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It is not just a bleak winter!!! - 95%

AgeOfTheWiccans, May 13th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2010, CD, Viva Hate Records

Agalloch is an interesting band, the quartet from Portland, Oregon, has proven to be one of the rare bands capable of maintaining a very high-quality level with each new release. "Ashes Against the Grain" had astonished the fans and thanks to a decidedly inspired song writing session. The expectations were high for "Marrow of the Spirit" because it is an album full of emotions, of atmosphere and feelings. A record that represents a step forward in the career of this band who has always refused to deliver the same product over and over again.

You can notice, from the first notes of "Into the Painted Gray", a familiar sound. A sound which turns towards black metal and as well as the post-rock experiments, which had characterized "Ashes Against the Grain", is present. The structures undergo a new direction, making the album more direct than its predecessors: the song writing of the boys of Portland manage to move with great confidence, always convincing. The fascinating duo John Haughm / Don Anderson at times maintains a formal elegance and the rhythm section becomes more robust and aggressive than in the past, also due to the contribution of Aesop Dekker.

We found ourselves with "Into the Painted Gray" which is the clearest demonstration of how the Agalloch sound has evolved. This piece represents the black metal emerging with greater arrogance. There is no shortage of splendid melodic openings. This is what we want, the Agalloch's trademark, touching moments that have characterized all the band's records so far. "The Watcher's Monolith" brings the post-rock reminiscences typical of the most recent past. This song manages to impress us, it should be noted that the track winds through moments of illusory peace and others of great tension, emphasized not only by the guitars - which become more robust - but also by John's screaming.

However, it is with "Black Lake Nidstång" that the boys score the best shot in this album. The 17 minutes progresses as it takes on a heavy and epic trend, characterized by an almost modest tone. The guitar-work becomes minimal, the rhythms more dilated and rhythmic; to enrich the whole we find delicate inserts of acoustic guitar. Musically, the long instrumental part in the second half of this piece breaks the atmosphere created in the first half. "Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires", which for the first time fails to impress me as a listener is more appealing as you listen to it more and more afterwards. The piece itself is not at all unpleasant, on the contrary, but it seems far from the emotional peaks that characterize the compositions of Agalloch. The abundant nine minutes flow nicely, but giving the impression that the track does not actually add anything new.

The end of the album is one that no one would expect. "To Drown" is slow, suffocating with an electric guitar in the background supported by a few acoustic guitar chords and accompanied by violins, which give a mood that is at the same time very delicate and melancholic. The words longed for by John and the minimal melodies lead us to the second part of the song which is totally instrumental and anomalous: the violins increase the sense of suffocation and loss that permeates the track in every note, up to the final part , in which you can hear the roaring of the water again.

"Marrow of the Spirit" ends like this, as it started, leaving a strong sense of disorientation. The emotions that come from listening to this record cannot be described with simple words, since such work, in order to be thoroughly understood, must be lived and assimilated. For the record, despite its extreme goodness, presents some (few to tell the truth) weaknesses. Among those that are most noticeable passages repeated for too long and an excessive emphasis on drumming, which sometimes seems not to marry perfectly. Wanting to understand such an album with few plays is a difficult task, almost impossible: To be able to grasp the purest essence, it must be heard over and over again. The facets are many, almost infinite and each time a new passage can be heard as a new aspect.

The 'loch, reinvented once again. - 100%

raspberrysoda, January 15th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2010, CD, Profound Lore Records (Digipak)

Agalloch have always delivered good albums. From the proggy debut, to the melancholic The Mantle, and the shoegaze influenced Ashes Against the Grain, the band managed to reinvent themselves EVERY SINGLE TIME, while always keeping their material original (Kirisun, anyone?). The band's originality streak wasn't skipped over in this album.

The band's musicianship hasn't degraded from its quality in their previous albums. John and Don maintain the album's sound with very melancholic and melodic riffs, varying between kvlt tremolo sections to post-metal passages and distorted doomy riffs that are accompanied by fitting acoustic guitars and deep, emotional solos. They don't fall out of relevance in every moment of the album, which is a thing that most bands of the genre never achieved in any of their albums. The drumming and bass help with keeping the steady tempo of the songs- a thing which defines their music which is very dependent on these two instruments.

There is no doubt that the band wanted a different direction with this album- for the sole reason that none of their previous or proceeding albums share the same atmosphere that Marrow of the Spirit has. It is darker than The Mantle and rawer than the over-produced Ashes Against the Grain, but isn't dragging like their debut. While being very depressive and excruciated, it still is very tamed, and even has a sense of calmness in a certain way. To fuel the melancholic atmosphere, the band uses some very tortured whistling/screaming that execute very correlating lyrics:

"Where am I?
How long shall I suffer here?
Forlorn in the cold neolithic embrace
Forsaken deep in the sullen tide
How long shall I suffer here?"
(Into the Painted Grey)

Another notable thing about this album is the use of unorthodox instruments. I bet you can't name a single metal band that uses hollow bones or Gockenspiels as percussion instruments, or a very 60's styled Moog synth. They don't hinder the album's musicianship and sense of continuousness, but instead they fit in perfectly at every moment they show up and add to the musical diversity and the album's interestingness and sense of originality.

A very eminent thing in Marrow of the Spirit is the simple fact that every song is different, with still having the same base structures: while Black Lake Niðstång has a very brooding and droning ambient calm section in the middle, Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires have parts that sound like they were played by guitar player Ewan Dobson (who plays trance-like palm muted guitar pieces), the cello-fueled instrumental They Escaped the Weight of Darkness or the post-apocalyptic To Drown. They definitely lack no originality and boldness, and provide an excellent resource of progressiveness.

Hell, the band even made the album's cover photo atmospheric. Hvis Lysett Tar Oss and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas don't give you a slightest portion of feeling that the cover has. I can't recall ANY album cover that has ever triggered any emotions within myself, and this band made one. The production in this album, as stated before, is intendedly rawer than their previous release (with the excuse of it being too polished)- but it doesn't fall out of quality, and every instrument is heard perfectly throughout the album, which is nothing short than perfect: it has everything an atmospheric metal release needs: moody instruments, a sense of originality, a haunting atmosphere and vast soundscapes with gigantic walls of sound.

We're legit black metal guys, honest - 17%

lord_ghengis, December 13th, 2013

One of my more arrogant music listening traits is that I don't like bands bastardizing or watering down genres. As such, it may come to a surprise to many that I actually am I pretty big Agalloch fan. Sure I think they've got some issues with being crazy overrated at times, such as the disturbing amount of praise they get for slapping a couple of layers over the end of "Hallways of Enchanted Ebony" for their split with Nest, or how Ashes Against the Grain has managed to gain a reputation beyond being "pretty catchy and enjoyable", but as a rule the band works for me. My justification for this is that eventually, if you blaspheme against the basic tenets of a style hard enough you become something entirely different. For instance, Obscura (the band, not the album) pull off shameful modern tech “death” by wanking so hard and so effeminately they cease to be a shameful failed attempt at death metal, and become super pretty melodic technical prog metal or with growls or some shit, and suddenly I don't feel so angry at it. Agalloch are in this boat with black metal, and metal in general really. At their best they were such a broad mash up of post-rock, black metal, goth rock, neofolk, doom metal, alternative rock and god knows what else that they never really felt like they were half-assing any particular style; they were simply whole-assing whatever the fuck they happened to be.

As such I never got that "what is this embarrassingly underdeveloped shit" response which comes from listening to well, almost any Cascadian BM band. In fact my problems with that style are less that they don't have enough black metal for me, and more that they have too much; these bands tend to stick in great big heapings of blast beats and derivative tremolo chord progressions, and no matter how much I like the post rock parts or the ambient textures I'm always distracted by how subpar these parts are. Sure, what Agalloch does is weak and fluffy, but it's not a weak and fluffy version of a full on genre, it's its own thing in its natural form. The band always had a nice attitude of not caring about actually living up to any sort of genre conventions, and while they presented it in the much lamer and less respectful "I'm glad you hate it, it means we're doing something right, we don't want your types as fans" on their DVD, the concept of "we're just doing our own thing" is a respectable enough goal. They may have borrowed elements of black metal for their sound, but they never really had anything which you could call a black metal part in their music, at least outside of the Ulver-by-way-of-Katatonia debut, they just plain didn't care about actually living up to any sort of black metal ideals. Marrow of the Spirit is Agalloch changing their mind and deciding they actually need to get some BM cred, and they're fucking terrible at it.

Agalloch may actually be just about the shittiest quasi-BM band ever. They've decided to add in blast beats and the absolute nadir of tremolos-doing-absolutely-fucking-nothing riffs, beyond what the already shitty Cascadian scene has ever made. They decided they don't need a nice professional production job to make their music work, and then removed all the autotune which made Haughm's already shitty rasp-whispers sound even remotely acceptable. It's a shitty clusterfuck of ideas that don't work and sound like total ass.

