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Easy Listening Black Metal??? - 75%

ReverseTracheotomy, December 8th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Eisenwald (Digipak)

I'm not overly familiar with Agalloch's discography, but it seems that Pillorian will be a continuation of their music with a more direct black metal style. Obsidian Arc strikes me as folk metal meets black metal and atmospheric doom metal. There's moments of high-speed ferocity and dissonance and others that are more tranquil and acoustic. I will say one of my favorite things about this album and Agalloch's sound as well is the frequent inclusion of acoustic guitars. Its difficult to pull off but a really cool style when bands manage to have an acoustic or clean guitar in unison with distorted guitar and faster sections. The clean singing on The Vestige of Thorns pleasantly surprised me as well. It was a nice touch and wasn't overdone, just blending in really well like most of the album seems to do. The only complaint I think I could raise is that this album flows almost to well. Each song is uniquely its own but perhaps not quite enough.

All in all its a pretty great record. I enjoyed the sound of it a lot. Its relieving to hear some more black metal style albums that don't make your head hurt after half of a listen. I truly enjoy the sound and the style of black metal but there are more than a few records that achieve an awesome wall of sound but can be taxing to listen to. The recording quality is pretty good as well. The production seems to have been more stripped back to have a more classic black metal feel but again its was done correctly. Having a gritter, darker sound without just have disgustingly saturated guitars and a really piercing sound. I'd recommend giving this album a listen, it has a cool sound and style and is mostly written by a guy who pioneered this sort of style.

shoot at hurricane irma - 77%

RapeTheDead, September 6th, 2017

My anticipation for this album can only be described as "bittersweet". Agalloch is an all-time favorite band of mine and were extremely crucial in shaping my musical tastes as a teen, so I was obviously saddened by their less-than-amicable split. However, it was kind of like cutting off a hydra head in that two new bands spawned in the wake of the decapitation. The other three members formed Khorada, and Haughm recruited some American black metal aficionados to make Pillorian, Obsidian Arc being the resulting album. It's nice because we get some new music quicker than we would have if Agalloch had stayed together, but you also wonder if the offspring will lose the unique combination of elements that made the parent band special. John Haughm is one of my favorite musicians, but it seems like he really screwed over the other guys in splitting up the band (based on what I've read). There's just too many mixed messages going on here, and when you put it all together it makes it hard for me to listen to Obsidian Arc objectively. Just know that going into this.

All else set aside, you can tell that Pillorian is the kind of music Haughm has always wanted to make. The songs on Obsidian Arc are much more unitary and focused than anything Agalloch ever wrote and all seems to have a similar end goal. It seems like this is what Haughm would have always been doing if he had full creative control. That's not to downplay the contributions of the other two members; there's a sense of bite reminiscent of Uada and Mgla in the faster, more aggressive moments, and Trevor Matthews brings in his own smooth, rolling feel to black metal drumming. That being said, I'm assuming that Haughm has a bit more pull on the musical direction of Pillorian simply based on how immediately his melodic style shines through. His triumphant, wandering leads and rich, melancholic black metal riffing are often made to be the focal point. Also, he handles all vocals and lyrics, with the linear, narrative vocal style he's developed being brought over from his previous band without much change. The prominence of Haughm's influence is by no means a bad thing, but something about Obsidian Arc feels a little bit rushed. I mean, this did come out pretty soon after Agalloch's demise. Either the band managed to form, have chemistry and write together remarkably quickly, or Haughm had a lot of these ideas up his sleeve already. You can almost feel how badly he wanted to get some music out there before Khorada.

I'm trying my best not to let my perceptions of Agalloch's breakup color my judgement of Pillorian, but honestly, the songs on Obsidian Arc still lack diversity and rely on the same sort of tricks a lot even when taken on its own terms. There's too many lush, climactic moments and not as many of the huge, winding buildups that make those moments so special. After a while, it just forms an indistinguishable sea of drifting clean guitar melodies with a lot of delay occasionally breaking tension from a series of slick, rolling, melodic black metal riffs that sound...folky, without being folk metal. It's a cool style, one that I greatly enjoy, but at this point in time, that brand of black metal is more the norm than the exception. Fact of the matter is, even though Haughm played a huge part in pioneering American black/folk, it seems as though the teacher is becoming the student. Pillorian simply lacks the dynamics in songwriting and the extra little quirks to make them stand out from their peers...that is, until you get to "Dark is the River of Man". That song is...wow. It utilizes a slower, cleaner approach to the band's sound, and I know Haughm was never the greatest clean singer, but somehow it all comes together on that one magical closer. It's a bit of a curveball comapred to the rest of the album, and it makes me long for Pillorian to change up their approach a little bit more often than they do. "Forged Iron Crucible" has a bit more going on in it, but those two songs are vastly superior in quality to the rest of the album. The remainder of Obsidian Arc isn't necessarily unlistenable. If anything, it's so easy on the ears that there isn't a whole lot that stands out.

