Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

written by: November 23, 2010
Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit album artwork 2010 Release Date: November 23, 2010


When fake leaks of Agalloch’s fourth album Marrow of the Spirit surfaced, the band posted on their Facebook page: “You either end up with a virus or the new Dream Theater. We’re not sure which is worse.”

Oddly enough, with this album they are closer to the prog metal giants than ever.

Agalloch’s atmospheric, folky black metal has been an antithesis for Dream Theater’s precise, big-riff prog metal. Oddly enough, with this album they are closer to the prog metal giants than ever. This isn’t to say any of the material found on this album is at all reminiscent of Dream Theater. Rather, the structure of the material and riffage take a similarly direct influence from prog rock. A three-minute string intro leads into five constantly shifting tracks, each topping nine minutes (most topping ten, one topping seventeen). These tracks find the band shifting adroitly from a black metal assault to acoustic guitar interludes, slowly adding electric swells and glockenspiel and then bursting into majestic leads. And that’s still only one third of the song.

What stands out on Marrow is the drum work. The band’s new drummer doesn’t clean up their notoriously sloppy foundation so much as provide a more diverse palette to work with. As the drum fill opens the second track and first actual song, it’s clear the band is returning to their roots for chunks of this record. While previous album Ashes Against the Grain’s only connection to black metal was the vocals, Marrow doesn’t shy away from classic black metal blast beats and tremolo picking. They incorporate the ambient, post-rock influenced perspective of Ashes seamlessly with this as well as the band’s signature dark folk passages and the result is as good as you would expect from such a fine band.

Another thing of note is the amount of riffs per song we’re getting. In years past, Agalloch has had a tendency to ration their riffs, a song often having two or three. Often, the songs would slowly develop and a key riff would serve as a point of reference or climax. Each was extremely powerful and saving them for the right moments made their effect stronger. On Marrow, Agalloch pulls riffs out of anywhere and everywhere; none hit as hard as on “Fire Above, Ice Below,” but they do all work well together and there is rarely a dull moment.

On the flip side, songs on Marrow aren’t easily memorable or for that matter as recognizable as 2002’s landmark album The Mantle. However, the general excitement the band stirs up with these riffs in conjunction with excellent dynamics and textures keep the listener tuned in.

They still keep the tones gritty and cold, the vocals sparse and performances raw, but it’s the first time we hear the band making a noticeable effort to create something grandiose. Where longer tracks on The Mantle were less impressive than stunning, the pieces here aim to blow your mind first and creep into your soul later. Perhaps it’s the hype, perhaps they’ve secretly been listening to Dream Theater—perhaps neither. Luckily, there is still a soul backing the album and despite its initial inscrutability, listeners will slowly be able to latch onto extraordinary moments (of which there are plenty).

There’s a lot to take in each track, let alone the full album. This is nothing new for an Agalloch fan, but new listeners should not be deterred. There is plenty to appreciate early on, which will allow for future adoration. Marrow of the Spirit may not be the masterpiece many were expecting and it probably won’t have the longevity of The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain, but it is certainly one of the best metal records to come out in 2010. Agalloch truly are one of the most unique and vital forces in metal and this album is further testament.

Marrow of the Spirit Tracklist

  1. They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness
  2. Into The Painted Grey
  3. The Watcher’s Monolith
  4. Black Lake Nidstang
  5. Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires
  6. To Drown