The band's primary appeal remains their sense of softer, melodic and easy on the ears yet quite emotive and melancholic folked/gothed/blacked up post-rock thing, so why the hell did they think adding in stretches of blast beats and black metal riffing would actually improve this? It certainly can't be because they thought they were a quality black metal band, because they're legitimately as bad as any I've ever heard. I mean, they've clearly committed to trying to be black metal since they brought in a new drummer who likes to play fast and they've opted to trade out their super clean and dynamic productions for something a bit nastier and organic, but surely they have an idea how bad they are at it right? I mean the MA page alone lists twelve different people involved in creation, surely one of those twenty four ears heard what they were making right? Right?

The riffs offered up here are embarrassingly bad. They're all meaningless predictable chord progressions that have no energy or life, they just go dadadadadadabababababababa in a slightly melodic fashion in line with a gutless blast with absolutely nothing to give them any sort of identity. The band runs these barely-classifiable-as-a-riff riffs into the ground by repeating each utterly interchangable one for what feels like an eternity, even if somehow they only actually take up a minute or two of your time. It's like they found split in the space time continuum but it was filled with nothing but all of humanities greatest feats of mediocrity. The guitar production is thin and flat in a very unsatisfying way, failing to illicit any sort of atmosphere or edginess in the trade off for precision and dynamics, this leaves the riffs even less exciting and snooze worthy than they already are. The drums sound like cardboard boxes and carry little to no percussive energy, so the "rawness" doesn't actually make the album feel any harsher or energetic. All things considered these sections have absolutely no worth and seemingly run on forever, they don't make up the bulk of the album by any means, but their presence is anything but welcome. And just for kicks they pop up on every single song so they're never far away from ruining your day... Well maybe there isn't one one Black Lake Nidstang actually as I think back on it, but that's just because I always fall asleep for 15 minutes of that song's seemingly three month runtime. I know there's a bit where Haughm tries to sound epic with some cleaner shouts somewhere in there, and I know it sounds almost as lame as the "I CRIED THE TEARS OF A THOUSAND RAVENS" thing on the debut, but isn't as cheesily entertaining or interesting, but otherwise that song is just boring and I can't recall a thing.

The added levels of violence fail to increase the overall aggression due to the flat production and terrible riff writing skills, but they actually do enough to stand out in one way. They really make you pay attention to how shitty Haughm is as a black metal singer. When they were just picking out little parts of black metal create their unique sound, his shitty little whisper rasps kinda made sense, in the context of genuine black metal however I can't look past the fact I've heard more intimidating ducks, and small ducks at that. What's more he's decided to go without the aid of any studio help with all of the vocals on the album, and all I can say is "for the love of God, be fake". My three month old daughter has made better rasps than him when she's trying to poop, and she's been an underachieving disappointment since the day she was conceived. There is really no excuse for how bad he sounds here, he's utterly subpar in every musical sense. He definitely needs layering or just computer help to make him at least bearable because he's completely awful without it.

Just so I can wail on Haughm's unfathomably shitty vocals in two different paragraphs, he's fucked up his clean vocals too. Again, he's backed himself to go au naturale and not use the autotune he so desperately needs. His entire clean vocal style hinged completely on making his drab, bored vocals appear quite ethereal and haunting by giving him layered, drawn out notes which never wavered in pitch, on his own he doesn't have that sort of control. He's about half as strong as usual, warbley and generally an unpleasant pain in the arse, so any moment the clean vocals show up fails to achieve any musical or emotional worth.

This general concept of the added harshness doing nothing but point out flaws is reflected in the actual music itself too; playing parts with more violence this poorly just draws more attention to how wussy it is. Think of it as if Jesse Eisenburg decided to star in a remake of Schwarzenegger’s classic action flick, Commando. He's a good actor, he does what he does well, he's good enough at it to stand out beyond his scrawny geeky physique and somehow appear like he belongs in a leading man sort of role. But make him puff out his chest and have him killing men with his bare hands and all those physical insufficiency come to the surface and ruin his whole facade. Agalloch trying to be tough does the same thing. It really draws your attention as to how badly the album works in the context of metal. They were always wussy, but they were doing their own thing which never really felt like a watered down version of something else, adding some genuine extreme metal to the mix makes the wussiness stand out more.

What's more, the album feels more separated in its parts. Now that the black metal has been removed from their overall creation and given its own segments, the whole sound they present seems a lot less interesting and nuanced. Before they combined all their elements in a satisfying and fresh way, it was truly a melding of many different styles into a single entity, but now it's all split apart. You've got black metal parts, you've got post rock parts, you've got folk parts, but there aren't many moments where it all comes together at once. This is a bad thing twofold, firstly the actual music they present is much less inventive and unique than before which leaves it without any real personality, and having it all separate leaves the music inconsistent in mood and flow. The changes in genre are no longer a careful and effective melding but a careless genre swapping dynamic, and like 99% of genre hopping albums the dynamic shifts from jumping styles mostly function to hide how mediocre or downright poor the actual segments are. Credit where credit is due, I couldn't say these style changes are handled poorly, the band clearly took the full four years making sure the music navigates its wild turns in a more natural way than most bands doing this sort of thing, but since the actual music and general sound is so unappealing I can't say it helps much.

The post-rock/neofolk/soft whatever music which makes up the bands other side is thankfully better than the metal, well below their usual standards for sure, but better than the bands new idea of trying out black metal. Sadly the shitty sound renders it all effectively worthless. Agalloch's music, like most prettier post rock styled things actually needs quite a lot of studio care or at least excessive effects to carry it properly. This isn't an insult to the genre at all, it's almost certainly my favourite non-metal genre out there, it's just a simple fact it needs a lot of touches outside of the actual musical composition to give it the magnitude and scale that the rather minimal instrumentation fails to live up to in the most basic sense. "In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion" needed a lot of post production work to make the acoustic licks sound bolder and more majestic than the distorted metal undercurrent, just like "Limbs" needed a clean, massively enhanced sound to carry what would have been a rather minor sounding intro riff into being something glorious. Opting for a flat, low key, natural and largely lifeless production really neuters the better elements of the album.

Take "Ghosts of Midwinter Fires" for instance, it's the album's most familiar sounding number, spending most of its existence doing things in line with what the band has been doing for a while, and as such it is the best track here. Outside of a couple of 30 second black metal parts, the only thing really separating it from the more morose songs on Ashes Against the Grain, like "Limbs" or "Fire Above, Ice Below", is the production, and as such it's nice and easy to pin point exact moments where it all falls down. The post rock lead guitar is actually somewhat dynamic and lively, so the song's aquatic introduction lick actually works alright, but when they move into the meat of the song the thin, flat sound completely mangles anything else they're going for. Most notably the tremolo riff at around 3:40, just before the first black metal burst, is laughably meek and featureless. The riff doesn't necessarily have anything wrong with it compositionally, it works as a transition between total post rock and the following "onslaught", and it should be capable of building the music towards some kind of cathartic release, but it doesn't. The guitar tone is too restrained and the mix isn't bold and colourful enough, and the whole development remains stillborn and drab. Really anything which isn't an outright lead melody is neutered pathetically by the sound, and given this is Agalloch we're talking about here, that's a lot of ineffective, flat material over the course of the album.

Even if the production was good enough to give the music something resembling magnitude and range, I still don't think the album would work. As I said, the album separates the black from the folk from the post from the gothic from the doom, so the things offered up are quite "normal" sounding for each of their respective genres. As such, I feel like I can actually compare what they do to other post rock bands or neofolk bands pretty fairly now, and they're rather substandard. This is partially due to the sound, partially because the melding of ideas is what made them different in the first place is missing, and partially because they just didn't actually write very interesting material. There are a couple of exceptions, such the lead melodies 6 minutes into the opener or the one midway through "The Watcher's Monolith", but by and large the mellower stuff is a long, long way behind real post rock bands. Obviously the lead parts consistently stand out as the closest to being competitive due to them getting through the production largely unscathed, but even then, other than those two they're still a fair bit behind. Outside of those moments, there's nothing here that could compete with This Will Destroy You's “The World is Our ___” , or Gift's From Enola's "Aves", or anything else by any dedicated quality post rock band. Without the folky, gothic or blackened touches deeply entwined with the post stuff, the band just doesn't have all that much appeal to their music.

I wish I could say I hoped this was just a one off dud, but based of their Faustian Echoes EP, it seems like they're pretty committed to this idea of roughing up the edges of their sound. At least that release has a better sound and better post rock stuff, but on the other hand the terrible black metal plays for even longer uninterrupted stretches. As for Marrow of the Spirit however, there isn't even that little silver lining to speak about. This a shitty sounding album full of worthless music with an utterly painful vocal performance which keeps reminding you every four minutes how goddamned wussy and weak it is, it's utterly irredeemable and a failure on every level... just like my baby.

