Marrow of the Spirit
Black Metal is a very confusing genre of music. Firstly, the music is often very brilliant, very beautiful and very cinematic. For me, I consider most black metal musicians to be composers. While the music is driven by a great deal of emotion, very powerful emotions in fact, the best of the genre’s music comes from very trained players. The corpse paint, the growling vocals, the Satan and Death stuff, that reminds me of Halloween. Which is fine. I like horror, I guess just not so much in my music all the time.
The United States is not at the forefront of Black Metal. For those who are just finding this genre here on this blog, #1 sorry for that, but Black Metal gets its origins mostly from Norway and the other Nordic countries where darkness reigns supreme. It’s a very odd genre that includes Odinists, Naturists, Satanists and idiots. The lyrics contain lots of elements of fantasy and history and can sometimes be very awesome and sometimes be stupid and ignorant. It doesn’t help when really amazing music, like Burzum for example, is created by hateful, murders. I tread very carefully around Black Metal, but luckily for me, in 2010, Agalloch, a band from Portland, Oregon put out a fucking amazing album with Marrow of the Spirit.
As the genre goes, Agalloch is actually one of the older, still active Black Metal bands. Formed in 1995, I was first introduced to them when I good friend gave me a copy of Ashes Against The Grain. I went pretty fucking nuts for the music on that album and when vocalist John Haughm actually sings, Agalloch is downright beautiful. It helps that they stretched outside the even expansive genre of Black Metal and heavy metal too. Their music was greater than most bands, creating epic feelings in each passage. I was pretty into it. The cookie monster vocals however, seemed very ill placed and poorly executed. I wished that Haughm would just sing because his voice is amazing. Ashes Against the Grain is great, but it fell out of rotation.
Marrow of the Spirit is a whole other animal. It’s six songs and sixty minutes. This is a monumental album, the size of which can not be imagined. It is the soundtrack to my reoccurring nightmares that are filled with massive landscapes of junkyard statues that block the skies. This album exceeds mere genre descriptions or academic music speak and every moment of it counts. Agalloch has not just put the various genre’s of metal on notice, it’s put everyone on notice.
This time around, Haughm’s growly vocals fit so nicely with the music, hints of actual harmony exist and they blend within the blasting double kick drums and frantic riffing that make up the heavier parts of the songs. But the music grows and includes post-rock elements that wouldn’t be far off on Russian Circles albums or in the middle of an Explosions in the Sky passage. And that in lies the beauty of Marrow of the Spirit, is that it has powerful movements that fall into soft sweeping movements that build into great, big, anthmatic movements. All undercut by a crisp and clean amount of guitar work that is just stunning.
Agalloch is finding it self creating music that is often sold to a certain type of person, white males in their teens and twenties, as most music today is sold to. But even narrow marketing budgets that have to count in a shitty economy can not contain just how great an album this is. Even NPR, the bastion for 30something liberal fuck heads gave this album a glowing review and included it on their top 50 of 2010. This isn’t some hipster move on their part either. Marrow Of the Spirit is a genuine piece of modern art, beautiful and terrifying and grand the way great art should be. Agalloch is deserving of a wider audience outside of metal subgenre ghettos and into a greater context.