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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.