Lost in the Dark Woods of Time - 85%

TowardsMorthond, September 6th, 2012

Agalloch's long-awaited fourth full-length Marrow of the Spirit is composed of six compositions, five of which surpass the 9-minute mark. The first and last tracks are essentially ambient pieces, the first, "They Escaped the Weight of Darkness", featuring a dreary, wandering cello melody over a running stream and other nature sounds, while "To Drown" expands upon the introductory theme with whispered vocals and apocalyptic orchestrations, somewhat overdone and conceptually incomplete but compelling nonetheless. The four lengthy tracks in-between are the expected mesmerizing and expansive compositions Agalloch has become known for, but more abstract than previous works. The first song proper, "Into the Painted Grey", features the blasting tempo and repetitive tormented riffing of black metal, with dramatic diversions into post-rock, ambient, folk, and progressive rock, elements which, to various degrees of emphasis and effectiveness, appear in the following three tracks. There are fewer post-rock and folk passages, as the emphasis is on the black and doom metal aspects of their sound, but as always, they create an impressive array of compelling contrasts in mood and sound, most strikingly between ambient folk passages and agonized assaults, always with their familiar quality of existential distress.

"Hands...hands that lift the oceans
to vertical depths above the stars
For when I die, the universe will die with me
and all will be lost forever gone"

These extended compositions seem to strive for something more universal than anything they've done before. Long songs are certainly not new for this band, but there is an immense sense of vastness and uncertainty that permeates throughout these pieces that goes beyond previous attempts. Easily, these are their least immediate songs yet, a characterization that is due both to the enormous scope of the compositions but also to a few sudden, perplexing changes altering the course of each track. Though composition is less consistently coherent than before, and their choices regarding certain stylistic elements and instrumentation are not always as fascinating as they have demonstrated in the past, these elaborate and immersive songs maintain a strong identity and remain on the whole challenging and compelling. The crowning achievement of Marrow of the Spirit is the nearly 18-minute "Black Lake Nidstång", a vastly atmospheric and expressively dramatic track containing the album's most engaging and conceptually illuminating sequence of ambient excursions, post-rock elucidations, forlorn lead melodies, and theatrical rhythmic changes, along with Haughm's most passionately desperate vocal performance as 'voice of the nidstång' resulting in an intense experience of emotional healing.

"Where am I?
How long shall I suffer here?
Forlorn in the cold neolithic embrace
Forsaken deep in the sullen tide
How long shall I suffer here?"

The dreamlike yet overcast droning effect of more reflective passages is often oppressed by the energy exchange brought on by mostly repetitious riffs of charging passages, and there is a troubling lack of memorable and melodically transcendent riffs and leads. At times, the guitarists sound strangely indecisive regarding riff-direction, while the majority of leads seem uninspired and derivative of previous work. There are noticeably less acoustic, folk-style interludes than before, while those that arrive are less distinctive, and usually end up blending more with distorted guitar riffs.

"I can feel the era slipping into oblivion,
no longer grasping the textures
I am slowly becoming stone"

John Haughm's vocals, almost always dictated in tone by the atmospheric quality and shape of guitar melody, are his usual variety of rasps, whispers, shrieks, and distant chant-like singing, more atmospherically integrated with the music this time around, an effect largely due to the more organic production but also to Haughm's decidedly more restrained performance; throughout the album, Haughm often sounds disengaged, with his blackened voice curiously missing its usual expressive power, and his clean voice, of which there is less than before, sounds exhausted and routine. Other than the passionate mid-song cries of "Black Lake Nidstång", there is a disappointing absence of truly distinct and moving vocals.

"Where have all the noble cranes gone?
Where have all the stags disappeared to?
Piled below in the tomb of this burdened pool
a curse to those who corrupt these sacred woods
a curse to those who taste this solemn water"

The increased use of blast-beats, a rare feature of Agalloch's approach, raises the degree of intensity and urgency, particularly in "Into the Painted Grey", where the rapid drums enhance the level of desperate perseverance. Elsewhere these speeds are less effectively implemented, used in "The Watcher's Monolith" as more of a contrast in motion than a meaningful thematic reflection. New drummer Aesop Dekker gives an adequately energetic if not unique or inventive performance, using mostly simple beats in a variety of catchy, pulsating, animated patterns, steady to the point of tediousness. He is better than his predecessor Chris Greene, but not as inventive or diverse as Haughm's percussion on the early releases. JWW's bass notes nicely support riffs and melodies in an organic undertone, but unlike past albums, nothing truly memorable emerges from his instrument on this disc.

"There are gods in the wake of every flame
The fire that betroths the coldness of the void
In every wind, every tempest, and every snowfall
In every silence
Inside every root that reaches deep into the soul of the Earth

...but there are no gods here..."

Production is an intentional de-polishing of their sound, analog and sonically stagnant, contributing to the dismal atmosphere of the music. The guitar sound is transparent and flat, while the sound of the drumkit is dull and uneven. The result of this is a lack of power in the sheer sound presence of the music, despite the production's atmospheric reflection of the album's concept.

"They escaped the weight of darkness
to forge a path into the marrow of the spirit
They chose to drown in a deeper vacancy
an emptiness that quells the null
a pool for the forgotten"

In a sense, the musicians may have had to sacrifice individual distinction for the sake of a more universal sound. The whole is significantly greater than the sum of its parts in a way that no Agalloch album has realized before. Without resulting to a concentrated reinterpretation of their definitive style, it contains all of the components and pensive moods their audience has come to expect, but the arrangements are different in that they do not directly invigorate, instead working their effect more upon reflection of sequences. The album's power is a more reflective one. It is an arduous work and demanding listen, and its apparent determination towards perpetual brooding may cause some to grow weary of its presence. This is their most subtle application of elements, and combined with the sheer expansiveness of the work, the album may seem to drag initially, at times sounding like an unengaged ambient soundscape piece unintended for concentrated absorption. It is a bitter work, even to its own conceptual purpose, referencing Pale Folklore in this aspect, yet without that album's instant engagement and inspirational enchantment. Whether it possesses a similar endurance remains to be seen, but the vastness and immersive nature of Marrow of the Spirit should keep listeners occupied until the release of their next album, which, based on this band’s productive history, probably means another four years.

Marrow of The Spirit - 100%

KonradKantor, April 28th, 2012

In 1994, the Norwegian band Ulver lit a fire with the release of their uniquely composed folk metal album, Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler. Although small, this flame burned uncharacteristically bright within the hearts of three individuals, namely Don Anderson, Jason Walton and John Haughm. These men may have never thought they would have been able to take this small fire and set the entire world ablaze with it; but sixteen years later, that is exactly what they have done.

Over the past decade, Agalloch has grown from having a small cult following into something truly iconic. Now, as 2010 nears its end, Agalloch has given us something that shall be remembered as one of the few pieces of music that transcended its own time and helped carry its listeners into a new decade of progression. Marrow of the Spirit is something so powerful and so incredibly emotional that the words of any language would do it no justice. Agalloch has not only managed to encapsulate all of their previous sounds into exactly one hour of playing time, but has also built upon them, making Marrow of the Spirit the group's most expansive, versatile and complete effort to date. Marrow of the Spirit contains the ebb and flow and rich buildup of Ashes Against the Grain, the dark, powerfully crafted atmosphere of Pale Folklore, the tragic melancholy of The Mantle; and it also successfully captures the beauty of nature's echoes most recently displayed on The White. If one thing has remained constant throughout all of Agalloch's creations it is this: the music has the power to rescue and aid the most restless of souls from the bowels of despair and hopelessness, and also the capability of dragging that same joyous spirit back down into the depths of sorrow from which it came.

One of the more pressing questions that arose prior to this release was whether all of the experimentation that took place on The White would somehow make its way onto the band's next full-length release. Although slight traces of the calm waves of the ocean or the nostalgic sound of one "trudging through the deep snow" are briefly prevalent in previous efforts, the intensified sounds of nature featured on The White were the foundation for that entire release. "They Escaped the Weight of Darkness," the opening track of Marrow of the Spirit, picks up right where The White left off, only this time the sound of a freshwater stream is accompanied by the lonely notes of Jackie Perez Gratz's (Grayceon) cello. Traces of the cello are to be found throughout the entire album, but none are as dominant as those occupying the album's brief but memorable opener.

