The Horns Up Top 10: Agalloch

agalloch

Agalloch is, without a doubt, the most important band in my library. With an extremely progressive, blackened folk metal style and lyrical themes based around nature and human failure, they are everything I could ever ask for in a band. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them live on several occasions and managed to get them to sign a copy of Marrow of the Spirit on vinyl at a festival back in 2012. It’s my favorite piece of memorabilia.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is, a Top 10 list from me was a long time coming. Believe it or not, they’ve been around for two decades at this point and have been producing masterpiece after masterpiece throughout. So, without further delay, let’s take a look at my favorites from the Portland natives…

Side note: this list was really, really, hard to come up with, and I was forced to leave out far too many “honorable mentions.” So if something isn’t on here that should be, rest assured…I can guarantee it was probably damn close.

“I Am the Wooden Doors” (from The Mantle, 2002)

Make no mistake, there will be more appearances from this album to come. This is easily one of the highlights. It all starts with how the percussion yields to the guitar tremolos. No question, it’s the most upbeat track on The Mantle, but don’t let that deceive you. It is every bit as melancholy as each preceding and succeeding track on here. Oh, and the clean vocals about midway though? Brilliance.

“Our Fortress is Burning… II – Bloodbirds” (from Ashes Against the Grain, 2006)

And of course, the next song I want to discuss is the epic second piece to the three-part masterpiece that is Our Fortress is Burning. “Bloodbirds” was, for a period of time, the conclusion to most sets for Agalloch. As a result, it’s an emotionally powerful buildup, especially lyrically, as John Haughm pours the entirety of his soul into this song… starting with “the God of man is a failure” at the outset. The leads are set to match, making this song overwhelmingly epic.

“Hallways of Enchanted Ebony” (from Pale Folklore, 1999)

Agalloch’s first full length album was a memorable one, as they introduced a sound that they would later develop in a number of different tangents over the years to come. Within that debut was this incredibly sobering track. As the leads and rhythms gallop along for the better part of ten minutes, we’re taken to a place of sorrow and depression. The production is just raw enough to enhance the overall feeling of the album, and specifically this track, without ever losing touch with the incredibly moving intricacies of the musicianship.

“In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion” (from The Mantle, 2002)

This album hits me every time in ways I can’t even describe, and it all starts here. This is the album that brought Agalloch into my life and this is the song drove it home. Nearly 15 minutes of everything I love in metal…nihilism, the environment, and self-sacrifice. There may not be a more moving track in Agalloch’s discography. It’s the grandiose personality their music takes both lyrically and instrumentally that makes this band so impressive, and this is the prime example.

“Celestial Effigy” (from The Serpent & The Sphere, 2014)

Ah, the latest release from Agalloch finally makes an appearance. This is the first track any of us ever heard off of their latest effort, and with good reason. The song’s cadence is similar to much of the band’s early work. But one of the things I love about the new record is the doomier take on their sound, which gives us a unique new form of depth. The production on this album is also worth noting, as they find a way to keep the sound naturally organic without losing any technicality.

“Not Unlike the Waves” (from Ashes Against the Grain, 2006)

How could I not include the song about the aurora borealis? Honestly, the only thing wrong with this song is the fact that Agalloch made a music video for it…and stripped about four minutes of worthy content. Otherwise, it’s just about perfect. It’s beautifully powerful musically, and just gives its listener an overall feeling of insignificance…which is a good thing, if you were wondering. Oh, and the way it all builds for almost three minutes before giving way to Haughm’s impressively held “aurora” is just mesmerizing.

“Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation” (from The Serpent & The Sphere, 2014)

The opening track from the newest album is an absolute journey. Covering over ten minutes, it gives us a deliberate pace coupled with those infamous whisper screams that meanders along before claiming with authority that we have only begun to experience that this album has to offer. All in all, it’s a subtle, drawn-out rise and fall, but a captivating one nonetheless. It’s a bit of a new way for these guys to open an album, but it works.

“You Were But a Ghost in My Arms” (from The Mantle, 2002)

Another highlight from Agalloch’s sophomore full-length. The way the introductory leads meet with the incredibly punishing percussion is something special. Not to mention this is one of the better vocal performances in the discography, thanks in part to the more frequent clean singing. Much like the lyrical content, the music is hauntingly and beautifully heavy. Focusing on an inability to cope with loss, it’s a track that will surely resonate for some time.

“Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires” (from Marrow of the Spirit, 2010)

Yes, I am going to close with two tracks from this album. What is it about “Ghosts” that makes it so entrancing, though? Is it the way the guitar melodies? Is it how borderline dreamlike they are, as they ominously ebb and flow in a wonderfully repetitious manner? In part, yes. But it’s the way all the other musical elements tie back to this theme that make it so impressive. This song ws a fixture of many Agalloch sets over the years, and I can clearly see why.

“Into the Painted Grey” (from Marrow of the Spirit, 2010)

Marrow of the Spirit is definitely the darkest album Agalloch has put out to date, but it’s also the most natural in sound. Wasting no time, “Grey” explodes out of the gate before eventually rising and falling in both pace and overall weight for some 12 minutes. The vicious cadence of Aesop Dekker’s percussion coupled with arguably the most diverse series of leads Agalloch has ever presented combines to form one of the more impressive tracks you’ll ever hear across genres. I couldn’t see myself concluding this list with any other track.

The Horns Up Top 10 on Spotify

I said it before and I’ll say it again: there are a number of songs that could have easily made this list. Agalloch has done something special over the course of the last two decades in the way they’ve redefined the black and folk metal genres. They’ve created a sound that is their very own, and they continue to masterfully produce album by album. They’re the most important band in my library for a reason.

“Ein Bier… bitte.”

– Corey

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up. 

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