I enjoy this album a fair deal, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed by it at all. It's competent, well executed and even genuinely amazing in fits and starts, but it lacks that X-factor that staples songs into my brain. Aside from a couple of moments of shining glory, Haughm's unique muse can't carry the album on its own, and the fact remains that it just doesn't feel like there were as many cooks in the kitchen as you got in Agalloch's albums. Trevor Matthews is a great drummer, but he tends to follow the riffs a bit too closely. The drum patterns always seem to change at the same time the riffs change. I'm not too familiar with the other projects of Stephen Parker, but the rare moments where he seems to be showcased don't do much outside of Haughm's pre-approved mold of black metal. When Agalloch was still together, I found myself longing for them to incorporate more aggression and black metal into their music - I guess I shoulda been careful what I wished for.

Flowers blooming upon a recent grave. - 81%

ConorFynes, April 27th, 2017

If you've ever lost someone dear to you and return to the gravesite often enough, it can be incredibly profound to come back and see something growing on the gravesite. A flowing blooming aside a gravestone doesn't salve the loss, but it does, if anything, prove there is beauty to behold in virtually any situation. Obsidian Arc is one such bloom.

It does not seem so long ago I woke up one morning to learn that Agalloch had broken up. I had been of the mind that The Serpent & the Sphere showed the band's creative momentum slowing down, but news of the loss was nonetheless tough to hear. This was a band I'd had so much to thank for. The summer days spent listening to The Mantle. The joy hearing Ashes Against the Grain and seeing them live for the first time. Most significantly of all, I'd arguably have Agalloch to thank for breaking me into the worlds of neofolk and post-industrial music. I interviewed Don Anderson a couple of years back the last time they toured through Vancouver. I remember Don making the remark that he considered it a tertiary gal of theirs to hopefully open up their metalcentrist fans to new pastures as it were. I can say with certainty that Agalloch offered that and far more to me.

It felt necessary to begin a review of John Haughm's new Pillorian project by eulogizing its antecedent. Of course, Pillorian is just one of two de facto continuations, and this schism has brought to mind a longstanding notion that Agalloch were so successful because they highlighted each member's personality and interests. In that sense, they really were the Beatles of dark metal. It may have been technically Haughm's band, insofar as legalities were concerned, but the real magic happened because everyone stood out. Haughm's brooding black metal was perfectly complimentary with Don's eclectic influences and JWW's predilection for the avant-garde. Even the late addition of Aesop Dekker's punkish energy livened up the band in a fresh, exciting way.

Keeping the Beatles analogy going, I guess Pillorian counts as Agalloch's Wings. In any case, I'm not sure why I had initially low expectations for this album. Even the news that Stephen Parker, and Trevor Matthews from Uada were rounding out this new incarnation didn't seem to stir me much. Looking back, I'm not sure why. Even if I hadn't been much into The Serpent & the Sphere, I knew not to expect that collaborative magic I heard on Agalloch. Indeed, Obsidian Arc seems much more the vision of John Haughm alone. To my surprise however, I actually like the Pillorian debut a lot more than the last Agalloch LP. It's not quite the monument needed to mend the loss, but hearing that signature sound in a darker, more grounded subtext has proved a real joy to behold.

Pillorian is best described as a purification of one of the visions that made Agalloch great. That's not to say that Obsidian Arc sounds particularly narrower in scope, but the style isn't all over the place like before. Darkly melodic black metal still finds wingmates in the expected Ulver folk trappings and doomy resonance. It's inevitably less challenging of a listen to be sure, but this consolidation more than makes up for it by the merit of its songwriting. Not since Ashes Against the Grain has Haughm's songwriting sounded so focused and sure of itself.

There were highlights here that instantly clambered their way to becoming some of my favourites of anything Haughm has touched. "By the Light of a Black Sun" sounds like a self-conscious nod to the days of Pale Folklore; I think I like it even more than anything on that album, and it's easily one of my most listened-to tracks of the year. The doom-fuelled "Archaen Divinity" impressed me just as much, but takes the opener's cinematic catharsis to far-darker drudges. "Dark is the River of Man" hit hard as well, rounding off the record with a slow, elegiac pulse befitting The Serpent & the Sphere's contemplative atmosphere. As the album ends, I get the resonant mental image of Pillorian observing the final rites as a pyre burns.

