Emperor and Swans is not as apparent as on other Agalloch releases. By far the strongest influence is Ulver's "Bergtatt", this band probably owes their entire career to that album in all honesty. Unlike the vast majority of bands working in already-established styles, Agalloch actually make an effort to write distinctive songs on this album, and the results are mostly positive.
On the plus side, the songs are more or less enjoyable to listen to. While not structurally adventurous, Agalloch's music on "Pale Folklore" contains enough flair and flourish that it still manages to hold the listener's interest despite often relying on verse-chorus structures. When they do deviate from that format, such as on the album highlight "As Embers Dress the Sky", the results are quite satisfying.
This is the kind of album you can play while working on something, or take on a drive/hike. It's not intense enough to demand the attention of active listening all the way through, but manages not to fade out into background music. Although this might sound like a complaint, it really isn't. There is room in the world for bands that don't push the compositional envelope all the time, as long as they have enough passion to carry their music on - which Agalloch does. After all, could you imagine sitting around a campfire drinking with your friends with Demilich on the stereo?
The things that bring this album down somewhat are some aesthetic missteps(awkward-sounding female vocals/spoken word intrusions) and the lyrics, which are marred by rather juvenile, whiny tales of shattered romance and cheesy "gothic" vocabulary. The lyrics smack of teen angst and self-pity, and wouldn't sound out of place sung by any mainstream, sad-bastard rock band. Thankfully, they're mostly unintelligible, washed out in the reverby production. Maybe this was deliberate.
Overall, "Pale Folklore" serves as a decent recap of what was going on in European metal in the mid 1990s, and is quite enjoyable as an occasional listen. If you like pretty-sounding melodies with a black metal aesthetic, or wanted to hear more of where Ulver was going with "Bergtatt", it's worth a listen. While not offering anything entirely new it is impressive, especially for a late-90s American release.
One thing I have always liked about Agalloch would have to be how unique they sound from album to album. In all of their work they give off a lot of atmosphere, mostly due to keyboards, acoustic guitars, and wind sound effects. Pale Folklore they do this the most, and it works for the most part. “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Part 1” kind of overdoes it on the wind effect and on part 2 the piano at the end of the song doesn’t really fit. This is what makes the album more unique. A lot of songs use ambient material like wind or piano at awkward times, but instead of ruining the song like what would usually happen they bring out a bit of a more artistic sense from the band, much like they’re doing it to be unique.
Atmosphere is the main feature of this album, or this band. This album is full of a depressing mood saddening emotion and dark atmosphere that tries to being out dread, and sorrow to the listener. It’s more like a hit and a miss situation though on this album. Some work, others not so much. “The Melancholy Spirit” is full of hits, and misses due to its twelve minute length. The harsh vocals help with the emotion, and the quieter acoustic parts can put you into a calming sleepy trance. Yet the repetitive guitar verse kind of gets you bored at the same time. The drumming on the whole album also doesn’t help with the atmosphere. It’s just not mixed in well, too soft over the guitars at times, other times too bland. The drumming production is the only major flaw this album has though. If you can get past that, this album will hold few flaws.
There are several vocal approaches that this album uses. The main vocal approach would be the harsh raspy almost black like vocals that are used for the majority of the songs on the album. The second approach would be cleaner backup that are almost moaning that drone in the background of the songs “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Part 3”. There are even some female vocals that are in an opera style in “As Embers Dress the Sky”. All the different vocal approaches are used at the right time in the right song to bring out even more atmosphere, rather its dread, misery, anger (mostly depressing stuff) to the listener.
This is pretty easy listening stuff. It’s good for studying, relaxing, even sleeping, which is why some people might like/dislike this also. Guitar work is generally simple; mostly repetitive chords with some melodies here and there with the rhythm and bass guitars layered over it and with the occasional keyboard part on top of that. The fact that this isn’t the most complex work out there makes it easier for listening and easier to get into.
Agalloch are a very atmospheric band with a lot of acoustic and folk work mixed in. They’re not a real heavy band, as they are a more calming artistic band. Although what they do, they do it well. Anyone who’s into slower, atmospheric, or folk metal will like this one.
Agalloch's "Pale Folklore" is a hard album to describe, but I think if I were going to fit a label to it, I'd have to dub it "blackened art-metal with strong gothic doom and folk influences". ...Okay, so it isn't that hard after all..
