Sound — 9
Portland's very own Agalloch is for those who don't know yet, a metal band that incorporates influences from black metal, folk and post-rock into a vision that encompasses pagan and naturalist ideologies. Agalloch are known for creating beautiful single entities with every album they put out which certainly has set and kept the bar very high for the quality of music they put out and the expectations of their fan base. Marrow of the Spirit is yet again another journey with its very own distinct qualities that separate it from the previous releases, focusing on a darker and colder spectrum that can be instantly recognized from the fantastic album cover. Marrow of the Spirit is an album that sounds great, it was recorded with only analog equipment which sets a different sound than anything else out there, it sounds less compressed, more organic, and slightly quieter. The different instruments present in the music besides the guitar, bass, drums and vocals include cello, violin, vibraphone, glockenspiel and believe it or not, "Petrified bone, glass and metal sheet percussion" all creating mesmerizing atmospheres and intricate soundscapes. Sometimes there are so many layers built in the music that it starts to fuzz a bit together like on Into The Painted Grey, but this does not take away from the experience at all, instead creating walls of noise that may or may not be appreciated by the listener with thunderous riffs, exceptional leads and loud effective drum playing in the heavier parts. The guitar work is exceptional as always as is the bass. The new drummer, Aesop Dekker, is constantly beating up and down his set as loud and lucid as he can, composing effective crashes and earthly booms over complexity. The sound as a whole is different than anything else I've personally ever heard but is excellent and effectively contributes to the emotional connection created between the listener and the music. One of the best features which this album holds is its flow from song to song, with a dazzling intro piece "They Escaped the Weight of Darkness" introducing the album with the sound of a stream flowing, birds chirping, and a wailing cello. The second song, Into The Painted Grey, is arguably Agalloch's heaviest song ever the heaviest song in the album incorporating blast beats, tremoloed riffs and John Haughm's signature high pitched screams, slowing down and then speeding back up again. This is where the main sound of the album is introduced, the rhythmic acoustic guitar playing along with a heavily distorted guitar and a lead on top of it. The listener can then relax a tad as The Watcher's Monolith comes in, a slower song with singing from the whole band and guitar leads reminiscent of Ashes Against the Grain, bouncing with grooving rock rhythms into yet another epic faster black metal influenced part. The song ends with more and more great leads from Don Anderson into forest sounds and a piano track that is very foreboding and almost too soothing. Black Lake Nistng is the next track, a beauty of a monster at 17 minutes of length incorporating layers and layers of guitars meddling into noise and drone, an acoustic solo, doom riffs and Haughm's whispers, all creating a magnificent and stunning ambiance and atmosphere. What comes after cannot simply be described in human language but includes Haughm's best performance as a vocalist in Agalloch history, screaming a la Weakling, spawning a crescendo of enchantment and despair, melancholy and spiritual exaltation, despair and euphoric rapture. Ghost of the Midwinter Fires breathes onto the listener's ears and flows into more exceptional leads and folk metal riffs until the finale is reached, To Drown. Cascading violin and cello with acoustic guitar and layers and layers of distorted guitars until John and Don go completely at it guitar to guitar, wailing as passionately as ever, until they cannot go any possibly higher, a heavenly moment and celestial offering finalized on melancholy of Haughm's final words and waves beating against a shore and sounds of metal scraping against each other, a very fitting end to a long journey indeed.
Lyrics — 10
All of the lyrics in the album were written whilst Haughm was on a trip in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains in March of 2010, all of them which fit the music perfectly and admirably, narrating tales of pagan gods, burning forests, lost spirits, eternal despair and physical suicide. My personal favorite would have to be the last lyrics of the album found on To Drown: "They escaped the weight of darkness, to forge a path into the marrow of the spirit, they chose to drown, in a deeper vacancy, an emptiness that quells the null, a pool for the forgotten". Into the Painted Grey, which narrates the thoughts of a dying Pagan god include the likes of "For I am not an ageless god, no, I am imprisoned by time, these ancient palms shall once again be mine. Hands...hands that lift the oceans to vertical depths above the stars, for when I die, the universe will die with me." Black Lake Nistng includes a dialogue between the deceased and the actual Nistng (a Nistng is a nithing pole used to cast curse and death upon someone in Germanic Pagan tradition) : "(voice of the dead) We are the faces below the ripples, a deep sorrow traveled through the woods and found a home in our humble grave" -"(voice of the Nistng) I am the silence inside the tomb, you created the stars and gave birth to the heavens; the darkness of space and time, so go to the nightside end below". These lyrics form a formidable compliance between the effect that the music has on the listener and the artistic vision created by Agalloch in Marrow of the Spirit.
Overall Impression — 9
Although a clearly fantastic piece of music, Marrow of the Spirit takes time to sink in. There are so many things going on at once at you that it is hard to take it all in at first, it's easy to become confused at what exactly is happening and lose attention span. My personal recommendation would be to take a walk during the winter at a nearby forest, and walk along listening through the entire album. Another complaint I would have is the album would have benefited from acoustic centered pieces rather than constant acoustic layers in the rhythm layers of the music. Marrow of the Spirit is a very solid entry in the Agalloch discography, certainly not inferior to previous Agalloch achievements and formulates an epic and long exhausting journey containing musical and lyrical imagery of despair and melancholy and narration of occurrences in the spirit realm. Buy this album and see this band live if you can, they certainly deserve your money's worth.