The reverence of the opening track is short-lived, as a blitzkrieg of drums pound and blast their way "Into the Painted Grey." The addition of drummer Aesop Dekkar (Ludicra) has immediately proven itself to be a successful one, as no Agalloch song has ever sounded as fast-paced and intense as this. The quality of the album's production, although drastically different than anything the band has released since Pale Folklore, is absolutely perfect given the dark composition of the album. The amount of riffs contained within "Into the Painted Grey" is unprecedented. The overlapping guitar melodies intertwine beautifully with the more subtle bass and cello, making the track unforgettably triumphant. The changes in both melody and the song's pacing arrive, leave and return as naturally as the seasons.

"The Watcher's Monolith" sounds more like modern Agalloch than any other track on the album. Most noticeable are the riffs that are very reminiscent of Ashes Against the Grain's catchiest song, "Falling Snow." Although the structure of "The Watcher's Monolith" is completely original, there is an interesting sense of humility behind the notes of both of these songs that makes them quite comparable. Much like on Ashes Against the Grain, Agalloch has chosen an early moment in the album to allow the listener's spirit to be filled with happiness for a brief yet memorable moment. The depth of the track is best exemplified by its subtleties, which blossom more fully with each listen, and is proof that Agalloch builds each of its songs based on emotions from life's many experiences.

Nightfall. Brief snippets of Jeffrey Neblock's (Vindensang) piano follow the sound of crickets into Marrow of the Spirit's opus, "Black Lake Nidstång." Haughm's seething vocals seep through the crushingly heavy drone of the guitars. Depressing would be an understatement if one were to attempt to describe the feelings given off by this seventeen minute-long anthem. "Black Lake Nidstång" contains just about every genre of emotionally extreme music that has ever existed. Haughm's voice is enough to send one into an instant state of depression in the song's former half, especially when accompanied by the long, drawn-out, guitars.

Looking back at Ashes Against the Grain, the one thing that many questioned was the conclusion of the "Our Fortress is Burning..." trilogy. Referring to that specific track, John Haughm said, "This was the first piece of the trilogy to be written. Chris approached me with this drone thing he was working on and I absolutely loved it. It had to be on the album somehow. So I used it as inspiration to build the rest of the trilogy. Most people seem to think we put it on the album as filler but it is actually quite the opposite. Without "The Grain", the entire "Fortress" trilogy wouldn't exist."

Whether Agalloch could take this newly acquired technique (which helped inspire what might be the greatest climax in the history of heavy metal) and incorporate it into further songs remained to be seen...until now. About halfway through "Black Lake Nidstång," a similar drone technique is used to help pull the listener out of the depressing state they were previously dwelling in, as the guitars coincide perfectly with a bubbly, electronic melody. The transition is subtle, yet perfectly executed.

"Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires" starts off very lightly -- a much needed turn of events after the emotionally draining state the listener will be in after being overcome by its predecessor. The 80's distortion effect used on the guitars is the song's most distinguishable quality, as the rest of the song's notes seem to follow the lead of the opening ones. As the song comes to it's close, sounds of the shore hint that there will be no more uplifting moments on Marrow of the Spirit. The album's concluding track, "To Drown," is no less powerful a climax than "Bloodbirds" and will leave the listener absolutely mesmerized.

On a much more personal level, I found this review nearly impossible to write. I would have done anything to avoid writing it when I originally found out about the release, but a colleague and friend of mine requested that I review the album after having a family emergency. Naturally, I was honored to be given the opportunity and acquiesced immediately, but I couldn't help but feel afraid that something would go wrong. Agalloch is my favorite band after all. What if they happen to read the review and are disappointed? What if my words are inadequate? What if I'm completely biased and give the album a score it doesn't deserve? In order to overcome my doubts, I just listened to the music. I listened until I could play the entire album through in my head. The more I listened, the more I came to the conclusion that Agalloch truly is the sound of some powerful deity that cannot be summed up into words. They embody the new decade of what metal should be about, and they are not embarrassed to show it. They embody what every fan of extreme music going into the next decade should represent: a love of nature and a patience to withstand the frailties of human nature. Because love is really the reason why we suffer, isn't it? At times when it would be so much more convenient not to care, this music, if anything, reminds us of who we are and of the power we possess as individuals. If that be the case, than Agalloch is a representation of what already exists inside of us.

"If this grand panorama before me is what you call God, then God is not dead" were words once proclaimed by John Haughm, as he spoke of the grandeur of one of the Earth's many landscapes. Today, I utter those very words in reference to Marrow of the Spirit.

Originally written for MetalReview.com

Profound Heathen Reverence - 100%

CrimsonFloyd, July 31st, 2011

Over the past decade Agalloch has established itself as one of the most important bands in extreme metal. Agalloch have achieved this status for many reasons: their willingness to fuse different genres, their constant reinvention, and their insistence on quality over quantity. Most importantly, Agalloch have the rare skill of creating albums that are holistic and unified works of art. An Agalloch album is an event. The artwork, the lyrics and music all explore the mysterious and strained relationship of humanity and nature. Each Agalloch record confronts this theme from a new perspective, allowing the band to constantly explore new sounds and styles, but yet maintain a thematic and aesthetic cohesiveness throughout their discography.

“Marrow of the Spirit,” the Oregonian quartet’s fourth full length release, is their darkest, coldest record to date. Vocalist John Haughm all but eliminates the use of clean vocals. There are far more sharp black metal riffs and drumming than on the last two albums. The production is raw in comparison to previous recordings, accentuating the primitive spirit of the album. Still, the production is full enough that all the instruments are clearly audible. This is crucial, because the composition is complex, with numerous layers of guitar. Most of the music contains three layers of guitar: sharp black metal riffs, lush acoustic guitar and melodious lead guitar. The leads deserve special praise. Don Anderson has developed into quite the guitarist, with a seemingly endless array awe inspiring leads and solos.

Agalloch do a phenomenal job of drawing all these sounds together to replicate the sounds of a vast, wild forest. The black metal riffs sound like frigid gusts of wind, the lead guitars sound like birdsongs, the tribal percussion like a stag walking through the snow. This naturalistic sound is accompanied by John Haughm’s image-laden lyrics. Written in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, the lyrics poetically interweave tales of ghosts with vivid descriptions of natural landscapes. The culminating sense is a solemn and reverent awe at the depth and complexity of the natural world.

The album contains five long metal songs, as well as an intro track—a mournful solo piece for cello. Each of the five metal tracks explores and masters a completely different sound and mood. It is like traveling through a forest, seeing it from the mountaintop, the valley floor and through the thick of the woods. Each perspective is distinct, yet the forest maintains its identity.

While every track is phenomenal, the 18 minute centerpiece, “Black Lake Nidstang” stands out. In Viking folklore, nidstangs are poles on which curses have been carved and a horse skull has been placed atop. When set into the earth, the nidstang disperses the spirits from the surrounding area, leaving a spiritual void. The first half of the song takes place in a funeral doom pace, with tribal percussion and trance inducing guitar. Haughm takes on two different voices. First, he takes on the voice of the dead, through a cold, thin whisper. Second, he reads the nidstang through a sharp hollow scream, similar to those found on early In the Woods recordings, cursing the lake in which the dead spirits dwell. In the second half of the song, the music shifts into a series of dissonant ambient passages before bursting out into a series of epic tremolo riffs and wailing guitar leads. The listener can practically feel the ghosts frantically dispersing in every which way, leaving a dead and empty landscape. The song captures the essence of Agalloch: it integrates so many genres—folk, funeral doom, ambient, black metal, post rock—but ultimately it sounds like nothing else.

Black and folk metal have long legacy of musically recreating natural landscapes. Certainly there have been some amazing accomplishments, from Ulver’s “Bergtatt” to Empyrium’s “Songs of Moors and Misty Fields” to Wolves in the Throne Room’s “Diadem of Twelve Stars”. However, “Marrow of the Spirit” surpasses those albums. Never before has a metal album achieved such an intricate, dynamic and holistic representation of a natural place. In conjunction with the high caliber of musicianship, lyricism and innovation, “Marrow of the Spirit” stands as the benchmark for nature inspired metal.

(Originally written for http://listenwell-nocturnal.blogspot.com/)

Agalloch - Marrow Of The Spirit - 74%

padshiyangel01, June 14th, 2011

Agalloch are incredibly difficult to pigeonhole into a particular niche, and “dark metal” never covered it for me. In general, it can be said that they play a template of black metal and mix in folk, post-rock and doom metal. However, each album thus far had a very distinct flavor to it, and here is where my confusion with “Marrow Of The Spirit” enters. It lacks a specific flavor, giving instead a more united factor to the discography, and also Agalloch wear their influences on their sleeves more prominently. Haughm has mentioned before of his love of Fen, but the fact that I confuse can the two bands when listening to“Into The Painted Grey” is slightly disheartening. There's also a new classical influence on here, hearkening back to the operatic vocals on “Pale Folklore”.