It definitely exceeds the sum of it's parts. Sometimes you can tell the band are recording on substandard equipment, sometimes some of the transitions are a bit awkward, there's a bit of an air of teenagery ameteurism and 'emoism' lurking here, as well as a tendency toward prolonged, very austere instrumental... 'moods', you could call them, which border on ambient music and could be seen as excessive and extremely tedious to some listeners. If anyone reading this is a musician and understands that trance you can get into sometimes, tinkering away endlessly on a few simple, depressive riffs, practically this whole album feels like it was written from that state of mind. I have a feeling this is a little derivative underneath all the eclecticism too. I seem to think of early Katatonia sometimes.
Mood is a good word, as Pale Folklore is dripping with mood, emotion and atmosphere. A melancholic, windswept wintry landscape of dying hope, loss, and the solemn, savage glory of nature, done with more feeling, conviction and eloquence than I think many similar bands can muster. The band throws everything into their mission of creating these atmospheres, even literally, as can be heard female operatic vocals, some airy, haunting clean singing, kettle drums, tubular bells, some piano, a dry, folksy acoustic guitar, as well as frequent use of a clean, somewhat 'proggy' guitar tone, all woven into this desolate musical landscape, along with a nearly constant wind effect between tracks. Despite any lacking, this album is somehow 'perfect' in the sense that it creates exactly the deep, beautiful, somber atmosphere it intends to create. This is the heart of the appeal of Agalloch, and "Pale Folklore".
It's often not very aggressive for blackened metal, though there is an emotional intensity and poignancy here which lends credence to the sense of desolation and loss conveyed in the music.
The core musical sound of "Pale Folklore" is a blackened gothic doom approach, with tremolo picked, midpaced riffing as well as the midpaced riffing style common in gothic doom. The vocals a wafting, black metalish rasp which isn't very ferocious, but works well with the atmosphere of the music and falls to a near whisper in the more subdued moments. Clean singing is also used, of a style which seems to vaguely remind me of earliest Greg Lake for some reason.This foundation is enormously built upon and infused with- ..not a prog aesthetic, but I'd have to call it an 'art-metal' aesthetic, using an eclectic array of instruments and sounds, most often a ringing, clean guitar tone and kettle drums, and somewhat of a free form approach to song composition, with the inclusion of slower, more subdued moments, long, often extremely minimalist passages and interludes led by acoustic or clean electric guitar, and a somehow very authentic and earnest folk element which seems to anchor all these components together and lend this music a sense of depth beyond what some similar bands have been able to create. All these elements are actually woven deeply into the music's main objective of conveying this bleak yet beautiful atmosphere.
The production has a slightly muted, analog quality that seems a bit muffled at first, especially in the guitars, but quickly grows on you, working to the advantage of this oppressive, wintry musical landscape, as if the whole world were buried in snow. The leads, drums, vocals, clean and acoustic guitars are more crisp, creating a balance to the sound, rather than an unevenness. The whole sound is well balanced, you can hear everything and it all works together. There's only a very slight murkiness which actually helps draw this together and add to it's atmosphere.
Again, the core of this album is a blackened gothic doom feel, and that's reflected in the production, It's a little thinner than doom, but not as 'spiky' as black metal. The sound field is wide and creates a cinematic feel, especially with the inclusion of all the elements Agalloch brings in, weaving an often austere, but moving and immersive listening experience. A soundtrack to the beauty and desolation of winter.
This is a very good album (IMO). It's also a very imperfect album. This is underground metal, after all. But the flaws are near completely obscured by everything that's good about "Pale Folklore", and it succeeds in transcending them through sheer atmosphere and emotion. It's a very easy album to deeply enjoy if you're at all a fan of blackened gothic doom, blackened folk metal, anything with an atmospheric, depressive feel, or music that's artful and interesting, without necessarily being 'proggy'.
I give this a 79% because I'm being a hard-ass and giving it an unbiased rating based on it's overall level of quality. If I were going with simply how much I like it, I'd have to give it somewhere around 86%.
It seemed like it was almost imperative for me to lend Agalloch my attention after hearing others rave about their cold, desolate, nature-inspired dirges. I picked up Pale Folklore roughly three winters ago before the new year was soon to spawn. Ranging from dark progressive metal down to folk and ambient structured songs, a medley of different styles can be heard on this album. As any Agalloch fan would know, no album would be complete without the presence of their elegant acoustic passages, and lush backing keyboards, accompanied with poetic vocals that are both screamed and sung in a depressive manner; and I am pleased to say that this full length is overflowing with the above.
