Monday, July 16, 2012

Agalloch - Faustian Echoes (EP) (2012)

For some reason, that stigma of American metal leaves homegrown bands at a disadvantage. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that bands from the US couldn't make music that was brutal enough, atmospheric enough, or heavy enough to be compared to the bands of Europe and beyond. Our answer has been, and will continue to be, Agalloch. This four piece, based in Portland, have been tearing down the stereotypes of American metal for nearly two decades. On their new EP, "Faustian Echoes," they can redeem us from our sins of Slipknot and Disturbed, and give rise to the black metal of the Pacific Northwest.

As the cold winds blow, a spoken word portion opens the lone track. The first shots are fired, blowing you back with high speed snares and blasting guitars. You may have the sense that evil is lurking somewhere close, and that suspicion is confirmed with the first appearance of the devilish vocals. They screech forward, as if you are being lectured from the pits of Hell. There is something in the way you are buried in heavy distortion that heightens that vocal style, makes it seem more powerful. This isn't to say the guitars are a one trick pony; rather, they give you the density of chugging one measure, and erupt into more deft solo work immediately after. The more downtempo sections stand out from the rest, whether it be because of the layered guitars, or the more forward use of melody. Even when things break down and descend into a traditional doom beat, you are left waiting for something to tear you down.

A lightly recorded spoken word keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next drop. Unwittingly, you may have stumbled into a black metal assault, thrashing ahead with lightning drums and unearthly screams. But while each individual section has its own distinct feel and sound, there are times when they drag on for a minute longer than necessary, leaving you wanting to shift gears, but unable to do so. The beauty is in the contrast though, as you go from the most punishing sections, right into clean guitar passages that soothe the savage beast. The ability to make these drastic changes in such short times is key, without which the entire track would crumble. But they maintain the flow, building it up and tearing it down again and again, until their last breath is spent in a final barrage of guitars, drums, and screams. As things fade away, the voice that started it all takes you to your end.

There is something in the way that Agalloch crafts their music that transports you to another time and place, one of darkest nights and coldest winds. And yet, people always seem surprised to hear that this juggernaut is not Scandinavian, but from the American Northwest. In a recent Pitchfork interview John Haughm and Don Anderson remarked that "Having grown up in the Northwest and on the Columbia River Gorge, I saw nothing that couldn't easily compete with the images of Norwegian landscapes on so many black metal albums." Without a doubt, they have done just that on this EP. This one song, 21 minutes in length, gives you a glimpse into their world; one that you won't soon forget.


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