Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.
Agalloch: “The Watcher’s Monolith”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/03.-The-Watchers-Monolith.mp3|titles=Agalloch – The Watcher’s Monolith]
Although Agalloch dons its album covers with images of winter and writes songs featuring tremolo-picked minor chords and shrieked vocals, the Portland quartet is best understood as a heavy progressive-rock band rather than a black-metal band.
Since the late 1990s, the group has released purposefully genre-blending music with a somber, melodic bent. Marrow of the Spirit, just the band’s fourth full-length album, must be compared to the work of black-metal-gone-experimental artists like Ulver and Enslaved, but a better reference point is the work of ’70s prog-rock bands like Comus. Songs are sprawling layers of riffs that meander between different themes and styles, touching on blast beats, acoustic breaks, and atmospheric post-rock passages.
Occasionally, these parts are quite catchy and melodic, while at other times they can be overblown and pretentious. Agalloch never comes across as “experimenting for experimentation’s sake,” though, which is refreshing. Although much of Marrow of the Spirit lacks a clear direction, the music always comes off as sincere.
The strong moments on Marrow of the Spirit are the mid-paced, arpeggiated breaks. These passages are instantly memorable and represent islands in a sea of tremolo picking and post-rock swells. Though a clearer focus might improve the listening experience, this type of diversified songwriting is intentional, as the band often wanders in a hazy snowstorm of riffs with gorgeous interludes. On the 17-minute epic “Black Lake Nidstång,” for example, a moving, delay-laden guitar break takes on the pulsing melodies of Neu! before slowing with the introduction of the full band.
With bands such as Agalloch, the question becomes whether the flecks of gold are worth the time spent panning the river. Though Marrow of the Spirit is not a transcendent, focused album, large portions are significant and representative of great musical minds.