Obsidian Arc came into this world at a natural disadvantage. The obvious contexts and comparisons would have been unkind regardless of the album's quality. With the way a lot of people have been talking about Pillorian, it does appear like the wound of losing Agalloch hasn't had time to heal. With that said, I'm all the more excited that Pillorian happened so fast. It took this trio less than a year to follow a breakup with a new record. Despite that initial urge to see Pillorian like a Haughm solo project, Matthews and Parker have done a great job rounding out the band; with both having varied metal resumes, it's even hopeful we'll see a growing collaborative dynamic in future material.

Obsidian Arc came to be under less than cheerful circumstances, but it's only taken Pillorian this one album to convince me. If Agalloch were getting too creatively self-contained on the last album, maybe a schism did them good after all. I would never have predicted myself saying that, but the quality of this album makes it remarkably easy to feel optimistic. With equally excellent things soon to dawn from Pillorian's estranged sister band KhĂ´rada, I say we'll be in good hands musically for the coming while.

"The King is dead, long live the King" - 90%

RichardDeBenthall, March 30th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

A lot of internet ink has already been spilled regarding the messy divorce of Agalloch and the two bands, Pillorian and Khorada, which have risen from it's ashes. Regardless of where you sit in the ensuing Pillorian vs. Khorada debate, one thing seems to bring most commentators together; the feeling of loss at the demise of Agalloch, a singularly unique band, and a feeling of disappointment in their swansong LP 'The Serpent & The Sphere'.

Thus, I feel that the overall feeling towards John's new endeavor Pillorian was overall quite negative, especially in light of his ill worded but probably misconstrued words on Facebook. When Pillorian's 'Obsidian Arc' was announced, I'm pretty sure that everybody was expecting John Haughm to disappear so far up his own arse on this record that he'd have to be retrieved by an emergency enema, courtesy of the internet critic powers that be. Haughm has long been regarded as being too filled up with his own self importance and this, apparently proved by the events surrounding Agalloch's demise, surely set the stage for an ill-conceived, overindulgent and rushed album that would prove the righteousness of the Camp Don Anderson.

How surprising it was then when the two singles released from 'Obsidian Arc', 'Archean Divinity' and 'A Stygian Pyre' clearly showcased something which we hadn't seen from John in many years, anger. The two singles seethed with bitterness, writhing with swagger and hatred and taking the listener on a tour de force of inspired black metal. In fact most of the tracks on this record are surprisingly fast paced and angry and despite frequently referring back to those now legendary folk and post-rock moments, the overwhelming thing I take away from this record is that John Haughm is pissed off and he's got something to prove.

And boy, does he prove it. With Pillorian, I was expecting their debut to be something more akin to a continuation of 'The Serpent & The Sphere' mixed with the vibe of 'Pale Folklore'. That feeling of melancholy does surface at times during the record, but any wistfulness is washed away swiftly by the driving power of these rhythmic black metal riffs that I dare say we've never really heard from Haughm. The role that Stephen Parker (bass, guitars) and Trevor Matthews (drums) had in creating this record is somewhat unknown to me at this point. However, while this album is certainly different from anything Agalloch ever produced it still seems entirely haunted by Haughms presence on vocals on guitar. Safe to say however that the performance of the other two band members is exemplary with special note to Matthews, whose role behind the kit is key towards the aggressive and driving sound that permeates this record.

Despite the above, 'Obsidian Arc' does contain a surprising amount of variety and this helps pace the album well, making it an easy but journey for listener. Slightly slower tracks like 'By The Light Of A Black Sun' and 'Stygian Pyre' are nicely broken up by the faster songs 'Archean Divinity' and 'Forged Iron Crucible'. A pretty post-rock instrumental, which would feel at home on 'The Mantle' separates the rest of the album from the one true anomaly on this album, album closer 'Dark Is The River Man'. Only on this track does Haughm truly provide the listener with what could be considered a true Agalloch song. In a way, the likeness of this track to Agalloch's output seriously highlights how much of a singular role John had in their sound.

After every listen to this record I feel impressed. Not only have Pillorian exceeded my expectations, and I imagine a great many others if the Bandcamp reviews are anything to go by, but in my opinion they've managed to rival any album Agalloch brought out since their magnum opus 'The Mantle'. Will it equal the impending debut of Khorada? Another question for another time. In truth it doesn't really matter. Instead of another album from a band that was clearly deeply at odds with itself, we've got one great album from a fresh new band and the potential for another.

"The King is dead, long live the King!"

Better than Serpent and the Sphere, I Guess - 77%

Thumbman, March 18th, 2017

It seems that a lot of people were upset by Agalloch's messy public divorce, but if anything it got me excited. As far as break ups go, it could have been better; John being accused of some shady copyright shit by the rest of his bandmates, his now infamous "visionary" statement ect. While the breakup - largely fueled by John wanting to make the band a full time job and the other members being unable due to obligations with work and family - was not particularly amicable, the first thought in my head was great, the last Agalloch record showed the band in decline and now we'll get two good bands instead. While not horrible, The Serpent and the Sphere was hardly a triumphant swansong for Agalloch. Despite having a few excellent moments, it largely felt like the band was on autopilot and the chemistry between John and Don was clearly waning.