My initial surprise when listening to the album was that although it's recognizably Agalloch, it's still quite different in approach. The band unite the folk-black harmony of “Pale Folklore”, the experimentation & post-rock of “The Mantle” and the wall-of-sound distortion of “Ashes Against The Grain”, but extra factors morph the album into something unique. This becomes even more interesting to notice when you read that Haughm claims they never consider previous albums when writing. The style has noticeably changed, also to accommodate the addition of Dekker on the drums, who brings blastbeats to the fore, and his analog production fits in well with the rest of the band. Also, the cymbals aren't overpowering, which is a nice change from many black metal bands. The bass has its own moments, although often ends up buried in tracks like “The Watcher's Monolith”. Guitars range from a black-metal tremolo, through some fantastic soloing, and out the other side to a distorted and layered post-rock feel. Overall there is quite a united feel to guitars and percussion, which is a definite plus for this album.

The opening sounds of flowing water and cello certainly set the scene of melancholy, and the two songs afterwards are strong and memorable, if a remarkable amount of Fen worship musically and lyrically. However, once you reach the 17-minute monster that is “Black Lake Niðstång”, (featuring Nathan Carson of Witch Mountain fame) the album disintegrates in structure somewhat, before being redeemed with “Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires”, and then losing it again with “To Drown”. In this sense, the record can be a little frustrating to listen to due to this lack of atmospheric stability and structure. Every song has its own feel, and they do link in some fashion, but the overall feel is quite chaotic. Whatever Haughm's claims of this album being a journey, I still see the songs more individually than as a whole.

Speaking of the man, Haughm has changed a lot in the four years after “Ashes Against The Grain”. His singing is almost absent, his rasp is markedly harsher and the lyrics have lengthened remarkably in contrast to on the previous album, taking on an even more pagan and Fen-like tone.

Naturally, there are strong and weak points on the album, but instead of counterbalancing them, they are juxtaposed. My personal favorite, Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires, stands as a stark contrast to the previous track, offering a more accessible feel to the music. Musically, my main issue is that the furious black metal sections feel more generic than before, as though I've heard them in other bands' works, something I never expected from such an innovative band.

There is so much more I could write about this album, but truthfully speaking it is one to experience rather than read about. Mixed responses were bound to occur, but ultimately it's a matter of taste. I will be very interested to see which direction Agalloch take if they make another release.

Originally found on: http://mostlymetal.wordpress.com

Agalloch prevail once again - 98%

Thumbman, April 2nd, 2011

I originally wrote a review of this album saying it was good, like Agalloch always is, and then proceeded to whine about everything the album is not. The muddy production is sub-standard compared to their other albums, not enough acoustic guitar, "Into the Painted Grey" shouldn't be that long, not nearly as original as their other albums and so on. I have heard similar complaints from other fans. Having more time to digest the album, I now realize how stupid that was. On each one of their albums they have done something different, so why would this album be an exception? The muddy production was a reaction to Ashes Against the Grain, which was very produced and polished. The production adds a distinct feel, and keeps the band sounding fresh. Like all of Agalloch's album, this one is special. They never do the same album twice, and that fact shines through on this release. Despite all this I still have one complaint: I'm not a huge fan of the album's name. When the worst criticism I can think of is that the albums title is a bit weak, you know the album can't be that bad.

On Marrow of the Spirit, Ludicra drummer Aesop Dekker makes his debut on an Agalloch album. Dekker, not seeming to be a big of subtlety, brings a noticeable change to Agalloch's sound. He is definitely a worthy addition to their lineup. For the first time in Agalloch's history, he brings blast beats to the table. After "They Escaped the Weight of the Darkness", a subtle cello piece, he starts the first metal part of the album with a bang, with his incredibly aggressive blasting.

Besides the addition of a new drummer, Marrow of the Spirit features many guest musicians. "The Watcher's Monolith" features Jeffrey Neblock of Vindensång playing a haunting piano piece over the backdrop of chirping crickets. Witch Mountain's Nathan Carson helps out with the electronic interlude that is found in " Black Lake Nidstång". Normally an electronic interlude (not ambient, but actually like an electronic band) would sound completely atrocious in a black metal song, but somehow Agalloch make it work. Veleda Thorsson adds some very interesting percussion to "To Drown", using unique things as instruments such as petrified bone. Jackie Perez Gratz, is certainly the most interesting collaboration on the album. She lends her cello abilities to the first and last track of the record. The intro is comprised entirely of her doing a solo cello piece, accompanied by the sounds of a flowing stream. On the final song the addition of the cello makes the song sound not that far away from what Godspeed You! Black Emperor would do. The cello at the end of the song feels like the backdrop for an epic battle. I only wish that Jackie would have lent her voice to the album, as it was absolutely beautiful on Giant Squid's album The Ichthyologist.

Agalloch is a band that cannot be accused of doing the same thing over and over again. While they never leave behind their black metal roots (at least on full lengths), they always experiment with new sounds and ideas. This can be seen throughout this album. Like I've already mentioned, there are the blast beats and the electronic interlude. The post-rock sections in "Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires" are unlike anything they have ever done before. "Into the Painted Grey" is more aggressive than anything they have ever done before. The song features a subtle twelve string guitar which adds another layer of depth to it. Parts of "The Watcher's Monolith" sound almost psychedelic. While all Agalloch releases have a distinct personality, Marrow of the Spirit marks a new era for the band. The band, disillusioned with their previous record label The End, switched to the exceptional Canadian label Profound Lore. The band themselves have said that they feel that Marrow of the Spirit is a new era for Agalloch.

There is one thing that sets Marrow of the Spirit apart from Agalloch's three other albums. While their other releases seemed to have a unified aesthetic, this album seems seems to be a culmination of the other albums, featuring the styles of all of them. The catchy guitars of "Into the Painted Grey" remind me of Ashes Against the Grain's "Falling Snow." The final section of " Black Lake Nidstång" also sounds reminiscent of Ashes Against the Grain. The clean vocals and acoustic guitar of The Mantle are present in "The Watcher's Monolith". "Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires" contains the same type of melodies that made Pale Folklore so memorable. Its very interesting to new sounds and new interpretations of old sounds woven into this album.

It is rare for a band to release four groundbreaking albums in a row. But Agalloch, always choosing quality over quantity, prevail once again. If you are already a fan, this album won't be disappointing. If you want to get into them, I would recommend starting with The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain, but certainly don't overlook this album.

Letdown of the Year - 30%

hailmarduk666, March 16th, 2011

Well, I definitely thought I would be saving this particular review for Dornenreich. I didn't think they would do better than BIZTZD, but I was wrong. Instead, it's Agalloch receiving this unfavorable review. I am quite a fan, having all their albums, spent an ungodly amount of money on The White EP, so I was extremely excited to hear they were releasing a new album. Much to my chagrin, it was anything but a highlight of the musical year for me.

The first thing that really struck me is the extremely boring introduction. A very cliche bubbling brook in the background of a long, drawn out piece of cello work is not the way to grasp a listener's attention, in my opinion. I would rather this piece be at the back, as a nice and unwinding melody after the melancholic black/dark/folk hybrid that this band is known for. Instead this is chosen to open the record, and is a harbinger of boredom and strained faux emotion that is contained in the rest of this overbloated monstrosity.

There are two parts to this album that annoy me, and stand out as very forced. The first is the drumwork. The second is the guitar. Decker is two tiers below the drummer this band used to have. He always seems to be just a little bit behind in his blasting, and it seems extremely forced. Throughout the album, especially the last minute of Into the Painted Grey, I feel like he loses his tempo, and I believe he even hits his snare and bass drum at the same time. Throughout the rest of the album, he sounds just a step behind the rhythms of guitar, which is pretty damn hard. This is a perfect segway into how sophomoric the riffs in this album are. They are regurgitated, and recycled, and I have heard every riff this album has to offer before. For instance, Fire Above, Ice Below from their Ashes Against The Grain album have the same chord progressions as The Watcher's Monolith on the Marrow of the Spirit, as well as the same vocal patterns (a higher and lower stacked singing technique). Even still, there are no good tremolos, or meandering riffs that compliment each other in opposite directions on different octaves as they had in previous albums like Pale Folklore...

There is also a lot of filler in this album. The first song is a good example. At the end of The Watcher's Monolith, for the last minute there is a boring piano melody, accompanied by some rediculous crickets and "woods sounds"... Well, sorry guys, but the cover of the album is a bleak winter landscape. If one spends any time in the woods at that time of year, you won't find any bugs and creepy crawlies to be sure. The end of one begins the next, and Black Lake Nidstang plods along for over 4 minutes before any music actually starts. Alas, due to Decker's piss-poor drumming, the guitars keep sounding like they want to pick up the pace, and Aesop won't let them; leading to a 17 minute long song that will put even a meth-head to sleep.

