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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Agalloch: The White


1) The Isle Of Summer; 2) Birch Black; 3) Hollow Stone; 4) Pantheist; 5) Birch White; 6) Sowilo Rune; 7) Summer­isle Reprise.

This ends up looking like an appendix, an antidote of sorts to the overdose of heaviness on Ashes: a thirty-minute EP of mostly acoustic-based compositions completely bent on atmosphere rather than crunch. (Technically, it is a «companion» to the band’s earlier The Gray EP, but that was basically just a throwaway, consisting of lengthy «deconstructed» remakes of ‘The Lodge’ and ‘Odal’, the former unnecessary and the latter awful — transformed into a wall of metal machine muzak noise. The White, on the other hand, honestly functions as a fully realized offering).

The opening kiddie chant (“We carry death out of the village!”), as well as bits of dialog in the end and the ‘Isle Of Summer’ motive, all stem from the band’s fascination with 1973’s cult hor­ror classic, The Wicker Man. Watching the movie, with its cartoonish nigtmarification of «Celtic» pagan practices, may help make The White more impressive, but this is not a soundtrack — the movie is pretty violent, but this here music is simply deep and dark without explicit aggression.

Since there is virtually nothing to headbang to, this is Agalloch’s most ambient-sounding creation so far; the only tune that seems to have been written with development and sonic travel in mind is ‘Sowilo Rune’, which incorporates some shrill, ecstatic electric guitar work and thick keyboard backgrounds to illustrate all the dangers of the letter S, from overestimating the power of the Sun God to, perhaps, its shiny representation on the uniform of a Schutzstaffel officer? Who knows. The other tracks just range from relatively simple acoustic meditations (‘Isle Of Summer’), some­times also modestly electrified in the middle (‘Birch Black’) to key­board-generated howling winds and shrieking ghosts (‘Hollow Stone’) to minimalist piano (‘Summerisle Reprise’): plea­sant, but nothing we hadn’t already experienced before.

In the end, what remains the most memorable aspect of the album is the incorporation of the Wi­cker Man bits — up until now, Agalloch have always behaved in a medievalistic manner, but this time around, they really push the impression that they dedicate their art to the idea of resurrecting the old beliefs, or, perhaps, the idea that this resurrection is just round the corner and that it goes hand in hand with the Apocalypse. God is dead, man is a rotten slaughterer, that sort of thing. The idea is about as old as the Christian church itself, but here they have chosen a subtle, unintrusive, «indirect» way of expressing it, and it almost works — and even if Christopher Lee’s dialog sam­ples are as embarrassingly worded as every bit of Christopher Lee’s dialog in any of his B-mo­vies, it is still frickin’ Christopher Lee. Thumbs up.

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