If you couldn't gather so much from my introductory paragraph, I find it impossible to view Pillorian (named after Absymal's towering slab of black/doom, The Pillorian Age) removed from the context of Agalloch. While John's "visionary" statement understandably rubbed people the wrong way, Agalloch was largely his brainchild and this really shows on Obsidian Arc. It would be wrongheaded to simply call this Agalloch 2.0 and leave it at that, but the similarities are there in spades. What he did was basically take the Agalloch sound and transpose it to a black metal setting. While Agalloch flirted with full on black metal with Marrow of the Spirit and leaped in headfirst with the Faustian Echoes EP, this goes further than "Faustian Echoes" or "Into the Painted Grey" ever did - even at their most black metal Agalloch incorporated an array of bells and whistles: prominent folk passages, post-rock sections, soaring guitar solos and the like. While Pillorian does flirt with folk elements it is much more in the background as opposed to an essential ingredient like with Agalloch. Although still somewhat melodic and atmospheric, Pillorian is a full on black metal band and is exponentially more riff-oriented than Agalloch ever were.

While Agalloch is unsurprisingly Pillorian's easiest point of comparison, there's more going on. One mildly unfortunate case is Uada, who drummer Trevor Matthews also plays in - who basically did a decent but not spectacular job at a friendlier and more streamlined Mgla (kind of wish Pillorian would just go directly to the source). There's a reasonable amount of homage to the second wave, even if it never gets as vicious. While much of the album is relatively samey, a few tracks do display a distinct flavour. "Stygian Pyre" subtly pays tribute to the dissonant faction of black metal and "Forged Iron Crucible" relies heavily on mid-era Immortal vibes. The one greatest standout is nine minute album closer "Dark is the River of Man". This is the only non-black metal song on the album (atmospheric interlude "The Sentient Arcanum" not withstanding) and is pure Agalloch. It effortlessly transplants a neo-folk aesthetic into a metal framework and also draws on the bittersweet romantic atmosphere of classic Peaceville death/doom. The songwriting towers above that of the rest of the album and even if this is clearly a nod to John's past in Agalloch, it stands up to some of their best work.

You know how I said I can't really view Pillorian outside of the context of Agalloch? That's one of the main reasons I view this as a minor disappointment. While it generally doesn't match the high points, it's much more consistent than The Serpent and the Sphere and ultimately a better album. But merely being a better album is faint praise seeing as Serpent was a massive disappointment. Obsidian Arc was released shortly after the breakup of Agalloch and if there's one thing to be said against it, it's that it feels a bit rushed. While it doesn't reach the same lows as "Vales Beyond Dimension" and "Plateau of the Ages", it suffers from the same major problem as Serpent - songwriting that's not particularly memorable. "Forged Iron Crucible" and "Dark is the River of Man" succeed in the songwriting department, but for the most part it feels like more effort could have gone into this facet of their sound. While still good, the rest of the songs don't have the same staying power as the two aforementioned highlights. The songwriting leads to another problem. Pillorian has demonstrated a much more limited scope than Agalloch, which is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. However, the songwriting isn't strong enough for them to truly shine with a more limited sound. While the occasional subtle leads were nice and all, I do have to admit I really miss the solos.

Since I don't want to come off as a complete curmudgeon, I'll touch on two more things I really dug about this. The production is fantastic. Recorded by Tad Doyle (an awesome musician in his own right), it is clear and organic enough for the subtle atmospheric touches to work their magic, but rough enough for the black metal to carry reasonable heft. The drum sound is particularly excellent, which brings me to my next point. Despite my grumblings about Uada, I'll be the first to say that Trevor is an excellent drummer. His playing in Uada was easily my favourite part of the debut, and he's even better here. He's not exactly Aesop Dekker, but honestly he's not particularly far behind. His playing is tight as fuck, displaying an excellent sense of rhythm and flow. He really knows how to work within the dynamics of the music and his fills are ungodly.

If this were a new band making their debut I'd be more or less impressed, but this still feels a bit weak for the one of the follow up bands of one of my favourite bands ever; the one who provided my gateway to black metal as a gangly teenager. John asserts that he unintentionally used awkward phrasing regarding the whole "visionary" fiasco, but this proves just how essential the rest of the guys were to Agalloch's finest moments - especially Don. If anything, this makes me think Don was the catalyst for a lot of Agalloch's more adventurous forays. Nevertheless, this is a solid first offering. I just hope the sophomore effort takes a few more risks and puts more effort into the songwriting.