Overall I am quite pissed off by Agalloch's apparent lack of faith in their listener's intelligence. Perhaps a ho-hum fan who doesn't listen to their discography without listening to anything else would take this album and be happy. I, however, feel offended that they would toss this off on their fans and be proud with the result. In fact, I would rather listen to Fen, because despite the fact that they are a plagiaristic clone of Agalloch, even their music sounds fresh and has even the smallest semblance of emotion in it. FUCK, I was so looking forward to hearing their new work because it's been 4 years, but this steaming pile of horseshit is all I get in return.

Agalloch-Marrow Of The Spirit - 69%

marblez, January 5th, 2011

Agalloch is probably one of the better bands to have broken out from the American metal scene in recent years. Their music is an interesting blend of styles, some of the most dominant being black metal, neo-folk, doom metal, and post-rock. I tend to call it atmospheric black metal, but that isn't really a good description, as it neglects many aspects of the music. It's really something you have to just listen to and make up your own mind. However, it should be noted that the band very much invokes an atmosphere of nature, especially of the American northwest(the band is from Portland). This atmosphere has been present on all past releases, and is still present on "Marrow Of The Spirit"

The album itself almost immediately defines itself as different from other Agalloch releases from the start. The opening track "They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness" is three minutes of cellos over a sample of a running river. The next track incorporates a lot of extreme metal drumming(it opens with a blast beat), which was already something the band didn't really utilize. John's black metal rasp is very echoey, but somehow sounds harsher here, whereas before it could be described as a harsh whisper. "The Watcher's Monolith" reminds me of "Fire Above Ice Below" from the previous album in pacing and melody, something I liked very much.

"Black Lake Nidstang" is my least favourite track here. It developes a little slowly, and despite having some nice melodies, I thought it was a lot longer than it really should have been. However, after that comes "Ghost Of The Midwinter Fires", my favourite song here. It has a very consistent feeling and developes around the central motif from the start, in a similar way to "Not Unlike The Waves". It seems to develope naturally, giving the band lots of different melodies to play with and place around the song. There is another blast beat hear, and it works extremely well. "To Drown" closes off the record very slowly and drearily, featuring alot of ambient noise throughout. Towards the end, you can hear the guitars playing the melody from "They Escaped..." as the track fades into noise and then into silence. A great ending.

However, I'm going to say that this is Agallochs worst album. While by no means a particularly bad one, many parts seem rather lackluster, and most of the songs don't quite grab you in the way that the other albums did. The production is also worth mentioning. Apparently, it was recorded on analog equipment instead of digital, giving it a murky sound. While the tone works well for the atmosphere, the guitars sound rather flat and powerless. There are also more than a few moments where everything seems to get mushed together rather messily. I can't say I hate it, and it has grown on me since I first listened to it. However, it is not without some glaring problems, and I would really recommend "Pale Folklore" and "Ashes Against The Grain" very heavily for newcomers to this band.

Metal album of 2010? - 98%

ProjectDissection, January 1st, 2011

Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit
Profound Lore Records - November 2010
By Jason Wick

By this day and age we’re used to the presence of acts in metal using strong atmosphere within their otherwise ‘heavy’ craft in order to amplify feelings they wish to convey. We can largely thank exploration within Black Metal, Folk, and Progressive acts for it reaching the point it has within the last decade. One of the bigger players in this ‘Dark Metal’ genre has been Agalloch.

Since the bands first release From Which Of This Oak, Agalloch has effectively been infusing sonic and organic elements in their music to create ambient, expansive music that can fully grip the listener with emotion. In their 2010 release Marrow of the Spirit we witness an evolved, fine tuned venture into similarly distraught terrain. While this album holds onto an undeniable musical signature long forged by these Portland Oregon natives, it also stands as its own separate entity.

On this album we’re treated to a more aggressive approach to the Agalloch formula. Clean vocals are mostly kept to whispers, and acoustics are sparser than in previous releases, their presence in Marrow of the Spirit is largely that of support to the overall sound, opposed to having their own segments. Perhaps the most noticeable portion of the sound that has changed in this manner however is the percussion. The drums on this release brilliantly push the songs forward adding extra heft to transitions and highlighting the pinnacles in a variety of tracks.

With this new found bout of aggression, one may find my next statement odd; I believe this to be the most atmospherically charged release this group has offered us to date. Every moment intertwines beautifully with the next, etching a tale into the listener with the instruments alone. While each instrument in every passage of the album is performed with elegance and precision, Marrow of the Spirit is a prime example of how each and every role involved in a piece of music must work together towards an overall sound-scape in order to touch someone on the deepest level possible.

This record embraces such ideals fully, and in doing so it engulfs all who open themselves to it. Tension is built many times over in this release, and every single time Agalloch capitalizes on these feelings, shattering these passages unto new found paths. From the foreboding tones of Black Lake Nidstång standing nearly unmatched, to the stark portrait of To Drown, and the fierce struggle of Into The Painted Grey one can truly label Marrow of the Spirit as an experience, instead of merely an album.


- Originally posted by myself on Ultimate Metal. http://www.ultimatemetal.com/forum/reviews/642328-agalloch-marrow-spirit.html -

Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit - 90%

ConorFynes, December 28th, 2010

Four years after their last release 'Ashes Against The Grain,' Portland, Oregon based dark metal act Agalloch has finally crafted their long awaited follow-up. Admittedly being an existing, dedicated fan to the band's work, I have found myself consistently impressed by the act's mastery of aesthetic, and sincere ability to make profound, deeply moving and melancholic music. Having delved deep into Agalloch's latest opus, entitled 'Marrow Of The Spirit,' I can safely say that the band hasn't just created an album that will satisfy their salivating fanbase, but a challenging work of art that will certainly stand to be considered one of the band's highest achievements when all is said and done. While their established magnum opus 'The Mantle' may have a greater personal impact on me, never before has Agalloch sounded so dark, heavy, and ambitious as they do on 'Marrow.'

On their fourth full-length bout, Agalloch retains their trademark style of dark, atmospheric and nature-inspired metal, but as always, manages to tweak their sound to set the album apart from the others in their growing discography. While 'Pale Folklore' may be associated with black metal, 'The Mantle' with folk, and 'Ashes Against The Grain' with post-rock, 'Marrow Of The Spirit' is a bit harder to pin down. Perhaps this is because 'Marrow' incorporates equal aspects of each of these three genres in equal portions; in comparison to the other albums, there are segments here that sound like they could easily be on any previous Agalloch recording. What makes the album special is that these styles have been perfectly counter-balanced, so that while the record shares a common mood throughout, no convention of the act's sound is overused.

New to Agalloch's ensemble is the San Francisco based percussionist Aesop Dekker, who's introduction makes an audible difference in the band's sound. A drummer who evidently emphasizes power and aggression over subtlety, Dekker's heavy and no-frills approach to the rhythm gives the band a much heavier and looming sound, whereas the band generally lacked the heaviness typically associated with extreme metal, in albums before.

The album begins with 'They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness;' a calming yet haunting cello piece from guest musician Jackie Perez Gratz, a name that may be familiar through her membership in the avant-garde metal group Grayceon. Over the faint babbling of water and ambient birdsong, Gratz immediately lulls the listener into the vibe of the album; that of darkness, melancholy and haunting beauty. While not remarkable so much as a composition, Jackie's performance is heartfelt, and provides a perfect contrast to the second track on the album, which immediately follows.

'Into The Painted Grey' is without a doubt, the heaviest and most aggressive performance Agalloch has ever churned out. Straight from the mellow cello passages of the album's intro, the music erupts into a fury of fastpicked guitarwork and a wallop of blastbeats. As the unrelenting energy just starts to get overwhelming, everything abates to make way for an atmospheric mellower section of constantly morphing pitch harmonies that slowly builds towards the main section of the track. This track really reminds the listener that at their heart, Agalloch are a black metal band, and this track rings closer to the core elements of the genre than anything they've released in the past. For all of its heaviness though, there is still a great deal of melodic presence here, although it might sound hidden beneath the layers of distortion at first. The force here is undeniable, and while things for from here on will be more mellow, 'Into The Painted Grey' sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the album.

Next up is 'The Watcher's Monolith,' which was leaked before the general release of the album, possibly under the guise of a 'single.' If 'Into The Painted Grey' reflected the black metal sound of 'Pale Folklore,' then 'Watcher's Monolith' does the same for the folk leanings of 'The Mantle.' Featuring acoustic guitars strumming behind soaring post-rock derived lead melodies and John Haughm's existential growls, this dark foray is the most akin to their historical material as anything you'll find on 'Marrow.' As my introduction to the new set of Agalloch material, I found myself greatly satisfied first hearing this track, but it pales in comparison to the behemoth that follows.