The simplicity of this album displays that it's not always necessary to throw in technical riffs and solos to shape uniquely creative songs. To add to this fact, John Haughm, the mastermind of Agalloch, uses an array of sounds in the background throughout the album. Sounds such as (the essential) thin howls of the wind, twigs breaking in the distance, and the sound of deer antlers clashing together can all be heard. These sounds are intended to create what Agalloch creates the best...an atmosphere as rich as nature itself. It seems that the steel strung acoustic guitar is the most lucid instrument mixed on the album, while the clean effect on the guitars have a very "glassy" tone and works well with the color faded distortion it is led by. Although both are almost dead near perfect sounding, the acoustic and clean guitars never go back to back with one another, unless one of them is used to serve as an undertone for the distortion. The bass sounds finger picked, and can be heard at a comfortable volume with warm accent that every other string instrument on the album are lacking. The bass also doesn't overpower the guitars, but is at par with the drums. Accompanied by Haughm's desolate screams, are (the use of) operatic female vocals, which fit in with the clean verses just fine, and are only included in two of the eight tracks. The keyboards and piano aren't the focus for any of the songs, Other than in "The Misshapen Steed" where they seem to be most important. Some unusual effects are used though, including different types of bell tones that are meant to lead into some songs. With that being said, the overall production for this album is decent, but not as polished as you would hear in Agalloch's other albums; this understandable considering this is their first full length. In addition, every instrument is at a decent volume level, although the drums could have been mixed just a little bit higher. Haughm's drumming is nothing short of proficient, for he doesn't tend to drown the aura of the music by adding useless beats at various points; he plays everything in time for the duration of the album, and fulfills his importance in the band. The muffled production it encompasses doesn't sound horrible by any means, and it certainly works for the style the band performs.
I would not dare to define this album as heavy, but it is a rather dark and melancholic gathering of songs. The resonance of the guitar itself is "twangy", and not necessarily aggressive, for the distortion is not the most significant essence of the album. Instead, the clean guitars are what make this album an absolute treasure. In songs like "Hallways of Enchanted Ebony", the clean guitar is constant through the distorted parts, and there's even a clean outro including the howling of wolves...yet another atmospheric touch by Haughm. The musicianship is great. Most of the riffs are very simplistic, yet it the album as a whole isn't entirely black and white. Haughm and Anderson are great guitarists, and use some basic guitar techniques to alter how the song sounds, like palm muting, heard in "She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Pt. I" and more abundantly used in "The Melancholy Spirit", where the clean guitars are palm muted, for a blunt sounding effect. Although small solos and bridges appear, there's nothing too heavy or "brutal" to be heard, like pinch harmonics and double bass, but for music like this, it's simply better without. The songs are clocked in at decent times, with the shortest being "The Misshapen Steed". This three minute ambient composition could be appropriately compared to a structure similar to those on Mortiis's "Keiser av en Dimension Ukjent." It starts out with a piano playing a minimalistic requiem melody. After a minute or so, a sound of symphonic activity is heard, which lasts for another minute, before going back to the beginning calming soundscape. Any ambient fan could be intrigued by this song, and it is very vital to the spirit of the album itself.
The lyrics and imagery included with this album sure do serve as valuable aesthetics for the album. Poetry within music is certainly important, at least to me. The songs are utterly depressive, and are very important in setting the mood for each song, as well as with the way Haughm sings them. Most of the album is sung with screaming vocals, but when he actually sings, an eerie and echoing essence backs the vocal melody. The screams are of a raspy sounding vocal tone, rather than a deep scream you would hear in death metal.
To this day, I walk shrouded paths of autumn leaves and winter snow at nightfall with Pale Folklore in my ears. In order to capture the full quintessence of this album, one must listen on the darkest nights of the bleak seasons. If you're a fan of other projects such as Ulver, Vindensång, Tenhi, and Empyrium, there is no doubt that you will love this masterpiece. So once you have got your hands on this album, start a fire, drink some cider and celebrate nature and the seasons with the redolence of burning leaves and larch in the air.
Pale Folklore is what got me hooked on Agalloch. At first I must admit that I did not like them one bit, until I listened to it once more. Ever since then I’ve been a fan. Their sound tends to grow on you and get stuck in your head. The band seems to have mastered a sort of sound that no one else has been able to yet. Yes, there are some that people may say come close but then again I have a different opinion of some things.
