It seems like a common trend in the metal world is the progression of more “artsy” bands into lighter and less metal territories. A good example of this would be Opeth
whose latest album Heritage
alienated a large group of their core fan base by dropping all metal elements whatsoever. Many suspected a similar change for Agalloch
upon the release of Ashes Against the Grain
which saw the band strip down most of the Black Metal
elements for a cleaner and more Post Metal
sound. It came as a shock then when Marrow of the Spirit
hit the stores, taking yet another change this album sees Agalloch
turning the Black Metal
knob to full without abandoning many of the elements that made them so unique.
The most noticeable change is the drastically reduced production, Ashes Against the Grain
had a clean and crisp sound that gave the album a gentle and accessible tone. Marrow of the Spirit
drops the quality drastically to give the album a much darker and foreboding tone. When John Haugm said this was going to be their darkest album that would even eclipse Pale Folklore
he wasn't kidding. This is easily their most harrowing release to date being a more full on Black Metal
record than anything they've previously done.
However the change in tone results in one fundamental flaw of Marrow of the Spirit
and that's the favour in style for a much blacker and less original approach. Say for instance Opeth
dropped all their progressive elements and played full on Death Metal
, sure they may be good at the style but it would lack the unique flair that makes Opeth
's the feeling I'm getting Marrow of the Spirit
, it's a great album full of excellent song writing and a brilliant atmosphere but it lacks something that makes Agalloch
so special. Everything is there but the folk elements have been massively reduced which makes for a less original and compelling sound.
For what Marrow of the Spirit
is I like it, I like it a lot. The atmosphere is great, creating a dark forest feeling able to rival the works of Drudkh
and the Black Metal
releases from Ulver
. The mood is a lot more forlorn and darker than anything Agalloch
have done in the past which I like, this is no doubt helped by the poorer production which is another move I approve of. Whereas Ashes Against the Grain
was a rather light album due to the clear production, Marrow of the Spirit
is a cold and bleak album due to the poor production, it creates a really lonely and isolated feeling throughout the music which results in an utterly compelling and intriguing atmosphere.
Personally I didn't feel that dropping a lot of the folk elements was a particularly good move, Agalloch
was always a band that identified itself due to the integration of outside influences such of neofolk, the fact that the band has removed a lot of these elements ultimately results in a collapse of identity and their own personal flair. I understand that Agalloch
likes to experiment with new sounds but removing the major aspect that made them get such a high reputation in the first place strikes me as a rather odd thing to do. It almost seems like they're trying to alienate their original fan base and appeal to the whole Cascadian Black Metal
crowd fore fronted by the now cult legends Wolves in the Throne Room.
Fortunately the Post Rock elements are still there which shows Agalloch
riding the tide created by the Post Black movement. The Watcher's Monolith
is a track that best highlights this and also it is the track with the most Agalloch
mannerisms, featuring clean vocals, neofolk acoustic passages and some great guitar work. This is my personal favourite song on the album because I think it best sums up their new style as it has all the elements Agalloch
have become known for whilst stripping down the production resulting in a more blackened feel.
One other thing that's been bugging me through the album is that it feels like John's harsh vocals have lost some of their punch since their earlier albums, he doesn't sound as powerful as before and sounds more relaxed than another. I understand he's never had the most vicious rasp of all time but there's definitely something here that sounds much more relaxed and soothing than before, this is weird considering the change to a rawer sound. I would have expected his harsh vocals to sound more primal and aggressive rather than anything else. Also there's far less clean vocals than the albums that came before it, this isn't really an inherently bad thing though I do at times tend to miss the clean vocals.
Marrow of the Spirit
changing their sound for a more Black Metal
style, despite the usual Agalloch
mannerisms they're far less frequent and overall the sound feels somewhat diluted even if the atmosphere is the best they've created since Pale Folklore
. I can definitely see Marrow of the Spirit
dividing their fan base as to where they stand in regards to it. For me I like this album, I like it a lot but it definitely lacks something that made their previous albums so special. I am interested in where this band takes their new direction or they might abandon this direction altogether and head in a completely new musical direction. Only time will tell and I am looking forward to what the future holds for this band.