Having arguably become the most anticipated aspect of the album, the seventeen minute long 'Black Lake Nidstång' has been made out to be 'the definition of epic' by others who have already heard it. While popular opinion isn't always the most justified, this track certainly lives up to the hype it's been getting, and more. An epic, lumbering hymn of doom metal, 'Black Lake Nidstång' is the greatest , most ambitious project the band has ever set to do, possibly only coming in second behind the perfect 'In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion,' from the sophomore. With a band like Agalloch, one obviously cannot expect a multi-part, dynamic suite in the conventional sense, but a carefully drawn out composition that takes ample time to get going. The track as a whole is immense; each note is given ample time to give the most profound emotional impact, and devastates the listener with the impending feeling of doom the track so effectively conveys. After following a doom metal formula for much of the track's length, 'Black Lake Nidstång' then takes a much unexpected turn into the realm of electronics, creating a beautifully crafted soundscape, before the final crushing finale. Suffice to say, 'Black Lake Nidstång' is hyped for a very good reason; it fits perfectly into the whole of 'Marrow' as it's proud centerpiece, and blows away even a listener like myself, who was already expecting great things from Agalloch's latest release.

While following an epic of such proportion is never an easy task, 'Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires' succeeds in providing a great experience all its own. As the last of three 'conventional' Agalloch tracks (the first two being 'Into The Painted Grey' and 'Watcher's Monolith,') this is without a doubt, the least challenging part of the album and easiest to enjoy. Beginning with the surreal strumming of a rhythm guitar, the track progresses in much the same way as a work from contemporary dark metal act Alcest would; dreamy, heavily doused in post-rock atmosphere, with a hint of black metal heaviness here and there. Although the darker pieces have since outweighed this one in terms of my personal enjoyment, this was easily my favourite track upon my first few listens to the record. 'Ghost Of The Midwinter Fires' would be a perfect track for an as-yet uninitiated listener to get into the band with.

Closing off the album is the sombre 'To Drown.' Compared to the rest of the album, this is a very subtle piece; being driven again by Jackie's dark cello flourishes. Going in a direction that sounds like a darker version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the song is patched with the unsettling whisper vocals of John Haughm, and some lead work that feels a bit too engaged for the terms of such a mellow track. Sharing a very similar sound palette to the introduction of the album, this track is inherently less interesting than those that preceeded it due to its very mellow, almost ambient nature. In any case, the climax of the song sees the cello work of Gratz finally taking a more structured form, leading the listener out of the album's experience and back into silence.

There's no denial that 'Marrow Of The Spirit' is a monster of a work; a thick and towering beast that takes quite a few listens to really sink in. Like all of Agalloch's music, there is a great deal of atmosphere here, as well as a forlorn and existential worldview that certainly won't be brightening one's spirits anytime soon. While being so excited and eager to listen to an album can very abundantly lead to disappointment, 'Marrow Of The Spirit' comes only a shard away from reaching the perfection that 'The Mantle' achieved, and for once, despite my anticipation, my expectations have all been exceeded.

It Lost Some Points Cause it had a Hotwheel On It - 90%

serial_killer_miller, December 6th, 2010

I guess you could say I came across Agalloch later rather than sooner. Considering the fact that I heard Ashes Against the Grain in 2009. that not withstanding, I was immediately drawn by the complexity of the music and the elegance with which the band blended the genres of black and folk metal. It also didn't hurt that I was able to get the album from a used CD store for $5.00. I will admit that my wait for a new Agalloch album was not as long as most. However; I was anxious to see what they would offer as a follow up. Enter: Marrow of the Spirit. If this review was solely based on the album title I would have given 100 %. After all the oxymoron of a spirit having bone marrow is worth a chuckle! It also has to be the most original album title of 2010 by a mile!

Also seeing that Decibel Magazine had this album rated as the top metal release of 2010 gave me all the more reason to give this album a spin. First, I would like to state that for the most part I agree with them. The sound of flowing water and a haunting violin provides a surreal backdrop for how the experience of listening to the album is going to be for the listener and that is just plain brilliant!

While making my way through the album I did notice one striking difference between this album and Ashes Against the Grain, which was the aggression on Marrow of the Spirit. The songs sound faster and the vocals lean more towards the black metal side of Agalloch as opposed to the folk. However; they do add in some excellent clean folk metal vocals in a few of the songs as well, so listeners expecting that do not be afraid to give this album a fair chance.

There are also many instances where clean and acoustic guitars are used and I feel that they do a great job accenting the heavier riffs and adding to the atmosphere of the record. Couple that with some driving drumming and you have yourself some nicely crafted songs.

Now there are two aspects of this album that I feel drag it down a little: The first is that the production takes away from the listening experience. In some of the songs it appears that the instruments overpower the vocals, taking away from the songs. Also, the guitars seem to overpower the drums at points on the album as well. It would not hurt to add some clean bass lines in some of the songs to give it a little more substance.

The second issue I have is with the length of the songs. There is nothing wrong with having songs that exceed 10 minutes, but some of the riffs seem to over do it a little. After all this is not a funeral doom record. I feel that this album is worthy of a lot of praise however; there are some areas that Agalloch can improve upon. However; this just makes me anticipate the next offering from Agalloch because I am sure it will impress!

To drown in the weight of their darkness. - 100%

Stonebearer, December 6th, 2010

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!

Entirely Deserving of All the Critical Acclaim - 100%

FullMetalAttorney, December 3rd, 2010

The difficult-to-classify Oregonian band Agalloch just released their fourth full-length, Marrow of the Spirit. Upon first listen, it's easy to see why it takes them four years to release an album, as there is a lot going on and every note is obviously given careful consideration.

If you're unfamiliar with the band, it's tough to explain their unique approach. There are elements of folk metal and black metal in here, and it's all depressing music, similar in a lot of ways to an understated version of Primordial. But none of their influences are too obvious. It's also clearly a sound derived from spending time in a lonely forest: They've incorporated nature into the music (including night insects and stream sounds), which sounds like a corny idea until you hear how convincingly it's done.

The tracks are appropriately long, because musically, they cover a lot of ground. A case could be made that they're a progressive metal band. Several tracks include some relatively straight-forward black metal, but it always comes off as depressing rather than aggressive, and it never lasts too long. Often, a minimal, distorted rhythm section provides the backdrop for interesting leads, provided by electric or acoustic guitar, or maybe even cello or piano. Vocals can be whispered, rasped, or clean.

Other times, the bass provides the melody, or there's some synthesizer weirdness taking over the whole song, or sustained discordant notes could be played over ominous drumming. And that's just "Black Lake Nidstång".

But despite the variety within the songs, they each have a melodic theme holding them together, usually a high-pitched clean melody repeated in different ways throughout. Sometimes (like on "Into the Painted Grey") there are two melodies going at the same time, to startlingly powerful effect.

Marrow of the Spirit provides the rare marriage of atmosphere and memorable music. Every track is emotionally powerful, and makes you feel as if you're the one sitting in the woods, dealing with unbearable grief. But the melodies will stick with you just as much as the mood, giving it a lasting impact.

The Verdict: Agalloch have proven once again how much they deserve critical acclaim. Obviously, this isn't for thrash maniacs, but if you keep an open mind, and allow yourself to be taken in, you won't regret taking this journey.

originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/

The snow falls again - 95%

Xyrth, December 3rd, 2010

Like many of my metal brothers and sisters out there, I have been waiting for four years to listen to yet another masterpiece by mighty Agalloch. Many of us knew Portland’s finest wouldn’t disappoint, but it was impossible for anyone to knew beforehand exactly how would a new Agalloch album sound like. Would it be more folk-infused, like the superb 2002 release The Mantle? Or would it reverberate with melancholic electric soundscapes like the splendid 2006 Ashes Against the Grain? Or perhaps it would be enshrouded in a thicker black metal gown like their magnificent 1998 debut Pale Folklore? Well, the answer to that question has finally been revealed to us. Marrow of the Spirit stands alone as a unique yet familiar work of art more than worthy of bearing Agalloch’s name and it would surely please fans of old as well as gather new followers of this amazing band.

Winter’s cold embrace, nature’s purity and beauty, and darkness of both mind and soul continue to be the main inspirations for Agalloch’s lyrical offerings but the first thing you will notice while listening to this album is the production. Is not as polished as their two previous albums, and that might result in some complaints and bitching from some fans. However it has a natural, rawer quality in it and for other people, like black metal fans, and especially those who complain Agalloch’s music is too smooth for a band bearing extreme metal traits, it will be a plus. For me it is, adding an appropriate, colder atmosphere to the album.

John Haughm and the boys are always perfectionists and take care of every little detail. They always have a clear vision of the exact ambiance they want to give to their music, and the same is true for this particular album. So, despite the production you’ll clearly hear the sound of running water, insect noises and the blowing wind as if you were right there in the middle of the frozen woods, as these guys intended, while the guitars, bass and especially the drums have a muddier, thicker tone, a more abstract representation of winter and darkness.