The opening song to their first full-length “masterpiece” is called “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Pt. 1” which runs 8:35. This song has three parts to it that takes you through this “journey”. This opening song has everything that the opening track should have. This includes the following: nice riffs, drums that actually flow well with the rest of the music and don’t seem too “out there”, and the feeling that you are listening to something “special”. Though, some may disagree with me I do not care, I’m sure some people out there think the same thing I do. One thing that I happened to notice about this song after listening to demo From Which of this Oak is that some riffs seem to have been “recycled” from another song (This Old Cabin). The “recycled” riff occur around 1:47 in this song and in about 4:42 in the song ‘This Old Cabin” but seems more distorted in “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Pt. 1”. So, if you’re bored one day have a listen and see if you can hear a similarity between the two at those times. This song, I believe, is the beginning of a sort of “journey” that takes you through the next two songs. Moving onto the next song that is “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Pt. 2” (3:09). This song, like the first, has a sort of journey feeling given to it. It is given this feeling by the awesome riffs, the vocals, and drums. They all set this song up and I believe it works beautifully. It has its “high” points and its “softer” points. The acoustic in the beginning of the song is just wonderful and the sudden change near the end of the song is very enjoyable. The next song is “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Pt.3” (7:09). The beginning of the song just tears the “soft” ending to Part 2 to shreds. It starts off fast with an unrelenting pace but seems to suddenly slow for a second as the vocals “move in”. This song is amazing. Like the first two it has a “journey” feeling to it. This song is just put together so well and everything seems to just harmonize. You should give it a listen to understand what I am really trying to say.
“The Misshapen Steed” (4:54) is next up to bat. It is a slower than the previous song and quieter, in a sense. It seems to show a softer side to Agalloch proving that they are capable of more than one speed. This song takes you through the softer points to the more dramatic climax and then backs down again to a softer but seeming “more troubled” point. This song is just put together so well, in my opinion. It shows that they are capable of doing more and prove that they can pull off an instrumental part with class. “Hallways of Enchanted Ebony” (9:59) is next. This song starts out with some nice guitar riffs and takes you into a different speed in which all the other instruments come along on the ride for. Yes I just made a sort of analogy deal with it. The same guitar riffs play through out the song and the instrumental sound seems to go back and forth through out the song. And overall is a very good song. “Dead Winter Days” is track 6 on this album with a playing time of 7:51. A drumbeat starts off the song followed by guitar riffs with “downplays” through out the song. The guitar and drum seems to trade off throughout the song in a sort of “battle” and the vocals fit in perfectly.
The next song is “As Embers Dress the Sky” (8:04). This song is a remake from the demo called From Which of this Oak. It is a much cleaner version and they seem to have perfected everything that was “flawed” in the first version. This song is an awesome song that has wonderful vocals, and has a nice instrumental “flare” to it. It has instrumental part that is played wonderfully. If you wanted to listen to the earlier version of this song I would strongly recommend it because if would give you an idea as to how Agalloch has changed since that demo. The final song on this album is “The Melancholy Spirit” (12:27). It starts out slow with an acoustic guitar and the wind in the background. I find this relaxing and enjoyable. As the song progresses the tempo speeds up and everything comes alive. This song is just wonderful. It’s a great acoustic song and I would recommend you to give it a listen. It has climaxes and it has lower points. I know it left me in awe.
Agalloch is such an extraordinary band and continues to amaze me. If you are looking into Agalloch and don’t know where to start I recommend that you start here and if you don’t like it the first time give it another chance, I know I’m glad I did.
There are occasional moments in "Pale Folklore" that are exciting and interesting. I mean I got this album with very high recommendations, after I heard the opening track, "She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Part 1," I truly enjoyed it and looked forward to hearing the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, it just doesn't really go anywhere. Let me put it this way. You spend most of the rest of the album (after the first track) waiting for the music to get to a climax or for something different to happen. I finished listening to it in a state of disappointment, and also confusion as to the direction the band was trying to take.
After hearing it a couple of times I was forced to ask a few questions to myself. For example, what is this album trying to be? Is it black metal? Is it folk or dark metal? Is it even trying to get an element of the melodic death in there? Apparently it is trying to do all of them. Normally I would be happy with such an eclectic mix of musical styles all on one album, and celebrate the diversity and experimentation of the band. But instead of fusing the styles to create an interesting and experiemental format, Agalloch have seemingly thrown them all into a blender, and come out with a colourless mush. "Pale Folklore" has elements of all those different metal sub-genres, but it never really commits to anything, and the music ends up being fairly boring and slow.
