Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
46. Agalloch (653 plays)
Top track (147 plays): Odal (Demo), from The End Records Sampler: At the End of Infinity [Echoes & Thoughts of Wonder] (2002)
Featured track: Limbs, from Ashes Against the Grain (2006)
Throughout the first decade of this century, Agalloch stood at the forefront of some of the most progressive movements in metal. They were the product of a new generation of musicians exceptionally well informed on musical trends happening outside of their own genre. Citing such diverse influences as Katatonia, Ulver, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, they endowed their first major release, Pale Folklore in 1999, with an entirely unique sound. Bleak neofolk guitar and piano merged with black metal as the two most dominant styles to paint a beautiful and desolate snowy landscape that demands the listener’s full attention from start to finish. The folk felt, to me at least, just as influenced by neofolk artists far beyond the metal spectrum like Current 93 and Death in June as by Ulver’s Kveldssanger.
The Mantle in 2002 took this diversity a step further, incorporating post-rock proper as a central structural theme for most of the album. But it was Ashes Against the Grain, in 2006, that really solidified their place as one of the most significant metal bands of the era. It got back to the heavier influences that The Mantle had left behind, offering a seamless fusion of folk, post-rock, and metal that would inspire dozens of bands in the years to follow. As a band first born of black metal, their developed sound helped pave the way for a new era in experimental bm that broke the restraints of the 1990s. These restraints, of course, had long been shattered by Ulver, with Enslaved and ex-Emperor frontman Ihsahn following close behind, but these artists’ credentials as legendary musicians were well established while formulaic black metal was still the norm. Agalloch, alongside Alcest, appeared to me as the next generation, born into a much broader gene pool of music and taking full advantage of their situations. As the seven years since Ashes Against the Grain have shown, progressive and post-black metal was the new wave–and perhaps one of the most outstanding waves in the history of metal in general. I can’t tell you whether Agalloch directly influenced the bands that followed them or not, but their open-minded ability to appreciate black metal for its unique sensory qualities without giving in to the corpse-paint drenched exclusiveness of its accompanying culture drastically expanded the genre’s exposure.
I would say today that Pale Folklore is my favorite Agalloch album, though Ashes struck me the most when I first heard it. The version of the song I’ve played the most in Agalloch’s library though does not appear on any of their albums. It was the first track I ever heard by the band–an edited pre-release version of Odal from The Mantle that The End Records had featured on a free sampler cd. The song is not appreciably different from its studio album variant, but it cuts out sizable chunks of the intro and outro to create a much more repeatable track. Odal immediately struck me as deliciously similar in atmosphere to Matt Uelmen’s Tristram from the Diablo series, and I am often inclined to put the two on repeat together. I’ll leave you with a video of the finalized cd version of the song: