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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.