Musically, there is no doubt that Agalloch have skill and are able to do something more with their music, but to me it seemed as if they were unsure at what they were trying to achieve with the album, and sort of drifted through it without puprose or intent. I may pick up another of their albums and give them another try, because there is potential, and I did like the first track (and it is for those reasons that I give it 50%) but for now I will stay with something more exciting.
Autumn is the most deceptive of seasons. It presents itself as a welcome moderation of the lustrous heat and fertility of summer, accompanied by the picturesque colors of falling leaves. But with the entry of October and the full swing of its dreariness, colors fade into the coming death and chill that is winter. It has been during the threshold of October, where the leaves have become brittle enough to crunch beneath my boots that I concluded my final reflection on Agalloch’s debut album.
Although formally this music takes the road of rapidly shifting minimalism, the primary weapon at the band’s disposal is the atmospheric affect of their arrangement. The mix of clean electric, acoustic, lightly distorted, and heavily distorted guitars creates a chilling vision of a forest decimated by darkness and winter. Often the quiet sections will entrance the listener with its hypnotic repetition, though keeping a sense of mindfulness to developing the ideas just enough to avoid inflicting sleep. The louder sections sometimes come with a sudden jolt and break the trance violently, but mostly give little clues to alert the listener that the serene winter landscape is about to be hit with a violent blast of wind and snow.
Pianos and synthesizers are used sparingly, mostly to make the texture thicker and bolster the dark images of pale ghosts and sleeping trees. The instrumental interlude “The Misshapen Steed” succeeds the highest at articulating a melancholy atmosphere, and is probably the heaviest use of keyboards on the album. The harp and piano interchanges in the quieter sections are spellbinding, accented with a lone flute at times to inject a sense of loneliness into the ensemble of strings and winds. Several sections of Part 1 of the opening epic accomplish similar effects upon the listener, although the limitations in the production on this release show themselves when the drums enter.
The vocal performance is mostly accomplished through muttered narrations and low level barks, not all that dissimilar from what is heard out of Morten Veland on Tristania’s debut. We are treated to a few clean vocal lines, most of them lower end, in the form of simple melodic drones that blend in with the instrumentation. Sporadic female vocals can also be found, giving an occasional operatic foil to the twisted woodland narrator dominating the story. Guitar solos are unusually plentiful on this album and very well realized, flying in the face of expectations that a atmospheric folk metal band with some slight gothic tendencies would even bother with extended leads. Some specific areas of “Hallways of Enchanted Ebony” and “As Embers Dress the Sky” contain the bulk of the best lead work on here.
Sadly this album is not without its share of flaws. Although far from the worst production job I’ve ever heard, the drums are pretty poorly mixed in relation to the dense guitar and keyboard tracks and clash with the entire arrangement, particularly when there are no distorted guitars going at the same time. And despite being a well developed minimalist effort songwriting wise, some of the songs on here seem to drag out from over-repetition, the obvious tendencies of this metal genre towards this being taken into consideration. The closing work “Melancholy Spirit” exemplifies this slight flaw the most.
Ultimately, you have to have a specific aversion to long songs with slow development and a heavy reliance on layered instrumentation in order to fully appreciate what is at work on here. Tristania’s debut opus “Widow’s Weeds” bears some similarities to this, although this has a greater instrumental presence and is less reliant on clean soprano vocals. Above all else, you have to have an enthrallment with darkness and the season of winter to appreciate the musical and lyrical poetry at work. The drum production is a little hard to get past, but if given the proper attention, this album will grow on you.
In order to get the right feel, I traveled for a week with friends to (actually central) Oregon, the birthplace of Agalloch. Although the area was mostly barren and full of yokels, the areas where trees were abundant became my “home” for this review. I traveled to various natural landmarks during the day, but by nightfall the vibe took me over. I didn’t have the songwriting skills, though I pictured the “…Fire Across The Skyline,” all the “Dead Winter Days,” and the folklore that only the wisest would understand… That’s how damn clear Agalloch is with their music.
Production aside (as quiet as it sometimes seems), the album truly has an effect on you. Although nighttime can be a depressing, especially with the albums dreary tone, the record somehow gives off some warmth, which is something rarely done in this field. The “Skyline…” trilogy is truly an intro, spending an ample amount of time expressing the spirituality in nature that surely died in this day and age. Although I’m not into the female vocals like the on “Skyline… - Part 1” and “As Embers Dress The Sky,” anyone will be able to tolerate the addition.