The album opens with a calm introductory piece called “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness” a three-minute instrumental slowly driven by melancholic strings. So they escaped, but we surely won’t as the next track bursts into our eager ears with thundering force. “Into the Painted Gray” we go! The second, twelve-minute track displays an aggression we hadn’t heard in an Agalloch record probably since “I am the Wooden Doors” from The Mantle. It starts with a thrashing and speedy section that suddenly gives way to sad post-rockish melodies, and then the song evolves into classic Agalloch; doom metal riffs backed up with acoustic passages. However the speedy section returns for most part of the track with fast melodic riffing atop, reminding me the recent USBM band Krallice and its brand of melodic avant-garde black metal. The rhythmic section shines on this one.

“The Watcher’s Monolith” is another monumental track. John Haughm was inspired to compose this track by an ancient traditional purification ritual he partook himself whilst being ill in Europe. Here we listen for the first time in the album his signature sorrowful clean vocals as well as some of his ethereal whispers. It’s a mellower and slower song than its predecessor on this album yet its just as powerful and enthralling, and it does have its share of fast parts. The song ends with the sound of crickets and other nocturnal insects.

Fourth track is the colossal “Black Lake Nidstång”, arriving with pounding percussion and layers of atmospheric sounds. This seventeen-minute behemoth slowly builds up from its wintry slumber to a slow guitar driven melody as Haughm’s whispers turn into tortured screams. Then, more than past its half length, the track turns into a post-rock infused atmospheric piece, in the vein of their White EP, than keeps evolving as different sounds come and go, ‘til a black metal shriek suddenly erupts and the song progressively intensifies as the drums, bass and guitars increases pace to a majestic finale.

After the somber epic, a more accessible tune arrives, probably the most accessible in the whole album. “Ghost of the Midwinter Fires” starts like a heavier version of The Cure with a touch of early Theatre of Tragedy (particularly the melodies of their second album, Velvet Darkness They Fear come to mind). While the past songs have a more The Mantle vibe with acoustic sparks here and there, this fifth track is more akin to AATG, a cascade of electric splendor. It does increase pace and drummer Aesop Dekker proves his worth with his amazing performance, which adds a lot more aggression and dynamism to Agalloch’s style.

Final track, “To Drown” is a somber and distorted dirge, almost entirely instrumental in its ten minutes. It showcases the return of the string section, albeit in an even more melancholic manner than on the first track. Indeed, Haughm mentions in his whispered voice the title of the first track, ceremoniously narrating:

“They escaped the weight of darkness
to forge a path into the marrow of the spirit
They chose to drown in a deeper vacancy
an emptyness that quells the null
A pool for the forgotten.”

Through the course of the song the strings acquire a faster rhythm to the point of frenetic dissonance. The classical percussions reappear and a cyclical repetition of more melodic interludes with deranged distortion lead the final song of this dark tour de force to its conclusion. However, though it has an eclectic display of influences and experimentation, this is perhaps the weakest track on the album, mirroring the way Ashes Against the Grain finishes too, with a long, experimental and a bit unfocused track. Though, I do think “To Drown” is way better and more interesting than the lackluster third part of “Our Fortress is Burning”.

Agalloch states again that they’re a force to be reckoned with, an unparalleled and original band producing a unique form of metal. Their particular sound cannot be fully categorized by a single label or genre. Its not black metal, doom, neo-folk nor post-rock, but it incorporates several key elements from them. Dark metal is the term John Haughm has been quoted to describe their sound, and dark as the winter it is indeed. But whatever you want to call it, this is highly recommended. Definitely one of my 2010 top five.

Where’s The Tonkatsu, Agalloch Sensei? - 19%

OzzyApu, November 23rd, 2010

This band was never full on black metal, or full on folk, or full on rock, but what they did manage to blend either formally or informally we took and accepted because they were good at it. I have no major issues with the previous three albums (I could give less than a fuck about their other releases) since they all have character, style, or some form of identity created by lush atmosphere and engrossing tunes, riffs, melodies, and so on. Hardly any of those apply here, as Marrow Of The Spirit to me is a self-hating album. It has two distinct forms – “black” metal and rock – both marred by mediocre songwriting and a dull production job. This job is so thin and lifeless that a speckle of snow would cause more emotions to stir within me. Listening to this isn’t an intimidating or enthralling session, and no song all the way through captures me in the moment or in any state aside from boredom. Not to mention that nearly all of these songs linger near or surpass ten minutes and clock this mess passed the hour mark, making this a grueling affair that eats away time as if it were a part of my body.

It’s almost as if these guys were working backwards, took a detour, and found themselves on the edge of a cliff with a limited number of resources to get them out of said rut. This is kind of a throwback to the debut album, but that album had a warming charm whereas this one keeps going and going without any lasting power. The elements exist, but whether leisurely moody or insistently incessant, there’s no vigor in any of it. Other times the band members just flat out suck at what they’re doing. Take lead figure John Haughm, whom I’ve never heard sound this bad and completely out of touch with how he kept me interest in his vocals. He sings in two styles (for newcomers or the unaware), one in an angry-teen hiss / scream, and another as airy-yet-yawning chanting. Although the former is a form of harsh vocals and the latter is a form of clean singing, this is his least motivated performance of the two; it might just be signs of me moving beyond the mentality that he’s a good vocalist. Seriously, the harsh vocals have hardly any supremacy whatsoever, and “hiss” is the closest I can describe it because he’s just harsh-talking while accentuating the end of sentences like he’s purring. The singing (or whispers, at times) is the same sort of relaxing yawns that were alluring on Ashes Against The Grain, but here he sounds desiccated and monotonous, especially when considering the extraordinarily bland (by Agalloch standards) background music going on.

Regarding this background music, and after hearing their last album, these guys know how to write some post-rock tunes. You can hear moments like this interspersed in “Black Lake Nidstång” and especially during the first and last three minutes of “Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires”; to me it makes up the best parts of the album – it’s that good, and it’s what Agalloch were missing as the core of this album. The blissful, gloomy hum of the guitars and earthy rumble of bass with spirited drumming gets scolded by the brainless snare bonks, submerged bass grumbles, and static riffs during the heavier sections. The genuine post-rock moments are the minority (in the sense that the heavier moments are the focus of the album), yet they show the band most capable of actually playing something I can enjoy and get hooked on. Often I’ll skip through songs just to hear these moments. When it comes to everything else, it either sounds unexciting, half-assed, sloppy, or annoying (is all that blasting in “Into The Painted Grey” really necessary?) riff-wise, lead-wise, vocally, with the drumming, or structurally (abrupt or awkward transitions, poor use of certain instruments, etc.).

Hark! But the rock bits I love are actually featured more on this album, aren’t they? Even the last song, is nothing but a semi ambi-noise tune much like the last track from Ashes Against The Grain. Sure, but while that song was a sonic sleeper, this one is a meandering, overly-long, overly-uninteresting collage of shit. None of what’s played in that song is even remotely listenable as that thin lead rides a bunch of sluggish passages involving fireside acoustics, a useless cello, and a ruckus of noise (oh wait, let’s not forget the sound clip of ocean waves coming ashore at the end). What a horribly pointless track, much like the worthless intro trying to push the same concept at the start of the album. It doesn’t go on for ten minutes, but it’s still just tedious cello playing followed by a wave sound clip with absolutely no verve at all.

Lastly (to bring this full circle), that production is the one bringing everything down more than anything. Honestly, I can’t argue with the textured riffs and expansive tone protruded on Ashes Against The Grain, but here we get bisected, poorly amplified, wish-washy riffs or piercing leads, both of which sound off-key to me, even in the good moments I mentioned. The bass burps and grumbles somewhat, but it isn’t very coherent aside from the booms so don’t expect to follow it. Could it be the quality of the track that I have? Maybe, but I definitely don’t need vinyl to get that much of a difference. The drumming can go toward bouncy and dusty or pounding and charged, although they’re still stuck with the plastic (bass drum aside) mixing. I hear consistent drumming through some of the songs, though nothing fast or complicated, which is fine, too. Then again, what does it matter when the limp songwriting brings it down?

“To each his own” is a phrase with one meaning, yet Marrow Of The Spirit will be interpreted differently for every listener. A lot can happen in four years, and in music it becomes strictly numbers between albums without counting all the experiences that happen to everyone. In the Agalloch camp they went from a richly toned rock album to a bony, half-thought, impartial decommission of their established sound. They try to keep the metal which was small yet properly inserted last time, but the lack of really good songwriting and this dry production absolutely kill this labor-intensive effort. Better luck next time, boys?