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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.

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