Dreamy guitar riffs and brief acoustic passages make up the spine of the album. John’s trademark growls show up on here for the first time and remain unchanged throughout Agalloch’s catalogue, while the clean vocals actually sound a bit amateurish. Nothing elaborate or over the top, but its pleasant, especially since it fits the bleak tone. Even by the time the solitary-piano interlude “The Misshapen Steed” rolls around, you’ll already be in a trance and fully enveloped in what’s going on. The perfect song on the album to demonstrate Agalloch’s tools would be “Dead Winter Days,” which isn’t strung out or boring in any way and shows the potential of the band for future records.
While “The Mantle” makes great use of acoustics, “Pale Folklore” contains fewer amounts of acoustics and opts for an atmosphere rock sound. With only one instrumental track, the rest combines clean guitars, acoustics folds, and itchy guitars to blend a unique tune to each song (recognizable no doubt). The solos, while not blazing fast or sloth-like slow, are nothing short of intricate. However, I somehow feel confused listening to the sound of the guitar solos, as it is very high-pitched and squeaky. While the bass shouldn’t be picked on due to the production, there was no doubt room for it to appear and do something, as I can honestly not hear it well at all (Jason where are you?!). One more thing I have to complain about is the sound of the drums, which seem almost hollow at times when the guitars aren’t taking over – but other than that it is very consistent throughout the album.
Compared to their later, and more understandable albums, Agalloch no doubt display some fine playing on their debut – a place where many bands fail. This is more of a night album, so listening to it in the dark near a fire or while sleeping helps comfort the mind. The entire album clocks over an hour, so there is plenty to enjoy here. Go ahead and listen to this one way or another and picture yourself inside a lodge on a snowy winter night. I was in Oregon amongst the trees and the pale horizon in my own cabin, so now its time to paint the skyline…
Pale Folklore would go on to be an absolutely classic album not just for Agalloch, but also for the world of post-metal, if such a term exists. The essence of Agalloch does not lie in far-fetched experimentation or in obscurity that renders a listener confused by the music. Rather, it lies in the band's unsurpassed ability to portray a genuine atmosphere and sincerity of passion through the music played.
The compositions here flow together seamlessly. Combined together with soundscapes of wind, sparse post-rock passages, pianos, and various other wintery noises such as wolves howling, Pale Folklore demands to be listened to in one session. Sure, the tracks could be listened to on a individual, especially songs like "Hallways of Enchanted Ebony" and the famous "Dead Winter Days." But the experience would be vapid without experiencing what comes before and after each track. Several themes reoccur through the album's course, mainly the opening trilogy "She Painted Fire Across the Skyline." A series of rapturous melodic leads propel the first track through a course of melancholy and isolation, only to break at the middle section for a very quiet, despondent passage guided by Haughm's eerie whispers and distant female vocals. After bruising through another metal-ish passage of mid-paced tremolo harmonies, things end with echoing minor chords and softly played timpanic drums. Wind gusts float in the background, and without even noticing, a more fast-paced acoustic line signals the entrance of Part II, the album's shortest but probably heaviest track. Upon the entrance of the trilogy's closer, some familiar leads will enter the mix; the exact same ones used in Part I. The reappearing of these guitar lines gives a sense of closure in the music.
Other tracks on the album are linked together in their own ways. "Dead Winter Days" ends in a jarring way with abrupt bashings of dissonant piano chords, immediately giving way to the starting drum fill of the following track. The cathartic ending solo of "As Embers Dress the Sky" glide right into the lonely beginnings of the album's closer, "The Melancholy Spirit." It is all of this that makes Pale Folklore what it is; art beyond what is being played by the musicians. It is a sensory experience that carries the listener through passages of yearning, desperate, melancholy feelings for the whole course. The artwork for the album helps to give a setting of thick winter forests at late night, and the lyrics make various references to wolves and ravens among lyrics of winter, nightfall, and isolation.
In the way of the music, there's a lot to be said. It's an understatement to call this album progressive, but the band knew their limits at the same time. Guitar work is fairly simple throughout, but some very emotional solos and leads weave their way in to heighten the sense of what is happening in the music. There's a rather prevalent Katatonia influence here, (Brave Murder Day era) as well as numerous acoustic folk passages and post-rock noodling, which helps to give the music that wintry, organic edge. The post-rock influence comes through majorly on "Hallways of Enchanted Ebony," where nearly the whole song is backed by shimmering clean guitars. The bass plays a minor role, as usual; but it does strike on its own during the album's opening trilogy. Some foreign things make their way into the music, such as the operatic female vocals during many of the songs, or the occasional splice in Haughm's clean vocals on "Dead Winter Days." "The Misshapen Seed" is a transitional piece made up of layered string sections and pianos that proves itself to be truly heart-wrenching, and some lone pianos make their appearance throughout the rest of the album.
