Agalloch escapes the weight of darkness
By Gary Spencer
Photo: Agalloch will perform June 22 at Southgate House Revival in Newport, Ky.; photo: Veleda Thorsson
It doesn’t happen often enough, but once in a blue moon a musical artist emerges that transcends their respective genre and becomes something greater than simply another metal band. One such band is Portland quartet Agalloch.
Since the band’s formation in 1996, Agalloch has valiantly displayed their knack for weaving non-metal stylistic influences such as folk music, classical guitar, ambient music, pro rock and post-rock among the more immediately obvious sounds of black metal, doom and melodic death metal from which Agalloch had planted their musical roots. Perhaps because of this forward-thinking melding of seemingly disparate musical styles, Agalloch has managed to reach an audience beyond that of those in battle jackets and Burzum T-shirts. With these musical components at their command, Agalloch has taken the dark sonic aesthetics of extreme metal and turned them on their heads, creating a style of metal that evokes both light and dark, spirituality and aggression, life and death. It is this ability that has garnered Agalloch so much acclaim from fans and critics alike, both in and outside of the metal community at large.
“[Our audience] is actually mostly crossover,” Agalloch guitarist, songwriter and frontman John Haughm said. “We have met fans from almost every demographic and music scene.”
But you shouldn’t take that to mean Agalloch has forgotten where they came from; nor have they abandoned their heavy metal roots. One listen to their newest 60-minute opus, The Serpent and The Sphere, their fifth full-length studio LP, makes it plainly obvious they are still very much a metal band.
Brimming with gnashing, chugging, tremelo-picked guitar chords, bone-cracking double bass laden blast beats and the ever-present raspy, gnarled vocals of John Haughm, the music of Agalloch is not for the meek, shallow-minded or otherwise simple-thinking listener. One who is familiar with Agalloch’s catalog might suggest Haughm’s now-unmistakable vocal style is the only real constant in Agalloch’s sounds – because, as you might suspect, with so many different musical styles in Agalloch’s music, each album they’ve released has taken on a life of its own.
“You can’t, and should not, compare our albums to each other,” Haughm said. “We create them from a completely clean slate and they need to stand on their own. The fact that none of our albums sound alike and each has been critically acclaimed is a bit of an accomplishment.”
However, upon a closer listen to The Serpent and The Sphere, something else might become just as clear – a factor many metal bands lose sight of in their quest to become as “brutal” or “kvlt” as possible. That’s the ability to mold engaging songs that twist and turn like a journey down a cold winter trail lined with snow-covered trees where the destination is often unfathomable; songs with fiery, heart-wrenching melodies that enrapture the listener to the point where they get sucked into the chords and notes being played just as much as the aesthetic window dressing that cleverly disguises lesser quality works. Agalloch has mastered this dimension.
This heightened level of song-craft is just one of the reasons that everyone from Decibel Magazine to NPR has sung their praises. And such praise has helped Agalloch garner enough attention to take the band all over the world, playing to audiences as far away as Tel Aviv and as close as Newport, Ky., where Agalloch will play for the very first time in the Ohio Valley this coming Sunday at the Southgate House Revival – across the bridge from Cincinnati. Haughm seems eager to make a new piece of Agalloch history in our neck of the woods.
“For me, it is a total cathartic experience,” Haughm said. “I’ve been told it is the same for the audience. We play with a lot of heart and intensity. We have never played in Kentucky or near Cincinnati, so it is a first for us. Those ‘firsts’ are starting to get fewer and farther between so it is always nice to have them on a tour.”
Agalloch will perform Sunday, June 22 at Southgate House Revival, 111 E. Sixth St. in Newport, Ky. Obsidian Tongue and Beneath Oblivion will open. Tickets are $15 in advance and the doors open at 8 p.m. Ages 18 and up. For more information, please visit agalloch.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.