AGALLOCH: MARROW OF THE SPIRIT (2010)
1) They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness; 2) Into The Painted Grey; 3) The Watcher's Monolith; 4) Black Lake Niðstång; 5) Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires; 6) To Drown.
We have cello. Why didn't we have cello before? Cello goes down real easy with Agalloch, and suits their moods just as fine as acoustic guitars and harps. Cello can be lots of things, but it is typically somber / evening / winter-autumn style, and that's Agalloch for you. The relatively brief intro is nearly all cello, and then it reappears again on the last track, the one that informs you that "They escaped the weight of darkness to drown in another".
Unfortunately, apart from the cello use, there is no real progress. We just fall back on more of the same black metal and folk metal compositions, five huge epic tracks in a row without any breathing space. Fortunately, these epic tracks do not show any drop-off in quality, either: loyal Agalloch fans have no serious reasons for disappointment. Only loyal Agalloch reviewers may have those reasons, since, clearly, it is very hard to write anything other than «Hey, cool, these guys are still going strong!» about Marrow Of The Spirit.
So I will be brief, concentrating only on the fact that 'Black Lake Niðstång' is currently the longest track in the band's catalog (beaten only by 'Our Fortress Has Burned To The Ground', but that was a special case that don't count), and this would most likely mean that it is their strongest candidate for «That single Agalloch masterpiece to trump all other Agalloch masterpieces». I do not see it as being nearly as successful in covering all of the band's strong points as 'In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion', though — for one thing, most of the vocals are in the death metal vein, for another, there is little, if any, evidence of their mastery of the acoustic sound. Instead, there is a lot of keyboards here, from bells and chimes to distorted organs and sci-fi synths — which they put to good atmospheric use, but it's still not quite the same thing.
The most concise and successful thing on the album, in my opinion, is its shortest song (bar the intro), 'Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires', which starts out similar to a suicidal Cure anthem, then gradually morphs into generic black metal mode, and finally makes the simple transition to a shrill-ecstatic prog-rock anthem with blazing guitar solos. It's nothing particularly special or even pretentious (by Agalloch standards), just a well-produced, well-meaning song that I have singled out, perhaps, exactly for the reason that there is so little to single out within it. Yet I certainly prefer its finely-tailored sound to, for instance, the sonic chaos that opens 'Into The Painted Grey'. Maybe it's a good thing these guys don't beat around the bush so much. In this land of eternal winter that they have created, any attempt to thaw their glaciers will mean nothing but senseless, devastating deluge.
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