Haughm's vocals help to bring out the emotional state in the music. Some may say that he sounds a bit samey here, as he sticks to a quiet, whispery black metal rasp for the majority of the album. This only makes the mood climax though, especially on the opening cuts and the closing track when some fierce, desolate screams are unleashed. They coincide perfectly with the dark, moody lyrics and music.
Some have complained about the production, saying the guitars are a bit too muddy for the sophisticated tone of the music, and that the drums are nothing special. (Haughm played drums on this album, but does a competent job. Drums in this sort of musical territory aren't really important anyway.) I have to disagree, though; it helps things out in the way of atmosphere, especially on "The Misshapen Seed," which utilizes a more wall-of-sound motif without being overbearing. Everything is produced in a wise way to maintain a natural feel to the music.
Any fan of post-metal or more subtle doom metal will appreciate this album and its out-front emotional approach. An excellent debut from a band that would only improve. This album may not be as epic or experimental as The Mantle, but is excellent nonetheless.
I don't think there's any albums on this site that are as adored as this album here. It seems a ton of people can't get enough of this album. I'm not here to attack them or this album- it's a decent album, and this Agalloch's new album is awesome. But I simply can't seem why anyone could like this CD so much.
It is a very unique CD though. Agalloch mix folk with metal, which may not sound so unique, but the collision between these two genres has seldom been so well done. There's a few straight up folk bits, but for the most part, this is metal filtered through a folk aesthetic, sounding earthy and nature loving, while still rocking out. The guitars are done pretty well.. There's nods to Melo Death stylings and various other genres, the leads are extremely soulful (It's hard to get past the first tracks lead bits) and the whole CD does indeed reek of emotion. The Misshapen Seed is a really beautiful classical interlude, with an unusual wall of sound approach to it that really helps it from becoming another cheesy classical bit.
So, there's tonnes of good parts, but there is definetly some inconsistency. Despite the generally fairly solid lyrics, there's an atrocious/demented quickly spoken word bit in ..Across the Skyline Pt.3. "I SAW THE NIGHTFALL IT CALLED TO ME LIKE A RIVER OF A SHADOWS IT SANG TO ME LIKE A THOUSAND RAVENS" Just spat out all of a sudden in the midst of some decent dirgy riffing. The River of Shadows bit is hilarious, but really, it's quite painful to hear. The clean bits, suffer with consistency, with Skyline Pt.1 (among others) Not really sounding all that good, and while there's some good clean bits (Check Hallways of ENchanted Ebony..) For the most part, they're not too great. Agalloch are at their best in this album when they deliver their dirgy heavy bits.
Don't let me discourage you from buying this album. Everyone else seems to love this album to death, and chances are I'm a dick who doesn't know anything. Still, I enjoyed this album, but It was hardly life changing, just a solid, (and really unique) release. Their new album is better.
No band has done what Agalloch has done with this album. It will provide everything you could want in an album. Long, Progressive ever-changing, atmospheric songs, Dark Poetic Lyrics, absolutely brilliant guitar melodies, a variety of vocals (mostly shrilling harsh vocals, but also some dark, beautiful clean vocals, and some female vocals), and the best part is it grows on you and you'll always come crawling back for more. It's very folk inspired, a lot of great guitar playing... and the instrumentals are truly breathtaking. Individually, the songs are very balanced. One minute will be distorted guitars, the next will be a beautiful acoustic interlude. It's also very balanced as a whole, some long parts of songs have a very relaxed feel, some go back and forth a lot, and some fall sort of in between. Not to mention, it's amazing how they accomplished all this on their first album...
Now for a walkthrough of each song. It starts out with "She Painted Fire Across the Skyline," which, as a whole song might seem sort of ...unorganized. That's why it's 3 different parts that flow together. A Great song, to say the least, the female vocals are excellent especially when combined with the pretty much whispering vocals, and part 3 is quite agressive. The guitar work is excellent, utalizing the acoustic/metal combining and forms a unique desolate and bleak atmosphere. Maybe that's because of the sounds of chilling winds in between each part, which also has great effect.
After that monster of a song, you might want to relax into absolute musical bliss and thats just what "The Misshapen Steed" does. The majestic, yet eerie keyboard melodies of this instrumental song will totally imparadise you. The worst part of this song is when it ends, trust me you will not want this song to end. When it does end, the powerful intro to the infamous "Hallways of Enchanted Ebony" begins. This is the song that really made me want the album. Some people say it's too repetitive, and I see where they're coming from, but the parts being repeated are so good, you want it to keep going. The riffs in this song are just unforgettable. After that is Dead Winter Days. The riff you hear first is amazing... but probably the least impressive song overall. Then, "As Embers Dress the Sky" starts and youll hear some clean vocals for a change. This song contains what I like to call my favorite moment in music ever, and that is the acoustic interlude that lasts 2 minutes. Its the most blissfully captivating moment they've created. Then for the conclusion we have "The Melancholy Spirit," more blend of distorted and acoustical goodness for your ears. A very epic song with many directions, and ends with a peaceful piano tune. I would point out standout songs, but that would be impossible.
This album should really be heard as a whole, hearing one song from this is like hearing 1/8 of a song, so remember that if you're sampling one. Also, this CD must be listened to in a time and place where you can concentrate on it without any distractions, for full enjoyability. I've listened to it in my car, and it really doesn't sound as good because of the outside noise and the fact that I have to concentrate on the road... Also, be sure to check out Agalloch's other full length, and the EP "Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor," which are both very essential.
If I didn't know better I'd say that Agalloch definelty comes from Scandinavia. Surprisingly this amazing band hails from no other country than the United States of America. Pale Folklore is Agalloch's debut album and one of the most impressing debut albums ever. The band rose from the ashes of a doomdeath band Aeolachrymae back in 1995. Agalloch got signed to The End Records back in 1998 and a year after released this masterpiece. Their music sounds quite much alike with bands like Katatonia (circa Brave Murder Day, Ulver (circa Bergtatt) and Opeth. Some of the guitarwork could've been stolen from (no, they weren't, they don't sound that same) Blackheim's works on BMD and since I loved those, I do love the simplistic, yet genius, riffs on this album too since they so perfectly go together with the atmosphere. There are quite a few Bergtatt-era ulverish acoustic interludes and even acoustic guitar melodies behind the distorted guitars and some of Haughm's vocals have clearly been influenced by Garm's use of vocal cords on Bergtatt. The structures of the songs remind me of Opeth and In the Woods, with their variation of more aggressive parts with distorted guitars and semi-growled vocals and the mellower parts with clean guitars, whispered and/or female vocals and atmospheric keyboard melodies. Although one might consider the band metal judging from the things I said previously but that they are not. Yes, they do have some metal elements, but as much as there is metal in their sound there is as much goth (Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus etc.) and folk (Sol Invictus). The goth influence shows best on 'Hallways of Enchanted Ebony' which clearly has a Fields of the Nephilim-vibe in it.
Agalloch's music isn't meant to be reviewed like this though. Pale Folklore can not be cut down to different pieces for it is greater than the sum of it's parts. While this is true with many a metal band, it is very true with Agalloch. The band members don't just play their instruments in order to create interesting music. I think they tried to create something alike with Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger and other black metal classics but just with a different mood and the band does succeed in that. The music is used to paint mental images, mostly of calm, wintery forests with snow weighing heavily on the branches of the trees but of course different kind of sceneries are present too, yet forests are always present in them.
The atmosphere is very heavy and melancholic in all of the songs but it's epitome is 'The Misshapen Steed' which an instrumental track totally made with keyboards. It's also placed ingeniously after the epic 'She Painted Fire Across the Skyline' (which is divided into three different tracks which form one entity) to serve as an outro or as a return to the 'normal world'. If you haven't figured it out yet, the album is filled with melancholy. The guitar lines are melancholic, the lyrics are melancholic, the vocals sound melancholic. Everything is melancholic yet at the same time so achingly beautiful. There aren't many albums with guitarwork as beautiful as this.
Pale Folklore truly is an atmospheric album filled with unique music. I haven't heard anything like this before and I doubt that this album spawns up copycats since it has remained quite underground which is quite unfortunate. Haughm and the others have really earned a lot with this spectacular album. Pale Folklore is one of those few you can just lie down, close your eyes and let the music sweep you away. There are never enough albums such as those, at least not albums like those with this kind of musical quality.